Canada’s justice minister has accused Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives of using tragedies such as the killing of a young Ontario Provincial Police officer “to try to score political points,” while saying his government is nonetheless exploring options for how to deal with repeat offenders.
Lametti made the remarks in a speech to the House of Commons on Thursday while debating a motion put forward by the Conservatives, which calls on members of Parliament to push Ottawa to enact bail reforms.
“Canada has a strong and effective criminal justice system, including its bail laws, but we all know that things can always be improved,” he said.
Raquel Dancho, the Conservatives’ public safety critic, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has failed to act in the face of violence committed by offenders who have been released on bail.
She pointed to the fact that one of the two people charged with first-degree murder in the late December killing of OPP Const. Greg Pierzchala had initially been denied bail on a separate assault and weapons charge. He was later released, and after he failed to show up for a court hearing, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Dancho said premiers and police chiefs are demanding action from the federal government, and the party’s motion says Ottawa must ensure that the justice system “puts the rights of law-abiding Canadians ahead of the rights of violent, repeat offenders.”
“The bail system is broken in this country,” she said.
Lametti told the House he’s looking into concerns voiced by premiers, but defended Canada’s justice system, saying the law already stipulates that those deemed to pose a significant threat to society should not be released on bail.
“I’m disappointed that the official Opposition is using tragedies to try to score political points,” he said.
“Canadians know that these are serious and complicated issues and that there are no quick or easy solutions.”
The NDP and Bloc Québécois said Thursday they would not be supporting the Conservatives’ push to ask the government take a tougher stand on bail, although their MPs agreed that the recent spate of violence in Canada is distressing and solutions are needed.
For their part, Tory MPs rejected the accusation that they were playing politics with tragedy. They highlighted that Toronto’s police chief recently said 24 of 44 shooting deaths in the city over the past year were committed by an accused person who was out on bail.
Lametti said Thursday that dealing with repeat offenders requires a “comprehensive approach” that includes work by provincial and territorial governments, not just Ottawa.
“Work is underway to develop legislative and non-legislative options to address the particular challenges of repeat violent offenders.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino added that a meeting with his provincial counterparts was in the works.
Among the changes premiers are asking the federal government to consider is the creation of a “reverse onus on bail” for the offence of possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm.
In an early January letter, provincial leaders said they want to see someone accused of that crime have to demonstrate why they should not be detained as a matter of public safety.
Lametti said Thursday he was giving their proposal “serious consideration.”
Criminologists and other experts on bail say while they understand the desire from some for tougher measures, there is no evidence to suggest that keeping certain offenders behind bars will reduce crime.
Rather, they say that such an approach risks detaining more innocent people in jail before they have been given a fair trial.