Canada’s justice minister is defending a decision to allow fast-tracking in the Liberals’ bail reform bill, as leading civil society groups and criminal lawyers express concerns about a lack of oversight .
The unanimous decision by the House of Commons on Monday to send the bill to the Senate without study by the parliamentary justice committee means MPs will not investigate the bill’s potential effects, including on people accused of Black, Indigenous or mentally ill.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada both said they met last Friday with Justice Minister Arif Virani and expressed concerns over the proposals proposed by Bill C-48.
They are part of a coalition of civil society organizations that argue the bill’s proposal to expand reverse-onus provisions could lead to more Black and Indigenous people being held in pre-trial detention at a time. when statistics show that they continue to be overrepresented.
“This bill has some important problems associated with it,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada.
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“It has no strong evidence base, and there is no indication that it will actually achieve the public safety goals set out for it. … It really is a need to go to committee to air the opposing views of others to improve the quality of the legislation that.”
Canada’s justice system requires prosecutors to prove why someone should remain behind bars, but the law would instead put the onus on some offenders to prove why it would be safe for them. to be released from prison.
The bill specifically targets those charged with a serious violent offense involving a weapon in cases where the person has been convicted of a similar offense within the previous five years.
It also adds firearms offenses to existing reverse-onus provisions, and expands them to cover alleged crimes involving intimate partner violence.
Former justice minister David Lametti, who was fired from that role in July, said when he introduced the bill in May that it “directly” responded to concerns raised by premiers and police for Ottawa that strengthen bail measures as a way to tackle violent crime.
That pressure has increased on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government after a series of high-profile incidents.
Shakir Rahim, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s criminal justice program, said Tuesday that the decision by the House of Commons to pass the bail-reform bill at once came as a shock.
He said they have received signals from current and former justice ministers that civil society groups will have the opportunity to propose amendments.
“We are particularly alarmed because we are meeting with the government about this bill,” he said.
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“The reverse-onus provision is a serious concern because the conditions in remand facilities, the fact that trials are taking longer and taking longer … require putting more people behind bars, while they are innocent until proven guilty, increases the risks around wrongful conviction. please.”
Heading into Tuesday’s Liberal cabinet meeting, Virani said the new bail measures do not overturn the presumption of innocence.
He said the bill was drafted with input from provincial premiers as well as their attorney generals. It also complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he added, referring to a review done by the Justice Department.
Virani said the bill is “fundamentally important to Canadians.”
He pointed to MPs’ decision to fast-track the bill on their first day back in Parliament after a summer recess as proof that lawmakers can “work on a nonpartisan basis to keep Canadians safe.”
“That’s my main job,” he said. “I will not apologize for doing my primary job.”
The bill was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, where the government’s representative in the Upper Chamber indicated his hope that it would be passed quickly.
“I would like to see the Senate deal with this important piece of legislation as quickly as possible, consistent with the unanimously expressed will of the House of Commons, and the wishes of provincial and territorial governments across Canada,” said by Sen. Marc Gold in a statement.
“That said, regarding the Senate process and timelines, discussions with Senate leadership are ongoing.”
Daniel Brown, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, said it was disappointing to see the government and other MPs send the bill directly to the Senate.
He said the House of Commons lacked evidence to support changes to make bail more difficult for some accused to access.
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