WATCH ABOVE: A growing chorus of law enforcement associations are calling for crown lawyers to replace police officers in bail hearings. Eric Szeto explains.
EDMONTON – A police officer who consented to bail for a career criminal who would later kill a Mountie in Alberta has been unfairly targeted as making a mistake, says his union.
“People were looking for answers and wanted someone’s head on a plate,” says Sgt. Maurice Brodeur, president of the Edmonton Police Association.
He says officers do their best acting as Crown prosecutors when accused persons are charged and first appear before justices of the peace. It’s a job they have had for decades.
But it’s one they don’t want, says Brodeur, and the union is backing a repeated call by the Edmonton police force to end the practice.
A survey by The Canadian Press of justice and Crown officials from across Canada reveals a patchwork of policies, but Alberta is the only province that predominantly relies on police rather than Crowns at initial bail hearings.
Officers can release people arrested for minor crimes on promises to appear later in court. In more serious cases, suspects must be seen by judges or justices of the peace within 24 hours and can ask for bail or have their case put over and request bail later.
Outside of Alberta, provinces use only Crowns or a combination of prosecutors and police. In Alberta, municipal police and RCMP act for Crowns, although they can ask prosecutors to step in if needed.
Shawn Rehn, in and out of jail over 15 years, had been arrested again on various charges last September when he was released on bail. A transcript from the hearing says police found Rehn riding a stolen motorcycle in a Walmart parking lot. He was carrying a spring-loaded knife.
It was a quick hearing.
Const. W. Quan (police have refused to release his full name) pointed out Rehn was wanted on outstanding warrants and prohibited from possessing weapons, but made no mention of his numerous past convictions or his two federal stints behind bars.
The officer consented to a defence lawyer’s request for bail and Rehn was freed after paying $4,500.
On Jan. 17, he shot two Mounties inside a casino north of Edmonton. Const. David Wynn later died in hospital.
The RCMP have questioned why Rehn was out on the streets. The Justice Department and RCMP have announced reviews.
The case has ignited debate about whether police should be standing in for Crowns at bail hearings.
Edmonton police said they asked in 2006 to be removed from the duty. And the following year, after a task force recommended the move, the province agreed to make the switch. But it didn’t happen.
“Government is great at doing reviews but they’re not so great on following through,” says Heather Forsyth, interim Opposition Wildrose leader and the former solicitor general who signed the task force report when she sat with the Progressive Conservatives.
“The government accepted the recommendations in good faith, and you assume that when you accept recommendations you’ll fix them.”
The province did go ahead with a pilot project in Edmonton in 2008, and for an unknown period of time Crowns replaced officers in the hearings, but the program was discontinued. Alberta Justice spokeswoman Michelle Davio says no report came out of the project.
Money is probably a factor in using police instead of Crowns, says Shannon Prithipaul, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association in Alberta. It would cost more to pay Crowns and it would also be more difficult to put them on call at night.
Prithipaul admits it’s a difficult job — studying an accused’s chances of reoffending or jumping bail. In the end, it’s a judgment call.
“In hindsight, with Rehn, you can say, ‘OK, it was the wrong decision.'”
When asked if officers are used instead of Crowns to save money, Davio says police are used because they speed up the process.