Data showing frequent bail for accused repeat violent offenders reignites B.C. crime debate

Click to play video: 'B.C. attorney general releases more troubling stats on violent crime and repeat offenders'
B.C. attorney general releases more troubling stats on violent crime and repeat offenders
WATCH: B.C.'s Attorney General Niki Sharma has released some troubling new public safety statistics, putting pressure on the federal government to follow through on its promise for bail reform. Richard Zussman reports – Apr 24, 2023

New statistics have reignited the debate around bail for violent repeat offenders in B.C., with the the provincial government calling for federal bail reform — and the opposition saying the province isn’t pushing hard enough under the current bail rules.

Data released by the BC Prosecution Service Monday showed judges ordered pre-trial detention in less than half of cases where Crown prosecutors sought it.

The data included bail hearings over a five-week period in November and December, along with a week each in February and March, and showed that in 667 cases where the Crown had sought to keep an accused person behind bars, B.C. judges agreed and denied bail in just 276 cases — about four times in 10.

Click to play video: 'Bail reform talks over repeat violent offenders'
Bail reform talks over repeat violent offenders

Judges ordered pre-trial detention in about a quarter of cases involving suspects accused of violent crime who were already on bail for other matters, the prosecution service added.

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However, the data also showed prosecutors didn’t seek to have bail denied in many cases.

For example, in 425 bail hearings involving a suspect both accused of a violent crime and with a bail breach on their file, the Crown only sought detention orders in 222 cases (52 per cent).

The data comes after B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma issued a directive to prosecutors late last year instructing them to oppose bail for repeat violent offenders.

Sharma said Monday the directive was the strictest in Canada, and showed that the federal government needs to make legal changes to ensure judges aren’t releasing dangerous suspects.

“What’s a clear trend is even in those instances where they are seeking it (detention) in less than half of times is it being granted,” Sharma said.

“The bail policies of this country need to be changed to ensure repeat violent offenders are held, specifically to keep communities safer.

Click to play video: 'Uncertainty over possible bail reform to deal with repeat offenders'
Uncertainty over possible bail reform to deal with repeat offenders

The B.C. government has pressed Ottawa to expand cases covered by the “reverse onus” provision, which requires accused offenders to prove why they should be granted bail.

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“We asked for the broadest definition of any kind of violence in their history or in their offence,” Sharma said, adding the federal government has committed to reforms as early as this spring.

However, while B.C.’s NDP government was taking aim at the federal government, the province’s BC United opposition said the new data shows the problem is, at least partially, home grown.

BC United mental health and addictions critic Elenore Sturko acknowledged the need for bail reform at a federal level, but said the language in B.C.’s directive to prosecutors to push for detention is not strong enough.

Sturko said it was “really alarming” that Crown prosecutors were only seeking detention orders in half of cases involving accused violent offenders with a history of breaching conditions.

Click to play video: 'B.C. announces changes being considered to target repeat violent offenders'
B.C. announces changes being considered to target repeat violent offenders

“We can clearly see now, the BC Prosecution Service has brought us the receipts, what we’ve been saying is true, this province is simply not asking for dangerous people to be held in custody to protect the public,” she said.

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“There is no guarantee that even when you ask that the circumstances will dictate that someone is held in custody, but at least you would expect the BC Prosecution Service to be looking very carefully at these cases.”

In a statement, federal Justice Minister David Lametti’s office said it was working closely with all provinces to address the problem of repeat violent offenders.

Click to play video: 'Calls for Ottawa to reform bail laws'
Calls for Ottawa to reform bail laws

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