Officials in London, Ont. say proposed bail reform welcomed but more will likely have to be done

David Lametti, minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, makes an announcement regarding bail reform in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

London officials are welcoming the proposed bail reform legislation introduced this week by the federal government, but add that more will likely need to be done on the issue.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister David Lametti introduced legislation making it more difficult for some repeat violent offenders to get released on bail.

The proposed legislation came following months of pleas from premiers, police associations and victims’ rights groups to strengthen the law around bail.

Earlier this year, former London police chief Steve Williams and London Police Services Board chair Ali Chahbar joined the scores of those calling for reform in a joint statement.

“Bail reform, as advocated by multi-sector partners in government, law enforcement and community stakeholders, is a crucial and timely step that can address … issues while simultaneously protecting victims and protecting the safety of our communities,” read part of the statement issued on Feb. 22.

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Following Tuesday’s announcement, Chahbar tells Global News that while long overdue, the proposed changes are welcome.

“Very happy that it is finally, finally happening but still lamenting it took until May of 2023 for this to be introduced,” said Chahbar.

The proposed reform would place reverse-onus bail conditions onto people charged with serious violent offences involving a weapon in cases where the person was convicted of a similar violent crime within the past five years.

Individuals it would apply to would have to prove why they should be granted bail, as opposed to the current method of the prosecution having to prove why they should not be granted bail.

The legislation would also expand the provision to cases where the alleged crimes involve intimate partner violence.

Jennifer Dunn, the executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, says the proposed reform is a positive advancement in protecting vulnerable people.

“We think it’s a good step forward,” said Dunn.

Dunn testified before the House of Commons on bail reform in March. She says her comments at that time were primarily centred around prioritizing the rights of victims, something she says this proposed legislation is a positive step towards.

“It’s going to be only as good as its implementation, so I’m excited to see where this goes in terms of really protecting victims of violence,” added Dunn.

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The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that anyone charged with a crime will not be denied reasonable bail without just cause.

Chahbar says while the proposal is a good first step, it is just one step in what will have to be many down the road.

“This is one facet of a much larger problem,” said Chahbar. “There is no one piece of legislation that could be passed by any government that is going to eliminate these things from happening.

“It’s a step to mitigate…. I would imagine there would be subsequent steps taken over the next months and years to address the issue.”

Chahbar notes have been 10 police officers killed in Canada while on duty since September 2022. The police board chair added that it is rare to find the uniformity being held on an issue like bail reform.

“It is not just an abstract thing, we are seeing it on a day-to-day basis,” says Chahbar. “That is where we are seeing that groundswell of support for people saying we need something to happen.”

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