Ontario Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney has responded to a call from Toronto Mayor John Tory for her to tighten the province’s bail guidelines by blaming Ottawa, saying the federal bail system is “letting too many violent criminals back into our streets.”
With Toronto reeling from a series of brazen gang-related shootings, Mr. Tory wrote a letter this week to Ms. Mulroney, asking that she instruct Crown attorneys to seek to deny bail to accused criminals with previous convictions for gun crimes. The mayor also sent a similar letter to federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
“Countless police officers – from frontline constables to Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders – have told me how frustrated they are by the fact someone they arrest for a gun crime who already had a criminal record or similar offences or who was already out on bail on a similar charge, can almost immediately be back out on the street on bail and ready to cause more mayhem,” Mr. Tory writes in his letter to Ms. Mulroney. “That is absolutely not right and that is something we can try and stop right now.”
The mayor, who had his city council endorse the idea 30-1 last week, says he wants the Crown attorney guidelines “strengthened to ensure the community’s view is clear, namely that repeat gun offenders should not be granted bail in the event of a subsequent gun charge.”
But Ms. Mulroney, in a letter sent Thursday and provided to The Globe and Mail, says the policy manual for Crown attorneys already tells prosecutors that they “must seek a detention order in all cases involving firearms offences, absent exceptional circumstances.”
She blames the federal government’s bail system: “Both of our governments are dealing with a federal bail system that is letting too many violent criminals back into our streets. This absolutely has to change.”
Ms. Mulroney says she has written to her federal counterpart to set up a meeting on bail reform for firearms offences. A spokesman for Ms. Wilson-Raybould declined to comment on Thursday.
Defence lawyers criticized the mayor’s idea, saying very few offenders with a previous gun conviction ever make bail or manage to convince a Crown attorney to consent to bail in such circumstances.
Michael Lacy, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, called the mayor’s comments “uninformed.”
While he acknowledged that on occasion people released on bail go on to commit crimes, he said it is rare: “Are people who are released on bail, are they out there committing serious violent offences? Is this something that is an epidemic in the city of Toronto or elsewhere? My answer is no, quite the opposite.”
Under reforms called for by then-Toronto mayor David Miller and other politicians after a wave of shootings in 2005, the Conservative federal government of Stephen Harper brought in changes to bail rules in 2007 that placed a “reverse onus” on bail hearings for people facing serious gun charges.
This means the court presumes that the accused should be locked up pending trial, and the accused’s lawyer must demonstrate why he or she should be released. It was already the standard for a list of serious charges, including murder.
Mr. Lacy said that anyone convicted of a gun offence is usually subject to a weapons prohibition order, and so would also face a “reverse onus” bail hearing if brought before the courts again on another serious charge.