Pressure Helps Keep Ottawa In Line
At Project Confederation, we regularly talk about the kinds of constitutional changes that Canada needs.
But we’re also aware that often a simple policy change is sufficient, and sometimes a little pressure applied in the right way at the right time is all that’s required to get a result.
Take bail reform, for example, where we made real progress this week.
Crime has become a major issue in cities across the country, and while many provinces are doing all they can to address the challenge locally, it’s difficult to ignore the federal government’s role in creating the crisis in the first place.
For years, warnings about Canada’s bail system have gone unheeded, and safe communities have been left more and more vulnerable.
It’s generally accepted by most that the situation can primarily be traced back to the Liberal government’s Bill C-75, introduced in 2018, which brought in major bail reforms.
In short, the changes made it practically impossible to hold even violent offenders in pre-trial custody in many situations.
This new federally-mandated catch-and-release system regularly saw violent offenders arrested, only to be immediately released straight back out on the streets to commit more crimes.
One incredible statistic out of British Columbia is almost impossible to believe, and yet it’s true.
In a single calendar year, just 40 offenders were responsible for 6,385 negative police contacts in Vancouver.
The same was true across BC, with 15 people in Kelowna responsible for 1,039 negative police contacts, 12 people in Nanaimo responsible for 1,318 negative police contacts, etc.
[Note: “negative police contacts” is defined only as an interaction where someone is a suspect, is chargeable, has been charged, or has had charges recommended against them, so in reality, it actually vastly under-counts the number of interactions these few offenders are having with police.]
Some offenders were literally being arrested in the morning, released in the afternoon, and re-offending again the same day.
There are, unfortunately, similar stories and statistics in all provinces.
As things continued to escalate, a series of Premiers, Mayors, and Police Chiefs started speaking up and demanding changes.
This all culminated in a joint meeting of provincial and federal ministers responsible for Justice and Public Safety issues, where the federal government finally admitted that there was a problem and it needed to act:
According to Shandro [Alberta’s Minister of Justice], the meeting “went very well,” in that the federal government “at least... is now conceding that they do need legislative changes,” and the provincial government will continue to advocate for further changes.
Finally, on Tuesday this week, federal Justice Minister, David Lametti, tabled a bill to implement stricter bail conditions.
The new Bill will introduce a reverse onus for bail conditions for repeat violent offenders.
That means that if someone has been charged with a serious violent crime and has been convicted of a similar offence within the last five years, they’ll need to prove that they should be given bail, rather than prosecutors having to prove that they shouldn’t.
While not perfect, these reforms will go a long way to helping address the challenges in our cities, and the Premiers, Mayors, and Police Chiefs who spoke out deserve a lot of credit for putting pressure on a federal government that had been asleep at the wheel for far too long.
It just goes to show that when it comes to getting positive policy change, having provinces willing to stand up to the federal government can make a difference in shaping public policy across the country.
So yes, most of the time at Project Confederation we’re discussing detailed constitutional amendments that require the federal government's consent to be implemented.
But this week’s bail reforms don’t just represent a policy win, but also a reminder that pressure from the provinces can make a difference and keep the federal government in line, even against their own will.
If you’d like to support our ongoing work to keep the federal government in line, please consider making a donation towards our efforts: