Blue Line

Manitoba NDP government aims to toughen Crown guidelines for people seeking bail

February 29, 2024  By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Feb. 29, 2024, Winnipeg, Man. – The Manitoba government promised a crackdown on crime Thursday with increased monitoring of people released on bail and new guidelines for Crown attorneys involved in bail hearings.

“We’ve heard time and time again that we need to take action on bail reform,” Premier Wab Kinew said.

“The concern is that if somebody does get picked up off the street, often the next day — maybe even later the same day — those same people causing problems in our communities are back at it again.”

Kinew has been signalling a public safety agenda for some time.

Before winning last October’s election, Kinew’s New Democrats rebuffed accusations from the former Progressive Conservative government they were soft on crime. Kinew promised not to reduce funding to police agencies and said he would increase public safety while also addressing social issues such as addiction and homelessness.

Kinew’s new policy for Crown attorneys Thursday calls for a “stringent” approach when deciding whether to support or oppose an accused’s potential release on bail.

Crown attorneys will be required to take into consideration a number of factors, including the potential threat to public safety and the public’s faith in the justice system.

“Crown attorneys must assess whether detention is necessary to maintain public confidence in the justice system and public safety, having regard to all the circumstances including any relevant community perspective, especially in cases involving acts of serious violence or repeat violent offenders,” the policy states.

Crown attorneys must also consider factors such as whether a firearm was used in the alleged offence and whether the accused has a history of violence, it says.

But a criminal defence lawyer in Winnipeg said the policy does not appear different from what is already happening in courtrooms.

“We’ve always expected Crown attorneys to turn their minds to whether or not somebody is a danger to the public, whether or not they’re a high risk to reoffend,” Scott Newman said. “It’s hard for me to see where this policy is going to make a significant change to the day-to-day job that Crown attorneys already do.”

In the end, whether someone gets bail is up to a judge bound by legal precedents and federal law, Newman added.

Ryan Howard Manoakeesick, who is accused of killing five people earlier this year in Carman, Man., southwest of Winnipeg, had been released on bail last July while awaiting trial on impaired driving charges. The Crown attorney had opposed bail.

The province is also looking at new technology to monitor people released on bail and other court-ordered supervision. The Tory government had issued a request for proposals for high-tech ankle bracelets before the election. That process is still underway, Justice Minister Matt Wiebe said.

The government is also going to spend $500,000 on enhanced supervision measures and mental health and substance-use supports, Wiebe said.

Another $3 million is to be used later this year to fund 12 new officer positions with the Winnipeg Police Service. Their focus will be on arresting offenders who knowingly breach release conditions, Wiebe said.

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham welcomed the new provincial measures.

“Every time I read a report from the police or read a media story and see reference to repeat offenders not following (a) court order, I am like everybody else. I am frustrated, I am angry,” Gillingham said.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives said the federal government should toughen the rules for people seeking bail.

“The only bail reform that can happen is at the federal level — making sure that laws are in place that prolific offenders, repeat offenders, violent offenders are kept in jail,” Tory justice critic Wayne Balcaen said.

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