Sudbury’s police board supports push to make bail stricter for some offenders
February 17, 2023 By Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Feb. 17, 2023, Sudbury, Ont. – The Greater Sudbury Police Services Board is gearing up to support a nationwide push to tighten bail for those accused of dangerous crimes.
First raised by the Ontario Association of Police Services Board, the calls for bail reform resurged in January, nearly a month after the killing of 28-year-old OPP Const. Greg Pierzchala. Those accused of the murder were out on bail at the time.
All 13 of Canada’s premiers signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging Ottawa to take “immediate action” to toughen Canada’s bail system.
Last month, the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards reached out to its members, including those in Sudbury, to solicit comments ahead of their renewed push on the issue. That includes a request to other boards to either support their position or draft their own letters to the federal government to strengthen support for changes.
Al Sizer, chair of the police board in Sudbury, said the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards first raised the issue in a survey that included a question about whether local police boards would support bail reform.
At the time, Sizer said he sent an email to then-board members to solicit their opinions, then responded to the survey in support of reform.
Now, the Ontario association is seeking further comments from boards to strengthen its case as they move ahead with the campaign.
“(The Ontario Association of Police Services Boards) is ready to make their presentations and requests to the federal government,” said Sizer. “This is a national initiative.”
On June 7, 2022, the police board association sent a letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to press the need for “evidence-based bail reform.” The letter was in support of the Toronto Police Services Board, which was also pushing the issue at the time.
In it, the organization said it wanted to see legislative changes to make it more difficult for a “high-risk segment of the population” to be released on bail ahead of their court date.
“The tools currently available to the police and their partner agencies have been ineffective at preventing tragic events within (Toronto),” the association said in the letter.
“We recognize that the complexities of the issues impacting community safety and wellbeing require a collaborative multi-sector commitment to be successful. This is no exception. Emergency services, community services, health services, local councils, provincial governments and the federal government need to recognize the crucial role each plays in the collective effort to make each of our communities safe.”
Their specific recommendations include:
- Requiring that bail hearing for most serious firearm offences be heard by a judge of the Ontario Court or Superior Court. This is meant to convey the seriousness of the offences and their impact on the public, as well as reflecting concerns of the public about the incidents.
- Adding an additional route to first-degree murder under section 231 of the Criminal Code by including “death resulting from the discharge of a firearm in a congregate setting.” The association said this would act as a deterrent, clearly convey society’s disapproval of such conduct, and maintain public confidence in the justice system.
- Increasing parole ineligibility to two-thirds of an individual’s custodial sentence for any offence where the court finds the defendant discharged a firearm in a congregate setting. That would include those found to be parties to such crimes. The letter did not say how intent and other factors would be considered in these cases.
At their meeting Wednesday, Sudbury’s police board agreed to review a draft letter addressed to the federal government in support of bail reform and return comments by Feb. 21.
“It is more than just bail reform,” said Sizer. “There are a lot of tenets involved in that act that will have to be looked at.”
In response to questions from board members, Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen said they have already publicly supported the positions of the police board association, as well as the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which is also pushing for reform.
Pedersen also emphasized that the organizations are looking at reform for a narrow demographic.
“We’re talking about a very small subset of those involved in the judicial system,” he said. “It’s violent, repeat offenders that pose the greatest risk. (We’re) trying to balance the rights of an individual to be presumed innocent before trial, and the impact on community safety.”
He added the problem is complex and efforts need to be prioritized to ensure “the right people are going into the judicial system.”
Other police board members did not offer many comments during the meeting, hesitant to do so without thoroughly reviewing the issue and the draft letter.
“As the chief of police said, it’s very complicated,” said Mayor Paul Lefebvre. “There are so many layers here that at first glance, it’s easy to miss the point, but there are layers of missing pieces for a successful bail system that is not there yet.”
– The Sudbury Star
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