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Tories spending $112M to beef up province's bail system

Money will go to four programs, including bail compliance teams and expanding OPP's repeat offender parole enforcement unit
Ontario Premier Doug Ford greets officers at the Toronto Police College following a press conference in Etobicoke, Ont., on Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

It's police week in Ontario. 

On Thursday, the province announced $112 million for various programs intended to crack down on what the government says is a broken bail system. 

The money will go to four separate programs.

The province is creating a new "bail compliance and warrant apprehension grant" that will establish "bail compliance teams," according to a release.

The OPP, municipal and First Nations police services will get $24 million to set up the units. There's not a ton of detail on what exactly they'll do, but the release said one of their jobs will be to "assist prosecutors with gathering evidence and assessing public safety risk during the bail hearing stage."

Another $48 million will go to expanding the OPP's repeat offender parole enforcement unit. It will be tasked with arresting "high-risk provincial offenders who have broken their bail conditions or are unlawfully at large," according to the release. 

There will also be new bail "teams" in the court system "to ensure that there are dedicated prosecutors and subject matter experts to prepare for and properly conduct the often lengthy and complex bail hearings," the release said. 

Finally, the Tories will also spend around $14 million to deploy an electronic bail monitoring system across the province. 

The dashboard was developed by the Durham and Toronto police services, said Solicitor General Michael Kerzner, but the new money will help the OPP roll it out province-wide. 

"We'll be able to keep a very fine look on where people who are violating bail are, and we will be able to identify and to communicate with the local police services in the different jurisdictions where they are so we can get them before they cause crime," Kerzner said. 

The announcement comes after other public safety-related moves earlier in the week.

On Tuesday, the government said its scrapping plans to require a post-secondary education for new police recruits, and will cover the 13-week training course at the Ontario Police College.

On Wednesday, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton announced funding for programs that help ex-convicts find jobs. 

It also comes amidst a push by the provinces to pressure Ottawa to reform Canada's bail system, which is under the purview of the federal government. 

After an OPP officer was killed in December, Ford and his fellow provincial premiers sent a letter to the federal government on the topic.

Around the same time, Ontario's justice policy committee was conducting hearings into the bail system and ways the province could pressure the feds to act, plus how the province could take its own steps. 

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said he's open to acting on some of the concerns. 

The eventual committee report made a number of recommendations for both levels of government, including instituting a "reverse onus" bail system for certain firearms offences. A reverse onus system, which requires federal action, would require the accused to prove they're not likely to re-offend while awaiting trial. 

Some of the province-specific recommendations include spending more money to help prosecutors with bail hearings and spending more to train justices of the peace on bail provisions. 

Some of the measures announced on Thursday weren't included in the committee's recommendations. 

Earlier this month, the Tories also passed a motion in the house calling on the feds to "implement meaningful bail reform to prevent violent and repeat offenders from being released back into our communities."

Not everyone's onside with the provincial push for stricter bail conditions. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) testified before the provincial committee and urged governments to "focus on evidence-based solutions aimed at keeping people out of the justice system." 

That includes more social support in areas like mental health, housing, and beefing up reintegration programs. 

"The evidence shows that strategies like these – rather than increased reliance on incarceration – are proven to have an impact on crime rates and community safety," The CCLA wrote in a release. 

In their testimony before the committee, the CCLA said Canada's bail system is already quite tough — and has gotten more so in recent decades. 

"In the 1980s and 1990s, pre-trial detainees represented 23 per cent to 30 per cent of the prison population. Today, (prisoners awaiting trial) account for more than 70 per cent of all inmates held in Ontario’s correctional system," according to a 2020 Statistics Canada report

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Aidan Chamandy

About the Author: Aidan Chamandy

Aidan Chamandy specializes in energy and housing. He can usually be found looking for government documents on obscure websites and filing freedom-of-information requests. He hosts and produces podcasts. Reach him anytime at [email protected].
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