Conservative Senator Bob Runciman slams ‘appalling’ Liberal move to kill bail reform bill
The Liberal government is set to block a private member’s bill to tighten a bail provision that led to the fatal shooting of an Alberta Mountie — a move the legislation’s architect calls playing politics with lives.
Conservative Senator Bob Runciman’s bill would compel Crown prosecutors to present evidence about an accused person’s criminal history and outstanding charges to be considered at bail hearings.
He said the Liberal plan to kill the proposed Criminal Code provision could compromise public safety.
“I think it’s appalling, really,” Runciman told CBC News.
His bill was introduced in the House of Commons last month after passing with broad support in the Senate. But as debate began on the bill last night, the Liberals made it clear the government would not offer its support.
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Bill S-217 is named Wynn’s Bill after St. Albert RCMP Const. David Wynn, who was fatally shot at a casino in January 2015. Aux. Const. Derek Walter Bond was shot and wounded as the pair confronted a suspected in a stolen vehicle.
The attacker, Shawn Rehn, was out on bail at the time of the shooting, despite having more than 30 outstanding charges. He had been granted interim release and his criminal history was not presented at the bail hearing.
Liberal MP Sean Casey, the parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, raised concerns that Runciman’s bill could lead to court delays and resource issues, and might even pose constitutional questions.
“As this tragedy in St. Albert demonstrates, decisions made at bail can have far-reaching, devastating consequences,” he told the House. “While I appreciate its objective, the government does not support the bill. Effecting meaningful change would require a comprehensive response that considers stakeholders’ perspectives and fully assesses the legal and policy implications for the bail process.”
But Runciman called that criticism “complete and utter fabrication,” since information is readily available through the Canadian Police Information Centre database, and most prosecutors already present this evidence as a matter of course. His bill would only serve to make it mandatory so no cases slip through the cracks.
Runciman, a former Ontario solicitor general who now serves as chair of the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee, said the rationale presented by the Liberals would not stand up to scrutiny if they allowed his bill to proceed to committee.
“That’s not fair. It’s not fair to victims, it’s not fair to the widow or the community who lost a very good man,” he said.
Runciman appealed to all Liberal MPs to listen to compelling testimony by Wynn’s widow, Shelley MacInnis-Wynn, when she appeared at the Senate committee pleading for passage of the bill. He has already sent a letter and video to Wilson-Raybould and to Gerald Butts, the principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
NDP MP and public safety critic Mathew Dubé said his party has some serious questions about the bill, but supports moving it to the committee stage for more careful consideration.
“From our point of view, given how that community has been touched by the death of Const. Wynn, at the very least it should go to committee,” he said.
When Alberta Conservative MP Michael Cooper introduced the bill in the House last month, he urged MPs to close what he called a “glaring loophole” in the bail application process.
“There is no doubt in my mind that had Wynn’s Law been the law, Const. Wynn’s killer would have remained behind bars where he belonged, and Const. Wynn would be alive today,” he said.
Victims’ advocate John Muise, a 30-year veteran of the Toronto police force who served five years as a member of the National Parole Board, said he’s “shocked and disappointed” the Liberals won’t support the bill. He said information about criminal history, outstanding warrants and high-risk behaviour are “essential” to making any decision about an accused criminal’s release into the community.
Muise said the Liberal decision to kill the bill puts expediency before public safety.
Speed before safety?
“This is not about rights, or about delays or about any of those other smokescreens that Mr. Casey raised in second reading last night. It’s about one thing, and one thing only, making sure the right information is before the court,” he said. “The judge can then, with the best information, the best evidence, can make an informed decision.”
Runciman plans to pressure all MPs to support the bill after more debate leads to a vote to move S-217 to committee, expected in the new year.
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