Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Commissioner Thomas Carrique told a federal justice committee Wednesday that jail and bail reform is the only effective way to protect the public from repeat, violent offenders.
“The public’s right to be protected from these offenders must be given far greater weight than is currently the case when bail matters are considered,” he said. Carrique proposed that courts should be required to consider prior commissions of crimes and use of weapons, and the likely danger an accused may pose to the community, before granting bail to repeat offenders. He also called for the committee to expand reverse onus provisions for firearms possession offences so that “repeat violent offenders, or serious prolific offenders” have to satisfy public safety considerations before being granted bail.
Carrique noted that if the reforms he was recommending had been in place, they might have prevented the death of rookie OPP Constable Grzegorz Pierzchala, who was shot and killed while responding to a routine call near Hagersville, Ontario, on December 27, 2022. The suspect charged with first-degree murder, Randall McKenzie, is a repeat, violent offender with a criminal history of committing violent crimes and using firearms in the commission of those offences. According to transcripts from McKenzie’s bail review hearing in June 2022, he received bail in part due to his indigenous identity.
The police officer urged the committee to make these changes, noting that “if you stop and talk to any police officer in any community across this country, they will tell you that their top priority is to see bail reform.” He also stated that between 2018 and the end of 2022, the Ontario police saw a 72 percent increase in cases of serious violence involving accused individuals reoffending while on release for previous serious offences.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet have said they are looking at possible ways to amend the Criminal Code that would address the issue. Provincial premiers, police associations, and the Conservative Party have called on the federal government to reform the bail system. However, a motion for bail reform put forward by the federal Conservatives was defeated 205–116 in the House of Commons on February 6.