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Canada's bail reforms could disproportionately affect marginalized groups, advocates warn


Advocates are raising concerns that Canada’s new bail reforms could disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

Last week, the House of Commons approved senate amendments to Bill C-48, bringing the federal government one step closer to enacting reforms designed to keep repeat violent offenders behind bars.

But Emilie Coyle, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said the reforms would undermine efforts to combat systemic discrimination in the justice system, adding to the overincarceration of Indigenous women and others.

Bill C-48 would expand the use of reverse-onus provisions, which force the accused, in certain cases, to demonstrate why they should be released on bail, rather than requiring prosecutors to prove why they should remain in custody. 

"Whenever there is a reverse-onus provision in any of our legislation, we have to be very careful because it could lead us down a dangerous road where the state has most of the power versus individuals who have no power,” said Coyle.

B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma said the province is aware of those concerns.

"Our efforts in B.C. are to make sure that doesn't happen. We have an Indigenous justice strategy, for example, that is putting tools in place to make sure we lessen the negative impacts on Indigenous people that we know are disproportionate,” Sharma told CTV News.

“We think it’s right, when it comes to repeat violent offending, that when people have shown repeated violence without proper interventions in place, that there are systems in place to help deal with them.”

Premier David Eby commended the federal government for listening to repeated concerns brought forward by provincial leaders and many chiefs of police over the past year.

"It is frustrating to me that's taken so long to get to this point,” Eby said Monday.

"We've had several high-profile scenarios that are very disturbing to British Columbians, and frankly corrosive to their confidence in the justice system.”

Targeting violent repeat offenders has been a key focus of the premier’s over the past year.

Under the federal government’s changes, reverse-onus provisions would be expanded to include more firearms and weapons offences, as well as more circumstances involving intimate partner violence.

Coyle believes the reforms could negatively impact victims of domestic violence as well.

“Often what happens in intimate partner violence is that the people who are experiencing the intimate partner violence will … have the law weaponized against them, where they will be charged with intimate partner violence,” said Coyle.

With Bill C-48, those individuals could be jailed until they can demonstrate why they should be released.

Coyle argued if the government wants to improve public safety, it should be investing more money into social supports that ensure people's basic needs are met.

“I ask us to question why, after hundreds of years ... do we continue to use the same system of criminalization and incarceration to solve issues that we know aren’t being solved?” Coyle said.

She also highlighted concerns about capacity at provincial jails throughout Canada if more people are being incarcerated.

BC Corrections operates 10 provincial correctional centres with a combined total of 2,379 cells, with the majority containing two beds. As of Monday, there were 1,888 people in provincial custody. Top Stories

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