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How does Canada’s bail system operate? Are we doing a good job protecting public safety? When individuals are arrested, are decisions about bail and pre-trial detention made in a fair, equitable manner that respects Charter rights?

These questions have been at the forefront of public discourse in recent months. In mid-January, the Premiers of all thirteen provinces and territories sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the federal Minister of Justice, calling for amendments to the Criminal Code.

While many commentators have suggested that our bail system is unduly lenient, such arguments run counter to decades of research. The evidence shows that Canada’s bail system has in fact become increasingly restrictive and risk-averse over time. Across Canada, the majority of people incarcerated in provincial and territorial jails – a staggering 67% – are in pre-trial detention (remand), rather than serving a sentence after a finding of guilt. We are detaining more people than ever before, with intensely negative outcomes for the individuals and communities that are most directly impacted by the criminal justice system.

On February 1, 2023, the CCLA will be providing testimony at Queen’s Park before the Standing Committee on Justice Policy, which has convened a series of hearings examining the bail system in Ontario. In addition, we have written to the Prime Minister and the federal Minister of Justice, in response to the Premiers’ call for bail reform. Our letter – co-authored with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and Dr. Nicole Myers, an expert on Canada’s bail system – emphasizes that criminal justice policy must be based on careful research, empirical evidence, and in-depth consultation.

Moving forward, we urge policymakers at every level of government to focus on evidence-based solutions aimed at keeping people out of the justice system. That means supporting people experiencing poverty, precarious housing, mental illness, and substance use; improving reintegration programs for people who have been incarcerated; enhancing social welfare supports; and investing in education and health care. Ultimately, 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.

About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.

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