Premier David Eby said he is disappointed that proposed changes to federal bail legislation failed to pass six weeks following their introduction.
“The basic requirement of our justice system is that it keeps people safe and it’s not meeting that standard right now,” Eby said Thursday (June 22) at an unrelated event, when asked about the current status of Bill C-48. “So I’m disappointed, certainly, that the federal government was not able to (pass the bill) despite what I understand (was) broad agreement among the parties that this is important, that they support it, that they want this reform to take place.”
Federal Justice Minister and Attorney-General David Lametti had tabled “targeted” changes to the bail provisions in the Criminal Code with the hope of giving courts more ability to deny bail on May 16 but the House of Commons adjourned yesterday until Sept. 18. Wednesday’s adjournment officially leaves Bill C-48 at second reading with the bill still awaiting debate and committee review in the House of Commons. The bill would then move to the Senate.
Eby added he has received assurances that the bill would be moving forward in the fall. “(I) just can’t underline enough, at least from British Columbia’s perspective, that this is a huge priority and we need this bill passed.”
Cabinet ministers including Eby himself have been lobbying federal officials for changes in bail legislation for months following several high-profile incidents involving individuals who committed crimes while out on bail.
B.C. toughened bail measures in the fall of 2022 but Eby and along with the rest of provincial and territorial leaders also started pushing the federal government for changes that would partially reverse previous changes under Bill C-75. It had updated legislation unchanged for decades.
Broadly, Bill C-48 aims to address serious, repeat violent weapons offenders and the risks posed by intimate partner violence.
Key changes include expanding the list of firearms offences triggering reverse onus and broadening the existing reverse onus regime for victims of intimate partner violence. Reverse onus refers to accused individuals having to prove why courts should not detain them. Typically, Crown prosecutors have to prove why accused individuals should be detained.
Questions about the substance and process of federal bail reform appeared against the backdrop of growing concerns about public safety in B.C. This debate manifested itself through public protests in several communities in the spring of 2023 and sharp exchanges in the provincial legislature.
Government response to criticism included highlighting significant investments in additional police officers to the tune of $230 million and lobbying the federal government for bail reform, which appears to have succeeded in terms of substance, as government officials praised Bill C-48 when first tabled.
But Wednesday’s adjournment also shows that they did not control the process around Bill C-48.
Eby said he does not know why it did not pass in the just concluded session.
“But I will be definitely underlining this in our meetings with the federal government,” he said. “This will be a topic of conversation at the western premier’s conference that’s going to be taking place in Whistler shortly. This will be a topic again at the Council of the Federation in Winnipeg because this is an issue across the country and certainly if there’s an opportunity to pass this bill sooner than in the fall, I would encourage the federal government to take that action.”
Black Press Media has reached out to Lametti’s ministry for comment.