Anger and grief over the shooting death of 28-year-old Ontario Provincial Police Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala in late December has prompted calls for tougher bail laws.
The accused, Randall McKenzie, 25, and Brandi Crystal Lyn Stewart-Sperry, 30, are each facing a charge of first-degree murder in relation to the young OPP officer’s death.
McKenzie was out on bail with a warrant out for his arrest for breaching conditions. His past offences include several firearms offences and assaulting a peace officer.
“We do not want to imprison people who have not been found guilty. We don’t want to imprison innocent people,” said Michael Spratt, a criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa.
On top of the risk of keeping an innocent person incarcerated, Spratt said that using pretrial detention and denying people bail is something that “disproportionately affects people from lower socioeconomic groups.”
In-depth reporting from Reuters backs up Spratt’s claims.
For some of these people, the time they’re forced to spend in remand forces them to make some difficult decisions.
“The number of times that I’ve had to have such hard conversations with clients where they are innocent,” said Spratt.
“I tell them they can win their case because the evidence is on our side, but they’re denied bail … either because of a past record or because (they have) no stable address or because they’re marginalized in some way.”
But then, when his client is told their trial will be months away and they could be released today if they plead guilty — despite Spratt’s belief they could win their case — many choose immediate freedom.
“The incentive to plead guilty and accept responsibility for something you didn’t do — even though that means you could get a record or lose employment opportunities, or lose housing opportunities or lose the ability to travel or parent your children — is so overwhelming, because the conditions in jail are so Dickensian,” Spratt said.