In late January, a woman was stabbed on a streetcar in Toronto. Two uniformed TTC workers were also assaulted on their way to work, another TTC driver was shot with a BB gun, and a person wearing a religious head covering was hit in a subway station in an alleged hate-motivated assault.
Meanwhile, some legal experts argue tougher bail laws across the board could actually make the public less safe — and force more legally innocent people to suffer.
“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, speaking with Global News when the calls for bail reform first emerged in early January.
Being held in remand actually “increases the rate of recidivism,” which means the person is “more likely to commit offences when they eventually are released,” Spratt said.
Spending time in detention, even for a short period of time, can cause people to lose income, housing, employment and social connections, according to a 2014 report from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
All those things are “stabilizing factors,” it said, that contribute to “individual success and community safety.”
Spratt expressed a similar concern.
“If someone is cut off from the community, cut off from employment, cut off from family, are exposed to violence, exposed to negative influences while in custody, they’re more likely to reoffend,” he said.
According to Statistics Canada figures from 2018-19, there were 70 per cent more adults in remand — meaning they were denied bail — on an average day than adults who were there because they had been convicted of a crime.
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.
Read Rachel Gimor’s full story: Global News