Parliamentary Committee Notes: Speaking Notes for the Honourable Marco Mendicino Minister of Public Safety
Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee and colleagues, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
I understand and respect the Committee’s motion to undertake a comprehensive study of Canada’s bail system.
The tragic death of OPP Constable Greg Pierzchala in December has understandably brought increased attention to questions regarding bail release.
First, allow me to express my sincere condolences to Constable Pierzchala’s family, friends, and colleagues.
It’s clear he was a beloved, exemplary member of his community, and it is difficult to understand such senseless loss.
Second, as you know, any changes to Canada’s bail system would require legislative amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code, which falls under the purview of the Minister of Justice.
As Minister of Public Safety, such legislative amendments are outside my mandate and that of my department.
That being said, I know that the Department of Justice is closely reviewing the proposal for bail reforms signed by provincial and territorial leaders, and my colleagues and I recently met with provincial and territorial ministers at an ad hoc meeting on bail.
We agreed to a number of ways to better address challenges facing our bail system and ensure that the objectives of the system are being met.
As early as this legislative session, we agreed to strengthen public safety through Criminal Code amendments targeting violent offenders and serious offences committed with firearms.
Federal, provincial, and territorial governments can also consider non-legislative efforts such as improved data, policies, and training in bail supports and enforcement.
I’m looking forward to continuing those thoughtful discussions with my provincial, territorial, and federal colleagues.
I am also continually in close communication with Minister Lametti and will be monitoring any developments.
While Criminal Code amendments are outside my purview, many of the Department of Public Safety’s initiatives play a critical role in promoting broader public safety objectives throughout the country, at Canada’s borders, and at the provincial, territorial, and municipal levels.
I’d like to take a few moments to provide an overview of some of these important programs and their impacts.
In particular, we are committed to focusing on the grassroot causes of gun violence—with programs like the $250-million Building Safer Communities Fund, to tackle gun crime and support community-led projects.
This is in addition to the over $40 million provided annually, through the National Crime Prevention Strategy, which invests in community-based efforts that prevent youth involvement in crime and helps address the risk factors known to lead to criminal activity.
Most recently, as part of the Strategy’s Crime Prevention Action Fund, I had the opportunity to announce up to $5.79 million in funding for 902 ManUp’s Black Empowerment Initiative in Halifax.
This funding will help empower Black youth across the province of Nova Scotia to make healthy choices by giving them a strong foundation in education and breaking down barriers to employment—ultimately setting them up for success on a positive life path.
In addition, in June 2022, I tabled the Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism, which aims to break the cycle of reoffending, support rehabilitation and make our communities safer for everyone.
The Framework is the Government of Canada’s first step in putting together a plan that identifies crucial factors that impact why people reoffend and how to support safe and successful reintegration into the community.
The Guns and Gangs Violence Action Fund, under the Initiative to Take Action Against Gun and Gang Violence, also provides funding to provinces and territories since 2018–19 to increase community resources and get guns off our streets through prevention, intervention, suppression, and enforcement initiatives.
In Ontario, for example, this funding has been used to support the Province’s Guns, Gangs and Violence Reduction Strategy, which aims to funnel additional resources to local police, prosecutors and community partners to reduce illegal gun and gang violence.
Mr. Chair, this Government has also made historic strides in combating gun violence through recent firearms legislative changes.
In 2020, our government banned over 1,500 models of assault-style weapons and last year we expanded background checks to keep firearms out of the wrong hands.
And Bill C-21, currently being studied at committee, increases maximum penalties, including those under section 95 of the Criminal Code, from 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment for firearms-related offences and new charges for altering the magazine or cartridge of a gun to exceed its lawful capacity.
This is about tackling violent crime and preventing senseless, tragic deaths.
We know that no single initiative will end the complex issue of gun violence.
This bill is but one part of our comprehensive approach.
And now, as we see gun violence continue to rise, it is our duty to keep taking action.
We will continue to build on the foundation of reformative legislation like Bill C‑75, Bill C‑71, and Bill C‑21.
The amendments in Bill C-75, which received Royal Assent in 2019, balance public safety with a modern, unburdensome criminal justice system, by favouring reasonable bail conditions and resorting to sureties only when less onerous forms of release are inadequate.
Canada’s bail laws are very clear that a person should be held in custody pending trial if releasing them would create a public safety risk or undermine confidence in the administration of justice.
That being said, we are committed to working with provinces and territories to undertake responsible and effective changes to the bail system, where warranted.
The Department of Justice also has plans to engage with them in the coming weeks, and my department has been invited to participate in these discussions.
Mr. Chair, I have been speaking about not just Canada’s bail system but our criminal justice system and our actions to prevent crime more broadly.
That is because addressing bail reform, and what some see as symptoms of a problematic system, like gun violence, requires a multi-pronged approach.
These are all historic commitments, and the importance of codifying them into law cannot be understated.
But we also know that we can’t arrest or legislate our way out of the problems on our streets and in our communities—a crucial piece of creating safer communities is investing in prevention and intervention to end the cycle of crime.
That is why Public Safety Canada has prioritized funding and programs, like those I mentioned earlier, that tackle the root causes of crime, particularly gun violence.
The legislation we have introduced and the complementary measures we have taken are complex, yes—but they are also common sense.
They are based on evidence and designed following extensive consultations with advocacy groups and stakeholders.
The bottom line, as we all know, is that even one person lost to gun violence is too many.
We must act swiftly and decisively to end it.
And the recent measures we have taken are a significant stride forward in doing so.
Mr. Chair, for any government, there is no priority greater than the protection of its citizens.
Strong firearms laws, concerted and comprehensive action against organized crime and gang prevention, are all pillars of this Government’s smart-on-crime approach.
We know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to any of this.
By investing in grassroot efforts and in our communities, we will improve public safety, prevent tragedies and save lives.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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