Why bail reform in Ontario is an expensive mistake

Posted on April 13, 2023 in Child & Family Debates

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TheStar.com – Opinion/ContributorsS
April 13, 2023.   By Chris Sewrattan, Contributor

I will let you in on a secret. Bail reform is not the solution politicians say it is.

Politicians are blaming some newsworthy violent crimes on the bail system. The solution, they say, is bail reform. Bail reform is an attempt to make it harder for people charged in certain circumstances to get released on bail.

If bail reform is not the solution politicians say it is, we are throwing away money and compromising public safety. It costs approximately $302 per day to keep one person in jail in Ontario. If the cost of denying bail for a year was a person, it would be on the Sunshine List.

I will let you in on a secret. Bail reform is not the solution politicians say it is.

Two recent murders show how bail reform misses the mark. Gabriel Magalhaes was stabbed to death in the Keele subway station. The 16-year-old’s alleged murderer was not on bail. Bail reform would not have prevented this tragedy.

OPP Constable Greg Pierzchala was killed in December. His alleged murderer, Randall McKenzie, was on bail for a previous violent offence against a peace officer. At the same time, there was a warrant for McKenzie’s arrest. The bail system was ready to take McKenzie off of the street. For reasons that the police need to explain, the police did not use the warrant to arrest McKenzie. The failure here was not the law, but the police failing to use the law.

There is another argument tied in with bail reform. Violent offenders, once convicted, should not be back on the streets where they can harm the public. This is an argument for sentencing reform. The United States tried this. It has not worked. Moreover, increasing the length of sentences has nothing to do with bail reform.

I will let you in on another secret. Bail reform largely exists already. Do you want people who allegedly commit a crime while on bail to be held in jail unless they can show why they should be released? That’s already the law. The same goes for people who allegedly possess a gun while they are prohibited from doing so.

There are more deserving arguments against bail reform aside from it being poor fiscal policy. Academics have thought about this issue from a broad perspective. Lawyers experience the bail system at the ground level. Both are saying the same thing. Bail reform is a knee-jerk answer to a complex question. Bail reform is a punishing experience for those who will be unreasonably denied bail. Bail reform is possibly unconstitutional. That should tug at your heart strings. But if it does not, know that it will pull at your wallet.

Instead of locking people up to keep us safe on transit, we could put that money into lowering transit fares. Politicians need to look past bail reform and turn their attention toward a solution that actually makes us safer.

Chris Sewrattan is a lawyer at Sewrattan Criminal Lawyers Professional Corporation. He teaches criminal procedure at the Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Toronto Metropolitan University.


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