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Chief Neufeld: Bail reform is required to help curb Calgary crime

The president of the Calgary Criminal Defence Lawyers Association said bail and city safety aren't connected.

As the Calgary public safety conversation ramped up, law enforcement officials said putting the clamp on repeat violent offenders will put a dent in criminal activity.

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said that the suspect in a stabbing spree in Calgary’s downtown this week was out on bail with a condition not to possess knives.

“That’s what he used to stab Calgarians,” Chief Neufeld alleged, with the backdrop of Sunalta LRT station and the announcement of funding for more Calgary police officers.

Bail reform was an underlying message to federal lawmakers at the provincial funding announcement made Tuesday in Calgary.  Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said it was time for the federal government to do its part in improving public safety.

“The time for delay is over and it’s time the federal government end the system of catch and release plaguing our communities and reform Canada’s bail system,” she said Tuesday.

Chief Neufeld later told media that of the 45 persons charged with Calgary homicides in 2021, 2022 and 2023 (year to date), 23 were on release at the time of their alleged offences. He said seven were bound by firearms prohibitions.

Alberta’s Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis said that in 2019, Bill C75 “lowered the bar” for bail. The Bill confirmed a 2017 Supreme Court ruling that emphasized the release of detained persons at the “earliest reasonable opportunity.”

“As a result of that, the violent repeat offenders were being released in the streets,” Ellis said.

In a Calgary police commission meeting earlier this year, commissioners were told that the CPS offender management system actively monitors 318 offenders that are at a high risk to re-offend.

The webpage for the Serious Habitual Offender Program (SHOP) also states that a “disproportionate amount of crime is committed by a very small percentage of young habitual offenders.”

They monitor roughly 80 SHOP offenders at any one time.

Large proportion of offenders abide by their rules: CDLA

Ian Savage, president of the Calgary Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said there’s no data or evidence to suggest keeping people in jail longer will make cities any safer.

“Bail is an imprecise tool – just like most other things in the justice system – an imprecise tool to predict people’s future behaviour,” he said.

“There is still a large percentage of people who abide by all their bail conditions and deal with their cases appropriately.”

He said it’s a false concept to think that people getting out on bail “improperly” would be contributing to the violence on Calgary Transit or anywhere else.

“There’s no need to keep people that ordinarily might be getting bail under the present system, there’s no need to deny them bail or keep them in jail longer.”

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has requested an urgent meeting with Canadian premiers to discuss bail reform. They say there’s been a rise in violence by people released on bail since the Bill C75 changes were made.

Chief Neufeld said there’s enough capacity to hold those dangerous, repeat offenders in the Calgary Remand Centre. Right now, they’re only holding those that have been sentenced under two years, and those in pre-trial custody.

“That’s the challenge. It’s people going in front of a justice of the peace or a judge, and again, the bar has been lowered to the point that most people are getting out,” he said.

“Bail is understandably a default, but there’s got to be a better way to make sure that we’re requiring people who are who’ve been dangerous, repeat offenders, firearms offenders, those that visit the worst harm on the community, that they’re staying in custody.”