Canada’s jails are filled with legally innocent victims

Canada’s jails filled with victims of risk-averse bail system: report

Chris Cobb
Ottawa Citizen: July 23, 2014

A majority of the 25,000 people held in Canada’s overcrowded provincial and territorial jails are legally innocent and victims of a malfunctioning, risk-averse bail system, according to a damning new study by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“Canadians spend over $850 million (annually) on pre-trial detention, even though the majority of people who are jailed upon arrest are facing non-violent, minor charges,” said Abby Deshman, CCLA program director and co-author of the report Set up to Fail: Bail and the Revolving Door of Pre-Trial Detention.

“The cost — personal, societal and financial — of heading down this path is overwhelming,” she added.

The routine incarceration of people while they await a bail hearing or trial has increased as Canada’s crime rate — especially violent crime — had steadily decreased, notes the report.

Violent crime is at its lowest rate since 1987 and almost 80 per cent of crime reported to police services across Canada is relatively petty and non-violent, it says.

“Canada’s jails have not always looked like this,” adds the report. “The remand rate has nearly tripled in the past 30 years, and 2005 marked the first time in Canadian history that our provincial institutions were primarily being used to detain people prior to any finding of guilt, rather than after they had been convicted and sentenced.”

The system, it says, routinely violates the charter rights of Canadians who have a legal right to presumption of innocence and fundamental justice.

“The law governing bail aims to safeguard individual liberty, the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial by putting in place a strong presumption of release and only imposing restrictions on liberty or detaining a person where absolutely necessary,” the report says.

“Legally innocent individuals are processed through a bail system that is chaotic and unnecessarily risk-averse and that disproportionately penalizes — and frequently criminalizes — poverty, addiction and mental illness.”

“Canada’s bail system is full of pitfalls that punish and criminalize innocent people,” said CCLA executive director Sukanya Pillay.

Legally innocent people who eventually get bail are often released with onerous conditions and are set up to fail — notably alcoholics who are routinely ordered not to drink as a condition of release, the report says.

Failure to comply with bail conditions is a criminal offence.

(read the full article at Ottawa Citizen)

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