Ontario must make bail reform meaningful

November 8, 2017
Article Source
Toronto Star

From a Toronto Star opinion piece: Ontarians have waited decades for a slate of visionary reforms to a bail system that is grossly unfair and none-too-subtly racist. They are still waiting.

Reforms to the policy directive governing how Crown prosecutors ought to conduct bail hearings, announced last week by Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, are long on hopeful optimism and short on genuine promise.

They are not going to alter the fact that, for those charged with a criminal offence, being wealthy and white is still the best guarantee of avoiding a prolonged stay in a decrepit jail cell awaiting your day in court.

Once a person is charged with a crime, a bail hearing becomes a life-changing event. Depending on the prosecutor and jurist who are in court that day, you may or may not be offered favourable bail conditions. If you own a house, have a job, and have family or friends who can pledge a sizable sum of money and act as supervisors, you are likely to soon be on your way home.

‎‎In contrast, statistical data has confirmed time and again that immigrants, the mentally ill, racialized groups, and the poor stand the least chance of being released on bail. Despite remaining wholly innocent under the law, they lose their freedom for months or years as the criminal process plays out.

Barriers to fairness are everywhere. To take just one example, an individual who works two jobs and 80 hours per week may not be an acceptable bail supervisor because they are not available to meet the rigorous supervision requirements expected by the courts.

‎In many instances, house arrest has become a kind of default release plan. For the accused person, it means a measure of freedom but at the expense of his or her employment or social connections. ‎

The systemic price we pay for our antiquated bail system is equally sobering. It costs more than 40 times as much to house an inmate pending trial as to monitor him on bail.

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