Toronto’s police chief was on the defence Thursday after seeming to criticize the criminal justice system for releasing dangerous suspects on bail, which he said jeopardizes the safety of the public and his officers.
“I'm concerned when I’ve got someone shooting at my men and women, and they're getting bail,” Chief Mark Saunders told reporters following a police graduation ceremony Thursday.
The comments came hours after the chief tweeted that 51-Division Major Crime Unit officers had seized drugs and a firearm Tuesday night; the suspect had been out on bail from previous firearms charges.
In a subsequent tweet the chief highlighted another incident where a suspect being arrested for firearms offences fired a 380 semi-automatic handgun at his officers.
“Are you as surprised as I am that he is out on BAIL?” Saunders tweeted. “We need to get this right!”
Earlier this year my @TorontoPolice officers attempted to arrest a suspect for firearms offences. The suspect’s response was to shoot a 380 semi automatic handgun at my officers! Are you as surprised as I am that he is out on BAIL? We need to get this right!— Mark Saunders (@marksaunderstps) October 3, 2019
53 people arrested by Toronto Police in August and September on firearm charges were re-arrested while out on bail, according to the chief. 24 of them, he said, received bail a second time.
Saunders stressed Thursday that solutions need to focus on more than arrests.
“I’ve said from the start, it's a social issue, it really is,” he said. “The gun is a symptom to that. So if we're going to get this right, it's not about arresting or re-arresting, it's not about incarceration forever. It’s about doing what we all need to do.”
“How many is too many?” echoed Mayor John Tory. “These are people going out and shooting up our neighbourhoods and causing people to live in fear. Then to me, there is a need for us to change that system.”
Toronto police chief Mark Saunders is seen here at a police graduation ceremony. (CTV News Toronto)
But the head of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA) accused the Chief and the Mayor of irresponsibly blaming the judiciary.
“The point is that you have the right to test these allegations in court in the bail context. That includes the right to be presumed that you get reasonable bail unless it can be satisfied that you're not releasable,” CLA President Michael Lacy said.
Lacy added that judges have no ability to defend themselves outside of reading their decisions in court.
Criminal Lawyers' Association President Michael Lacy is seen in this photo. (CTV News Toronto)
“Everybody has a piece when it comes to community safety,” Saunders responded. “Are we all putting our energies in the right places?”