Ontario releases updated numbers on special bail reviews: uncommon, but effective

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From October 2018 until September 2019, specialized provincial bail teams requested bail reviews for gun offenders in Toronto 56 times out of 449 hearings, according to updated numbers from the ministry of the attorney-general. 

Of those 56 bail reviews, detention was ordered 57 per cent of the time. 

The hearings include both adult and youth court. 

Last year, the Intensive Firearm Bail Support Team was launched by the province as part of its gun violence strategy, made up of five Crown attorneys and five case managers, based out of five Toronto courthouses. 

Mayor John Tory has been urging the federal government to make changes for stiffer bail laws and last week, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said he wanted to see action on bail as well. 

In response, the Dept. of Justice in a statement said while bail laws are under federal jurisdiction, the administration of those laws is left to the province. 

On the newly released numbers of bail reviews, Tory said didn't take a position. 

"I can't judge whether tha'ts a reasonable number or not, but I will not be happy until they have down, basically to zero, the number of instances in which people that out on bail on firearms charges two and three times," he said. 

The mayor recently pointed to the Toronto Star reporting that between August and September, police arrested 53 people who  were already out on bail for firearms related offences. 

He said along with the feds changing the law and the province administering it, judges have to be more diligent. 

But NEWSTALK1010 Legal Analyst Ed Prutschi said in light of the updated numbers, his focus is on the Crown Attorneys, who clearly most of the time are getting release conditions they're comfortable with. 

"It either means that the system was already getting the result that the Crown really wanted and people facing serious gun charges were in fact being detained already overwhelmingly, or it means that the introduction of this team has been successful in getting the much higher numbers that they would want," he said. 

On the detention rate, Tory was a bit more critical. 

"We're saying that these charges are so serious as a matter of public safety and keeping neighbourhoods safe, that you are goinig to stand at a real risk of liberty pending your trial," he said. "I would've said those numbers aren't high enough, but there's not a number you can set."

Prutschi added the numbers actually challenge the idea there's a revolving door on bail, if specialized Crown attorneys are often satisfied with the initial decision by a justice of the peace or a judge. 

"The vast majority of circumstances, this specialized gun enforcement Crown team, they're getting the result that they want," he said. "Either getting a detention order or they're getting a release on conditions that they feel the public should be satisfied with or that they're satisfied with." 

Attorney-General Doug Downey has not yet been made available for an interview. 

Prutschi says the detention rate does show teams are being effective when they do decide to launch a review. 

"(30 people) roughly who otherwise would've been out on bail, facing gun charges, who are now in custody over the last year precisely because of this team," he said.