Put blame where it belongs
Outrage is the first emotion when you hear of a case of a person out on bail for a crime who then goes on, allegedly, to commit murder.
On June 2, Toronto was rocked when a shooter let loose at the Eaton Centre, killing one and injuring countless others. Twenty-three-year-old Christopher Husbands was charged with one count of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder, at a time when he was supposed to be in house arrest as a condition of his bail on a charge of sexual assault.
Last week, a girl in Saddle Lake died when she and a group of teenagers were out joyriding on the reserve. In that case, the driver of the vehicle was out on bail, charged with second-degree murder in the 2011 stabbing death of an Edmonton man.
His release involved a number of conditions, including adhering to a curfew between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., abstaining from drugs and alcohol of any kind, and keeping the peace. If the allegations against him are true, he was in breach of a number of conditions, raising the question about whether bail conditions are, in some cases, too lenient or if bail should even be granted for violent offences.
The Conservative government has pursued a “tough on crime” agenda, for instance, by eliminating things like double credit for time served, mandatory minimum sentencing and by criminalizing marijuana. Now, there might be a question on whether judges should have less discretion about the granting of bail. Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw says the Wildrose applauds the federal Conservatives’ tough on crime agenda. Right now, there’s “considerable discretion” at the judicial level in granting bail, and he muses, “There should be some stricter guidelines.” MP Brian Storseth adds that a Conservative former crime bill would have stipulated that people charged with gun crime could not receive bail unless they can prove they’re not a threat to society; if that bill had been pushed through, it would have been one step along the way to introducing tougher legislation around crime, he said.
Judicial discretion is not a bad thing; they have years of experience and knowledge about the law, and should be given the latitude to hear both sides of the case and weigh in accordingly. But Storseth makes sense when he notes that for violent, repeat offenders, offering bail or putting them on house arrest shouldn’t be an option. Most people – including judges - should agree this is a no-brainer.
In the case of the 17-year-old from Saddle Lake, it is important to note he is a youth, which adds an additional wrinkle. The Youth Criminal Justice Act dictates that the law and order system should do as much as possible to keep youth out of custody, said Const. John Spaans of the Elk Point RCMP, adding that if the parents are responsible people, “we’re kind of bound to let them stay with their parents.”
Spaans also notes that 90 per cent of people take their conditions quite seriously, especially if they’re putting up a high cash bail. There are some that “don’t regard court orders to be that serious,” and a breach of conditions is one of the more common charges RCMP members see, he said. But police do try to enforce bail conditions, for instance, by doing random bed checks to ensure people are obeying curfews, he said. If a person does breach conditions, he or she is less likely to receive bail in any future offences.
In seven years on the force, Spaans has seen people released with conditions accused of crimes, such as assault or aggravated assault, but this is the first time he has seen a situation where someone has been released on bail and allegedly caused the loss of life.
This suggests that the Saddle Lake accident, while tragic and preventable, was not the norm.
The real failure here isn’t with police or the justice system. People are working hard everyday to keep the balance between law and order, between trying to keep lives, particularly young people’s lives, from going off the rails. At the same time, they are enforcing punishment for laws that are broken and upholding peace in our society.
Sure, let there be outrage for outrageous situations. But in this case, let’s put the blame where it really belongs, on the driver that chose to joyride in a vehicle, allegedly under the effects of alcohol, to stunt and show off, and who might have been responsible for one young girl’s death.
If the allegations are true and proven in court, then the suspect deserves whatever punishment court metes out and the guilt of having snuffed out a life with total reckless stupidity.
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