Toronto police chief, union president highlight call for bail reform

Toronto’s police chief is highlighting a renewed push for bail reform in Canada after he and several other senior police figures made their case to officials at the Ontario legislature.

On Tuesday, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s justice committee heard a series of presentation on the topic of bail reform, particularly for people accused of violence or firearm offences.

The Ontario Provincial Police’s commissioner and its union president were among the first to speak. Toronto’s chief, Myron Demkiw, was also on the list.

“Toronto, along with many other communities across Ontario and Canada, continue to deal with a troubling number of incidents of gun and gang violence, and far too often, they involve individuals who are out on bail at the time,” Demkiw, who took over as Toronto’s top cop at the end of 2022, said in a statement.

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He said that his force began its current bail reform campaign in May 2022, before a series of police killings in Ontario moved the conversation back up the agenda.

“Some may attempt to characterize our ideas as a knee-jerk reaction by law enforcement,” Demkiw said. “They clearly are not.”

Jon Reid, the president of the Toronto Police Association, also spoke.

“While the rights of an accused are important — they cannot, and should not, be at the expense of public safety,” he said in a statement.

The committee meeting comes as calls for bail reform within Ontario’s policing community grow louder.

On Sunday, for example, Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah used a media release about an alleged armed attempt to break into a Mississauga, Ont. business to repeat the demand.

“This violent incident was avoidable,” he said in a statement after four young people allegedly tried to break into a business with a handgun.

“Two of the arrested in this incident failed to adhere to the conditions of their release on previous charges. This is why we must pursue bail reform. Real change is needed to keep our community and our officers safe.”

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Roland D. Morrison, Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, spoke as the final police figure to appear in front of the committee. Women in Canadian Criminal Defence, The Society of United Professionals and the Criminal Lawyer’s Association all also presented on Tuesday.

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In mid-January, Canada’s premiers unanimously sent a letter to the federal government calling for “immediate action” to make Canada’s bail laws stricter.

The letter, which came originally from Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office, was dispatched soon after the late December killing of 28-year-old Const. Greg Pierzchala, a member of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Court documents show that one of the two people facing a first-degree murder charge in his death, Randall McKenzie, had been initially denied bail in a separate case involving assault and weapons charges but was released after a review.

The documents show a warrant had been issued for McKenzie’s arrest after he didn’t show up for a court date in August.

The letter from premiers notes a growing number of calls for changes to prevent accused people who are out on bail from committing further criminal acts.

“The justice system fundamentally needs to keep anyone who poses a threat to public safety off the streets,” it reads.

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“And this starts with meaningful changes to the Criminal Code, an area solely within the federal government’s jurisdiction.”

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