A Manitoba lawyer says his client was flown from Leaf Rapids to Winnipeg to sit in the Remand Centre overnight because RCMP wouldn’t take his cash bail money – a common problem that costs taxpayers thousands every time it happens.
Winnipeg defence lawyer Roh Gupta says there’s no provincial policy that allows community RCMP detachments to accept cash for bail.
Gupta described one case where his client was arrested in Leaf Rapids on an outstanding warrant and ended up being flown to Winnipeg to deposit an amount much less than the travel costs.
His client’s bail was set for $200. He had the money in cash, but RCMP officers told Gupta they couldn’t take the money and release his client, he said.
His client’s only option was to pay in cash because he doesn’t have a bank account, said Gupta.
Not knowing what to do, Gupta asked the supervising Crown attorney in Leaf Rapids what his client’s options were.
“And the Crown’s response to that is, ‘OK, someone needs to come to Thompson to deposit that money,” Gupta said.
Gupta’s client’s family and friends couldn’t make it to the Thompson courthouse, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Leaf Rapids, before it closed that day to pay his cash bail in person.
“He sat there in a cell, again with his money in his pocket that could secure his release,” Gupta said.
“Instead the government flew into the community, took him out of the community, flew him to the remand centre.”
Two sheriffs were sent on a chartered plane from Thompson to pick up his client in Leaf Rapids that day, said Gupta. They escorted his client to Winnipeg (about 900 kilometres away), where he spent the night in the Remand Centre and paid his bail in cash the next day.
Gupta said his client was then released and given a bus ticket to Thompson.
Global News asked Manitoba Justice why Gupta’s client could not stay at the Leaf Rapids RCMP detachment overnight and have someone pay his bail in Thompson the next day.
A spokesperson said they cannot comment on specific cases, but that “all individuals coming into custody must be isolated for up to 14 days at the Winnipeg Remand Centre to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 into facilities.”
“RCMP do not hold people once bail has been denied, granted or remanded,” they said in a statement.
Manitoba Justice confirmed there’s no provincial policy that allows community RCMP detachments to accept cash for bail.
The inability to accept his client’s cash in Leaf Rapids led to unacceptable inconveniences, said Gupta.
“I think everyone understands how fundamentally stupid this is, and I’m using the word stupid because the money is in his pocket.”
“They could have picked him up, RCMP could have taken the money and held onto it until the next court sitting, but instead the sheriffs say, ‘We’re just responsible for picking him up, we were told we’re picking him up and that’s what we’re doing.’”
The Justice Department said it is working on solutions. A new provision made earlier this year allows the courts to accept e-Transfers.
Gupta said he believes the e-Transfer policy was well-intentioned, but is fundamentally missing the mark.
“Many of my clients don’t have cellphones, let alone bank accounts. Many of my clients don’t even have identification.”
Aside from the thousands of dollars this trip cost Manitoba taxpayers, Gupta says it’s another example of discrimination in the northern court system.
“So when I was explaining the injustice to the accused about how he has the $200 in his pocket, he kind of just shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Yeah, this is the way it’s always been.’”
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