David Staples: Without law and order we have nothing — even Trudeau Liberals waking up to that fact

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Without law and order, we have nothing. This notion is hitting home in Canada. It’s even hitting home with the Trudeau Liberals.

Increased lawlessness, chaos and violent crime have marked Canada since Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government was elected in 2015, bringing with it more permissive laws and attitudes around the punishment of criminals, bail orders and public drug use.

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Without a reasonable certainty that we can be safe from violence on our city streets and public squares, trust in civil society, the federal government and the courts has taken a major hit.

Provincial premiers and police chiefs have been hammering on the federal government to address this for several years now. At last it appears the Trudeau Liberals are listening.

Trudeau’s government first broke the bail system but is now scrambling to fix it. In 2018, the Liberals created a new law, Bill C-75, that made it easier for violent criminals to get bail, but the Liberals are now pushing ahead with a new bill, C-48, to again make it more difficult to get bail under certain conditions.

“With Bill C-75, they essentially broken the bail system making it virtually impossible to keep anybody in what’s known as pre-trial custody,” said Alberta Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis in an interview Tuesday.

Bill C-75 had the net effect of taking away the rights of law-abiding Canadians, Ellis said. “You have a right not to get stabbed when you’re walking down the street. You have a right not to inhale second-hand crystal meth smoke. You have a right to feel safe. That was all put at risk, quite frankly, because of C-75. Since C-75, we have been less safe in this country.”

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As of last April, 26 homicides over the past three years in Edmonton had been committed by violent offenders arrested and subsequently released, some on bail, some due to COVID-19 limiting space in jail. In Calgary, that number was 24 homicides by offenders on bail, half of all homicide arrests in that city.

Every provincial leader in Canada united against Bill C-75’s slack processes. The federal government has been slow to bring in Bill C-48 but it quickly passed through Parliament this September and is close to making it through the Senate.

On Sept. 18, Trudeau’s new Justice Minister Arif Virani made it clear that tougher rules are needed.

“I want to begin by expressing my sincere condolences to the families of those we have lost recently in senseless killings,” Virani said in introducing C-48. “This violence is unacceptable and we cannot stand for it. Canadians deserve to be safe in their communities from coast to coast to coast.”

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C-48 puts a reverse onus to get bail on repeat violent offenders, especially those involved in weapons-related offences. As Virani explained in the House of Commons, “A reverse onus at bail starts with a presumption that an accused person will be detained pending trial unless they can show why they should be released. The onus is on the accused. It sends a strong message to the courts that Parliament believes bail should be harder to get when there is an increased risk to public safety.”

Conservative MP Raquel Dancho asked Virani about an interview he gave to Reuters in early August where he had downplayed concerns about rising violence, saying he thought that “empirically it’s unlikely” Canadians are, in fact, less safe than before.

Dancho said, “Unfortunately, we are seeing violent crime statistics up about 39 per cent since the Liberals formed government in 2015. Murders are up 43 per cent, gang-related homicides are up 108 per cent, violent gun crime is up 101 per cent and sexual assaults are up 71 per cent. I could go on. I wonder how he squares that circle. Does he believe violent crime is up, yes or no?”

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This time Virani didn’t attempt to evade the statistical reality. “I would say to her point-blank that the answer to her question is yes. Crime is up,” he admitted to Dancho.

But Bill C-48 isn’t a silver bullet to solve all our law and order problems, Ellis said. If C-48 fails to work, the Alberta government will demand that Bill C-75 be fully repealed.

Of course, if C-48 fails, there may also be electoral consequences.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre noted that when the Harper Conservatives were in power, their law-and-order approach led to a 26 per cent decrease in the crime rate. “We targeted the most violent and vicious criminals and made sure that repeat offenders were sent to prison. All the other parties said that this would increase the prison population. In fact, the number of prisoners decreased by 4.3 per cent.”

It’s a potent message.

We can hope Trudeau’s bail reform is equally strong.

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