News / Ottawa

Ottawa lawyer applauds Liberal government's first step to bail reform

A University of Ottawa study done for the Justice Department concluded "the time is ripe for action" for overhauling Canada's bail system.

Trevor Brown, president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, says the culture of risk-aversion in Canada is hurting the country's most vulnerable populations.

Joe Lofaro/Metro

Trevor Brown, president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, says the culture of risk-aversion in Canada is hurting the country's most vulnerable populations.

The president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa welcomes the federal government’s plan to fix Canada’s “broken” bail system because, he says, it is marginalizing the country’s most vulnerable people.

The percentage of the average total provincial jail population on remand in Ontario was at 18 per cent in 1980, but in 2013 it jumped to 61 per cent, according to a study done by University of Ottawa criminologist Cheryl Webster for the Justice Department.

The study was released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

DCAO president Trevor Brown, like many defence lawyers in Ottawa, says the bail system is in need of an overhaul.

“It tends to marginalize the poor, the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, First Nations people. You have all these people on remand who have not been found guilty and are presumed innocent, but they lose their liberty while they’re awaiting disposition in the matters,” he said.

One of the recommendations in the report is to establish a legislative framework that presumes innocence and does not detain anyone unless the Crown convinces the court it’s necessary.

Detaining accused people while they wait for a bail hearing or a trial comes at a cost, warns Brown. Inmates held in overcrowded jails like the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre are frequently on lockdown and have limited access to a phone.

“So the limitations to access to counsel are huge,” he said.

“You can’t communicate with your lawyer. It makes it extremely challenging for an accused person in custody to adequately prepare for trial or even prepare for a sentencing.”

Brown said he would like to see more resources for marginalized communities and “see less resources invested in trying to keep people in custody.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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