Bail me out

New numbers suggest Canada’s bail system is more backed up than the highway during rush hour.

Driving the news: As many as 80% of inmates in Canada’s jail system are held without conviction, per The Globe and Mail, based on survey responses from seven provinces. 

  • Jails in Canada detain inmates awaiting trial and those imprisoned for minor crimes with a sentence of fewer than two years (any longer, and it’s off to a penitentiary).

Why it matters: In 2014, the percentage of inmates in prisons who were yet to be proven guilty was 55%. In the 1990s, it was as low as 23%. The rapid increase over the past few decades is indicative of a bail system plagued with delays and overstuffed bail courts.  

  • People are supposed to have a bail hearing within 24 hours of arrest or as soon as a judge is available, but many judges aren’t free on such short notice these days.
  • And while Canada doesn’t have cash bail, bail often requires people to have a surety —  a supervisor that puts down money — a barrier for impoverished individuals. 

Yes, but: Things could get even more congested if Bill C-48 passes. This law would make it tougher for some repeat offenders and those charged with domestic abuse to get bail via a process called “reverse onus,” where the accused must convince the court to release them. 

  • Reverse onus is already necessary for serious offences like murder, and advocates believe expanding it will help public safety. Critics say it will only clog jails up more.

What’s next: Bill C-48 passed parliament last month and is now being studied by the Senate.—QH