"Wynn's Law" legislation doing the right thing
With upcoming vote on ‘Wynn’s Law’, MPs can do the right thing
It’s been two and a half years since an Alberta RCMP officer, David Wynn, was murdered by career criminal Shawn Rehn who was, once again, out on the streets after improperly being granted bail. The murder, understandably, caused an examination of how this occurred and it was revealed that the killer somehow was granted bail weeks earlier on a set of new charges even though he had 68 previous convictions including for crimes involving violence and weapons and had 12 previous convictions for breaching court orders. Rehn also had 29 outstanding arrest warrants for multiple other charges arising from 4 different incidents at the time of the bail hearing. Despite this the justice of the peace granted his release on bail where, illegally armed with a firearm and committing new crimes, he encountered RCMP Cst. Wynn who he shot and killed.
The investigation properly focused on how he was granted bail despite his criminal record and outstanding charges which are legally relevant under the Criminal Code as a consideration into whether the judge or justice of the peace (JP) grants bail.
Incredibly, the investigation also revealed that that the ‘prosecutor’ that conducted the bail hearing was actually an Edmonton Police officer rather than a legally trained, Crown Prosecutor. Further, despite its obvious relevance, Rehn’s criminal record and outstanding charges were never provided to the JP, who never asked about it, and instead just rubber stamped the ‘joint recommendation’ proposed by Rehn’s lawyer. And so our ‘justice’ system put this career criminal back on the streets which was a decision that cost Cst. Dave Wynn his life.
To their credit, the Alberta government has taken steps to address the errors that are within Provincial jurisdiction including seeking a Court ruling which has now directed that contested bail hearings on indictable offences must be conducted by Crown Prosecutors and not police officers.
The decision to grant bail in these circumstances rests with the judicial official who, by law, must consider defined relevant issues like the accused’s previous record, outstanding charges or past compliance with court orders including failing to appear. This is specified in section 518 (1)(c) of the Code but the current wording says that the prosecutor ‘may’ provide this obviously relevant information rather than ‘shall’ provide the information. This distinction is clearly relevant to how Shawn Rehn got released on bail and was thus able to murder Cst. Dave Wynn.
Because the legislation in question is of federal jurisdiction, any change to it requires an amendment to the Criminal Code and passage of it by Parliament. As a result, former St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber introduced a Bill to accomplish this but Parliament was dissolved for the 2015 election before it could be passed.
In 2016, former Ontario Community Safety Minister and now Conservative Senator, Bob Runciman re-introduced the Bill (S-217) which, essentially, changes the Crown’s obligation to introduce the criminal record and outstanding charges at a bail hearing from ‘may’ to ‘shall’. (Full disclosure: I’ve known and worked with Senator Runciman for years and continue to do policy analysis for him including on this Bill). The Bill passed unanimously at the Senate Legal Affairs Committee and ultimately was passed by the Senate resulting in its referral to the House of Commons.
During hearings on the Bill, witnesses confirmed that production of the criminal record and outstanding charges at bail hearings was almost always done now and that the Rehn case was an exception. It was also noted that information reporting delays remain within the RCMP led Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system such that some Provinces have created their own system to track the status of ongoing cases.
While there initially was cross party support for S-217, Liberal Justice Minister Raybould has expressed different, and seemingly contradictory, ‘concerns’ about the Bill as it has moved forward. The first was that the Bill was unadvisable as it interfered with a larger justice system review underway but that was undermined by the Minister herself introducing a number of Bills dealing with specific subjects including changes to the victim fine surcharge and sexual assault cases. It was then stated that the Bill was unnecessary because the records were almost always produced but this has now changed into a concern that the Bill will cause ‘delay’ in an already backlogged system. One MP has estimated the delay from S-217, which he estimated might apply to only 1% of the current bail cases, as being 5 minutes.
I had the honour of serving as a Crown Prosecutor in Alberta and thereafter in justice system policy advisory roles and in my experience, the likely results of passing S-217 will be the following:
- an immediate change to Crown Prosecutors Policy Manuals mandating introduction of the record;
- a reminder to judges and JPs that their role is to make an informed decision not rubber stamp recommendations;
- an incentive for the RCMP and other police leaders to finally fix CPIC; and
- a decreased likelihood of risk to public safety by reducing improper bail releases.
S-217 was not passed at the House Committee as a result that seemed motivated more by partisan priorities than substantively informed public interests. The Bill is scheduled for a final vote this week in Parliament. Hopefully, MPs from all parties will remember the facts of how Cst. Dave Wynn’s killer was on free on our streets and why this small, but important, change is necessary. People will be watching.
– Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has also served as Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association, Vice Chair of the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, Director of Operations to the Washington D.C.-based Investigative Project on Terrorism and as a Security Policy Advisor to the Governments of Ontario and Canada.
The bill known as “Wynn’s Law” was officially defeated in the House of Commons Wednesday 14 June 2017.