To his credit, Ottawa Citizen columnist Kelly Egan did a bit of a mea culpa today: he had bought into the myth that too many accused criminals are out on bail, and wrote a column about it a few days back. Then a fusillade of statistics came his way, which he has had the grace to reproduce. They merit wide distribution.
The study that came to his notice is co-authored by Cheryl Webster, a University of Ottawa criminologist who has been interested in bail issues for some time. (If a reader could provide a link to the actual study, I’d be obliged.)
By 2007, the remand rate had tripled from 1978: nearly two-thirds (64%) of those incarcerated in Ontario provincial jails hadn’t been convicted of an offence.
From July 2009-June 2010 in Ottawa, it took on average 235 days to deal with a criminal charge, including an average of 9.5 court appearances. (Ten years ago, the figures were 216 and 7.2, respectively.) This includes 309 days to dispose of a theft charge and 848 days (you read right) to deal with a prostitution charge. Fraud, 381. Impaired driving, 293. Province-wide, a criminal charge in 2009 involved an average of 9.2 court appearances, and 205 days to resolve.
No wonder detention centres are overcrowded. They’re full of unconvicted people, presumed innocent in the eyes of the law.
The police are laying more charges. More bail conditions are being imposed. More bail-breach charges, as a result, are leading to more remand time. Defence counsels, too, are playing a role, seeking adjournments that leave accused in jail longer.
On top of that, according to Douglas Baum, president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, the onus has shifted in many cases to the accused to show why they should be granted bail, Crown prosecutors are making bail harder to get (Alex Hundert, anyone?) and, he might have noted, they are also zealously pursuing obviously trumped-up charges (Stacy Bonds).
The result? Accused people are pleading guilty just to get out of jail.
Bail too easy to get? Not if you believe in the presumption of innocence. Not if you believe in justice.