A Greater Victoria criminal lawyer is questioning calls for tougher bail conditions.
“It’s viscerally satisfying and simple, and if you are a politician and you are trying to say things that people like, that kind of hang ‘em high, viscerally satisfying, why-don’t-you-just-lock-them-up message would resonate with people,” said Michael Mulligan. “That is why some politicians would be doing that. Others are just generally misinformed.”
Mulligan made these comments as part of a broader critique of voices, including North Saanich, who have called on the provincial government to revise legislation concerning bail conditions. (The provincial government responded to Victoria by pointing out that the federal government sets bail conditions for criminal offences.)
“The District of North Saanich shares the concern that in response to COVID-19 physical distancing requirements some individuals charged with violent offences and/or with past criminal convictions are being released into the community on a promise to appear or given restrictive behaviour conditions rather than being held in custody while awaiting charge disposition,” reads a letter from the district. The local RCMP detachment later pointed out that these issues are not directly applicable to Sidney-North Saanich as the detachment has not deviated from the release procedures which were present pre-COVID.
Mulligan said the broader principles determining whether somebody would be released or not have not changed despite what those voices might be saying. He said it all starts with the presumption of innocence,” he said. “If you presume people to be innocent, you don’t start from the proposition that somebody who is alleged to have committed a crime is guilty and you don’t start from the proposition that anyone alleged to have committed a crime will be held in jail or that we can immediately start punishing somebody who we think has done something.”
Certain circumstances allow authorities to detain individuals, he said, but detaining someone prior to their trial also has an economic cost. Mulligan said it costs up to $7,770 a month to keep someone in jail (based on $259 per day for provincial jail) and it might take a few months before the matter goes to trial.
This figure must be considered against the cost of services that would prevent somebody from committing such crime in the first place, he said. Almost 70 per cent of individuals in provincial jails have either mental health or substance issues and 42 per cent have both, said Mulligan, adding that many of the homeless people in Victoria fit both profiles. “So you wind you with people who are drug addicted and mentally ill committing crimes like shoplifting and breaking into vehicles and stealing bicycles or doing various other things to get money to buy drugs,” he said.
While he admits those crimes are unacceptable, he points out if you arrest and jail a drug-addicted, mentally ill person, when they get out of jail a few months down the road you will still have a person who is mentally ill and addicted to drugs.
Mulligan said society would be better served by investing resources into support services and offering safe supplies of drugs. “If the threat of death is not deterring you from using drugs, the threat of me asking you to go to jail for a period of time is not going to have that effect either,” he said.
Ultimately, the Saanich Peninsula is not immune to these issues.
“Some of the issues like addiction to opioids will manifest themselves differently in a rural location other than in downtown Victoria,” said Mulligan. “But there are going to be many people living (on) the Saanich Peninsula who are going to be struggling with drug addictions and they are not always going to be visible to you in the way that they might be visible at Beacon Hill Park. Many of the people who wind up with addictions to opioids start the addiction with prescription to opioids.”
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