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For the past decade, Canada's bail system has come under increasing fire for its failures to uphold the civil rights of Canadians. Though a bail reform bill was passed by the federal government in 2019, many critics argued at the time that it didn't do enough to address the most serious issues.
Bail in Canada is a complicated matter, and outcomes vary by province. The situation is not helped by the fact that many Canadians are unaware of just how significantly their system differs from the American cash bail system we see in television, film, and the mass media.
One of the reasons this is such a big problem is that a bail hearing is one of the first steps people charged with an offence will need to participate in as their case makes its way through the justice system, and failure to secure bail can make the legal process much more onerous for the accused.
It is unlikely that the current government will enact further reforms, which means that Torontonians have a responsibility to educate themselves about how bail works so they will be better able to protect their civil rights in the event that they are arrested.
How Does Bail Work in Canada?
The bail system is designed to ensure that people who pose no danger to the public and aren't a flight risk are able to remain free while awaiting trial.
Bail in Canada relies on sureties, friends or family of the accused who agree to take responsibility for the accused during the pre-trial period. They may need to put up a sum of money that will be forfeited if the accused violates their bail conditions.
When bail works well, it gives people charged with an offence a chance to live and work normally until a court determines their guilt or innocence, and eases the burden on Canada's prison system. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult to attain bail, and in many cases the restrictions are so limiting as to make bail a form of punishment in and of itself.
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How to Navigate the Bail System
Whether or not a person receives bail, and the conditions they will need to abide by, are decided in a bail hearing that must be held within twenty-four hours of the arrest.
Though it is not necessary to have legal representation at a bail hearing, hiring a defence attorney will significantly improve your chances of securing bail. Many criminal law firms in Toronto specialize in providing bail hearing services, so finding a Toronto criminal defence lawyer who can present your case at the hearing should be the first priority for anyone charged with a crime.
After you have obtained legal counsel, you'll want to make a list of people who might be able to stand as a surety for you. A surety must be an adult Canadian citizen or permanent resident without a recent or significant criminal record who has the means to sign the recognizance bond that will be forfeit if bail is violated.
While bail may still be denied, having the legal counsel and surety in place before the bail hearing will allow the accused to make the best possible case for themselves.
Though Canada's bail system may not be working as well as it should, a bail hearing is still a powerful forum for Canadians to make a case for why they should be able to await trial in their own home. As such, it is essential that Canadians arm themselves with the knowledge that will help them defend their civil rights should they be charged with a criminal offence.