Conditional release of accused in multiple assaults draws legal questions, concerns
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Winnipeg police are defending the release of a man accused of assaulting four strangers — knocking one unconscious — in a random daylight attack, arguing law enforcement hands are tied by the restraints of the justice system.
Four men were attacked unprovoked around the downtown intersection of Fort Street and Graham Avenue at about 2:50 p.m. Wednesday, city police said Friday.
Three of the victims, ranging in age from 19 to 23, received minor injuries to the upper body. However, a 20-year-old man was taken to hospital after he was knocked unconscious and lost a tooth.
A male suspect fled the scene, but officers made an arrest at nearby Main Street and St. Mary Avenue. Police said the suspect wasn’t acquainted with any of the assault victims.
The man, whose name hasn’t been released, was released on an undertaking, which police said is mandated by the Criminal Code. He will be charged with assault causing bodily harm and three counts of assault.
“It all goes to the bail reform act,” Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Claude Chancy said, referring to federal government amendments to the Criminal Code and other acts that received royal assent in 2019.
“There’s a lot of conditions on the bail reform act that are factors in making that decision. I can’t get into specifics on this individual (but) it can depend on history, it can depend whether they are presently out on conditions of being release, whether it’s a release order or whether they out in the public on a different undertaking for a different incident — all those are factors in making that decision.”
However, Brandon Trask, a University of Manitoba assistant professor of law, said that’s a bunk interpretation of the legislation and recent Criminal Code amendments.
Brandon Trask, assistant professor with the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law.
“(It) demonstrates to me a fundamental misunderstanding of the law in this area. Whether to release someone in circumstances like this, that’s always a judgment call,” said Trask, who past worked as a Crown lawyer in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.
“You look at a number of factors, but firstly: is the person going to show up to court? Secondly, is the person demonstrating a substantial likelihood of reoffending if they are released? Are there concerns about safety of the public or concerns in relation to the administration of justice? Then, also, are there concerns about maintaining the public’s confidence in the administration of justice?”
Winnipeg criminal defence attorney Mike Cook said, in his experience, if police can detain someone, they will.
“I’ve been in this job for a long time and I find, from the time I started practicing to today’s date, that if the police have concerns on any of the three grounds in the Criminal Code, they’re going to detain,” said Cook, who was called to the bar in 1984.
“Those three grounds are: is the person likely to appear (in court)? Second, are they likely to get reinvolved (with criminal offences)? And third, what would the public say about this?”
“If the police are under the misapprehension that the Criminal Code dictates that they have to release someone essentially immediately on a police undertaking in a situation like this, that is concerning to me.”–Brandon Trask, University of Manitoba assistant professor of law
Given the report on the Wednesday assaults, Cook said he would think police would have concerns about the accused reoffending. “I would think, for that reason, they would probably detain the fellow and let a judge decide the next day.”
Meantime, Trask said concerns over an accused potentially reoffending and of public confidence in the justice system are “significant questions” police should ask themselves, and likely, a Crown attorney, in cases such as this.
“If the police are under the misapprehension that the Criminal Code dictates that they have to release someone essentially immediately on a police undertaking in a situation like this, that is concerning to me,” Trask said.
“Any person charged with an offence has the right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause. This doesn’t mean that absolutely every person needs to be released.”
“It all goes to the bail reform act,” said Const. Claude Chancy.
Chancy said people arrested see judicial justices of the peace at the WPS central processing unit. “That’s where the consultation is, and that forms part of that decision, as well.”
On Friday afternoon, at Graham Avenue and Fort Street, Adrian Collins said he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary two days prior.
The 61-year-old retiree said he gets a cup of coffee at the Tim Hortons on the corner every weekday around 3 p.m., as he waits to catch a bus.
In the coffee shop, Collins said he’s seen men “get violent,” adding he’ll be more aware of his surroundings but isn’t too concerned about random violence.
“I’m scared for other people, I’m not scared for me,” Collins said, adding he relies on his faith. “The best way to get out of a fight is to shut your mouth and back away.”
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.