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'At a crossroad': Canada's police chiefs request urgent meeting with premiers

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WINNIPEG -

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has requested an urgent meeting with Canada's premiers to discuss bail reform and the recent killings of officers.

In a letter dated Monday to Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, association president Danny Smyth said there has been a link in the rise of violence by people released on bail since federal legislation changes were brought in four years ago.

Stefanson is the chair of the Council of the Federation that constitutes all of the premiers in Canada

"Over the last four years, we can track distinct spikes in the numbers of people released on bail and incidences of violent offences committed by those on bail," said Smyth in the letter.

Smyth, who is also Winnipeg's chief of police, said that an increase in drug, gang and gun violence has escalated the danger of the profession, noting that eight officers have been killed in the line of duty in the last six months.

"The number of murders of police officers has resulted in stark comparisons with countries like the United States, to which we have never before found reason to compare," Smyth wrote.

Last month, Const. Brett Ryan and Const. Travis Jordan were fatally shot by a 16-year-old boy in Edmonton while they were responding to a family dispute.

A little more than a week ago Sgt. Maureen Breau was fatally stabbed while performing an arrest in Louiseville, Que., about 100 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

Smyth said the criminal justice system often renders police work pointless by failing to shield communities from violent offenders.

"Policing is at a crossroad in our nation," said Smyth. "The stresses and dangers of the job, combined with the intense politicization of policing we've witnessed at every level, threaten the integrity and trust in our profession and our ability to safely and ethically ensure public safety."

Stefanson said that she looks forward to discussing the issues brought up in the letter with the police chiefs, adding that she has sent the letter to all of the other premiers.

"We've seen a significant number of homicides in our police forces across the country," Stefanson said Tuesday. "We don't want to see that continue.

"We need to make sure that we're taking action."

Stefanson said one of those actions that (Smyth) asked about is bail reform.

"We have been a champion on making sure that we call on the federal government to make those changes so that it's not so easy for violent offenders to get out," she said. "I think that's one area we need to focus on."

Earlier this year, Canada's premiers called on the federal government to establish a "reverse onus" system for specific firearm offences that would require the person seeking bail to demonstrate why they should not remain behind bars.

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti has said he is giving "serious consideration" to reforming Canada's bail laws in response to the request from premiers for changes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2023.

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