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'It's getting out of control': Manitoba reaction to proposed bail reform legislation

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Reactions are mixed in Manitoba over new federal legislation aimed at keeping violent repeat offenders from walking before trial.

The new legislation introduced by Justin Trudeau's Liberal government puts the onus on repeat offenders to show why they should be released while awaiting trial. Right now, that is on the prosecutors.

The move comes after pressure from premiers and police chiefs across the country following a rise of violent crime, including the death of an Ontario officer in December, where the accused was out on bail.

"There have been a number of high profile incidents and that there's a feeling of insecurity," said David Lametti, the federal minister of justice.

"Here in Winnipeg, we know that almost one in five people that are charged with violent offences are on bail. So that's a pretty significant number," said Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth on Tuesday.

Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance says the law would be welcome and thinks it is long overdue.

"We have to start tightening this up because it's getting out of control. More and more lives are being stolen," said Karen Wiebe, the executive director of the organization.

The changes apply to violent offences involving weapons where the accused was previously convicted of a similar offence within the past five years, with both crimes being punishable by 10 years in prison or more.

Manitoba's Justice Minister says this is a good first step, but notes the criteria for when a reverse onus would apply is too limited.

"I'm thankful for the changes, but hopeful for more," said Kelvin Goertzen. "The net got narrowed a little bit than what we were discussing. So that might be more work to do on that side."

On the flip side, there are concerns that putting the onus on the accused could make it harder for marginalized and low-income people get bail.

"So when you're making a reverse onus provision, that's essentially signalling to the judge that this person probably needs a surety, this person probably needs some cash," said Zilla Jones, who is a defence lawyer and works with the John Howard Society.

Goertzen said he is also calling on Ottawa to look at changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

In a statement to CTV News, the Police Chiefs Association says the bill will go a long way to eliminate preventable harm and senseless tragedies.

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