‘Systemic problems:’ Trial ordered in Alberta case highlighting bail delays

Ryan Reilly is accused of domestic violence that includes choking his partner until she lost consciousness

A man is to face trial following a ruling by the Alberta Court of Appeal that highlights “systemic problems” caused by new requirements for bail hearings brought in after the shooting death of a Mountie.

The court says a delayed bail hearing wasn’t enough reason for a lower court to stay charges against Ryan Reilly, who is accused of domestic violence that includes choking his partner until she lost consciousness.

“The primary responsibility for finding a remedy for systemic Charter breaches does not lie on the judiciary,” says the written decision. “It is the responsibility of the government.”

The court ordered that Reilly stand trial on the charges.

Reilly was arrested in April 2017 and charged with assault, unlawful confinement, mischief and failure to comply with a probation order. However, he was not brought before a justice of the peace to ask for bail until nearly 36 hours had passed — well past the 24-hour limit.

The judge at Reilly’s original trial noted that such so-called “overholds” were becoming increasingly frequent since the provincial government decided that police officers would no longer represent the Crown at bail hearings.

That decision came after the 2015 death of RCMP Const. David Wynn, who was investigating a stolen truck when he was gunned down in a casino in St. Albert, a bedroom community northwest of Edmonton.

The man who shot him, Shaun Rehn, was free on bail at the time after a hearing in which a police officer appeared instead of a Crown prosecutor, and consented to Rehn’s release.

Following a review, Alberta implemented a system in 2016 in which prosecutors would handle all bail hearings. That system quickly created a backlog.

Figures presented in court show that in the first year of the new system, the number of Edmonton overholds increased by a factor of nearly five — an issue prominent in the trial judge’s decision to grant a stay, the Appeal Court wrote.

“The trial judge’s decision to grant a stay was not primarily to address the breach of the respondent’s rights, but rather to address systemic failures.”

That was overreach, the higher court found. Other remedies were available and the trial judge went too far in granting a stay.

However, the Appeal judges noted the bail delay problem is real and hasn’t gone away.

Out of nearly 48,000 Edmonton cases in 2018-19, the Appeal Court heard that more than 15 per cent of those arrested waited too long for bail hearings.

“There would appear to be a downward trend in the number of 24-hour violations since the peak in November 2018,” the judgment says. ”Nevertheless, there are still a significant and persistent number of breaches.”

Elsewhere, it notes: “Additional resources would likely have reduced the problem, at least during the initial transitional phase.”

The court says the justice system must deliver timely bail for every accused and that lack of funding or implementation of a new system is no excuse for failure. The ruling warns the government that the issue isn’t going away.

“Unless the government takes steps to remedy the problem in very short order, it is inevitable that this issue will be back before the courts.”

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said the government is reviewing the decision.

He said it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the case, but noted the government is committed to providing the tools and resources necessary to ensure the criminal justice system operates in a timely and effective fashion.

“We have committed to spending $10 million to hire 50 new prosecutors and support staff to increase the proper functioning of our criminal justice system,” Schweitzer said in an email.

“We are also working with law enforcement, the judiciary, duty counsel, Crown prosecutors and the hearing offices to make further improvements to help decrease the time it takes from arrest to the bail hearing.”

The provincial government did not respond to a request for comment.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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