Public perceptions influence key decisions in the bail system. Over time, a culture of fear has built up patterns of decision-making that are unreasonable and harmful. Attempts to reform bail have been stymied by cultures that are deeply entrenched.
There’s reason to have hope. Advocates, journalists, researchers, and every day people have worked for years to generate political and social momentum for system-wide change.
It's essential that we learn from and build on past achievements and ongoing work. We've grouped these efforts into four categories:
Accountability: news media or research that holds our institutions to account
Programs: pilot programs and funded improvements to the justice system
Strategies: specific plans, frameworks, and proposals for reform
Advocacy: protests, media campaigns, legal challenges
The entries below are just a starting point. We need your help to identify the most important and impactful efforts that are undoing the harm caused by our culture of fear. Please share your feedback with us.
Creative media can help shift public discourse and institutional behaviours away from a culture based on fear by telling a different story about bail: how reasonable and fair decisions positively impact the accused, their families, and communities.
Creative media can play a pivotal role in displacing our culture of fear and replacing it with a culture of care: actors in the bail system ought to see themselves and, in fact, be enablers of a more just and fair society.
“[T]he creation and perpetuation of this ‘culture of adjournments’ which facilitates (if not encourages) a risk-averse approach on the part of the other key players in the bail process.”
(“Broken Bail” in Canada: How We Might Go About Fixing It, Cheryl Webster)
“Court culture has a "substantial impact on the efficiency with which courts operate", with "standard practices related to case processing times [...] both perpetuated and entrenched through the continued adherence of court actors." In Canada, this means "routine adjournments" and an acceptance that a bail decision will require several appearances.
Anne London-Weinstein, president of the Ottawa defence lawyers’ association, observes “The criminal justice system is a very risk-averse culture. Kent Roach, a criminal law professor at the University of Toronto’s law school suggests, “[...] overcharging by police is likely a factor”. “Police will often lay multiple charges, and this may influence decisions to deny bail and perhaps plea bargaining.”
See also: Are the police in Ontario laying too many charges? (Opinion in the Globe and Mail)
“Ontario’s over-reliance on surety releases, and the far too frequent imposition of multiple and excessive conditions on any release order, serve to increase the likelihood of pre-trial detention.”
“Counsel across all jurisdictions report conditions are frequently imposed that have little or no connection to the underlying offence and are of questionable relation to bail concerns of ensuring the accused returns to court, does not threaten public safety by committing further offences and does not interfere with the administration of justice.”