Alberta’s chief justice has ruled police officers do not have the authority to act on behalf of the Crown in bail hearings.
The decision by Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Neil Wittmann was prompted by the review of the province’s bail system after St. Albert RCMP Const. David Wynn was fatally shot outside the Apex Casino in 2015.
Wynn was shot and killed by Shawn Rehn, who was a habitual offender out on bail at the time of the shooting. Rehn had more than 30 outstanding charges but was released without his criminal history being presented in court. A police officer conducted Rehn’s bail hearing.
The inquiry into the provincial bail system spurred by Wynn’s death raised questions of whether police officers have enough expertise to attend bail hearings on behalf of the Crown or if the hearings should be left to the more experienced crown prosecutors.
Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley asked for a ruling from Wittmann on the issue of police representing the Crown during bail hearings.
“This court declares police officers do not have the authority to appear as prosecutors at bail hearings where indictable offences are charged,” Wittmann said in the decision.
The changes would see police officers replaced by Crown prosecutors in bail hearings across the province. As of Oct. 24, these changes had been tested as a pilot project in Edmonton but the provincial court plans to roll them out across the province in August.
After the death of Const. Wynn, the provincial bail system underwent an independent review and a report featuring 31 recommendations was released in February last year. The review found police appear on behalf of the Crown at 60,000 arrests or 99 per cent of first-instance bail hearings. The removal of police officers from representing the Crown in bail hearings will satisfy the first recommendation in the report.
As a result of the ruling, Alberta’s unique 24-hour bail system will be reduced to operating between 8 a.m. and midnight. Alberta is currently the only jurisdiction that operates a bail system 24 hours a day.
The pilot project in Edmonton required the government to hire seven Crown prosecutors and six legal assistants to execute the program. The cost for the first three months was $325,000 and the estimated cost for a province-wide rollout is at least $4.6 million, which will require the hiring of around 30 additional staff.
A similar province-wide project was attempted from 2008 to 2009, but was scrapped due to financial restraints. Crown prosecutors were brought in to replace police at bail hearings in Edmonton and Calgary. The project showed increased overall integrity and effectiveness to the bail process but was ultimately short lived due to the financial burden.
The province-wide rollout of the program is slated to take effect on Aug. 8.