Following the shooting death of Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer Grzegorz Pierzchala, law enforcement organizations as well as Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have called for reform to Canada’s bail policies for violent repeat offenders and criminals who use firearms during their offenses.
The 28-year-old rookie constable, was responding to a call about a vehicle in a ditch near Hagersville, Ontario, on Dec. 27, 2022, and was fatally shot during an ambush when approaching the scene.
Pierzchala was on his first solo call and had just been notified that he had passed his 10-month probationary period only hours before his death. His colleagues have remembered him as a wonderful officer with “the biggest heart of gold you could ever imagine,” according to a wire release by The Canadian Press.
Two suspects were apprehended near the scene and have been charged with first degree murder.
One is 25-year-old Randall McKenzie of Mississauga, a member of the New Credit First Nation. McKenzie is a repeat offender who was out on bail and was also under a lifetime firearms prohibition from two previous court orders in 2016 and 2018.
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The gun allegedly used to kill Pierzchala was a handgun with its serial number removed.
According to Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique, a warrant had already been issued for McKenzie’s arrest after he failed to appear in court in September for charges laid in 2021 consisting of several firearms offenses and assaulting a peace officer.
“I’m outraged by the fact that McKenzie was out on bail and was provided with the opportunity to take the life of an innocent officer. And I know that there’s a lot of interest in ensuring to see that changes are made to ensure, where possible, people who are charged with violent offences that are firearms-related are not in those positions moving forward,” said Carrique at a news conference on Dec. 29.
Pierzchala is the fourth officer to be killed while on duty in Ontario since September. However, his death was “preventable,” Carrique said. “This should never have happened.”
“Something needs to change. Our police officers, your police officers, my police officers, the public deserve to be safeguarded against violent offenders who are charged with firearms-related offences,” the OPP commissioner said.
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) also issued a statement on Dec. 29 titled Release of Violent Offenders on Firearms-related Charges and Impact on Community Safety.
The statement emphasized that firearms-related crimes “are often perpetrated by individuals with previous offences for violent crimes and previous convictions for firearms offences,” and said that now is the time for action on legislative reform to ensure that “we make communities safe and keep them safe.”
Echoing the words of the OPP Commissioner, Ontario Premier Doug Ford also called for certain reforms to the federal justice system, particularly regarding bail applications.
“Too many innocent people have lost their lives at the hands of dangerous criminals who should have been behind bars—not on our streets,” Ford said in a statement on Dec. 29.
“Enough is enough. More must be done to fix a system that is far too often sacrificing the safety of our public and police officers instead of cracking down on the perpetrators who repeatedly commit these heinous crimes.”
Joining OACP, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) issued a statement on Dec. 30 calling for systemic changes to the justice system to prevent criminal acts by offenders out on bail.
“The tragic deaths of several police officers as well as the harm inflicted on numerous other Canadians in recent months are a stark reminder that we now need to increase our focus on the issue of violent and repeat offenders as well as the bail process,” said the CAPC statement.
“As we mourn the tragic passing of Constable Pierzchala, the criminal justice system’s limitations and ineffective management of chronic and prolific offenders is painfully obvious.”
The police leaders said that systemic changes to the justice system are needed to protect the public and law enforcement officers “from the criminal behaviours of violent and repeat offenders, particularly those charged with firearm-related crimes.”
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre said on Dec. 30 that the Liberal government’s reforms of bail policies have made the country less safe and should be reversed in light of Constable Pierzchala’s death at the hands of a repeat offender.
Poilievre said in a press conference that Canada should “keep the small number of repeat habitual violent offenders behind bars and when they are newly arrested, deny them bail until such time as their trials are completed in cases where the accused has a long track record of previous violent convictions.”
‘Principle of restraint’
The federal bail policies Poilievre called for a reversal are an amendment to the Criminal Code through Bill C-75, a piece of legislation passed in 2019 that Poilievre refers to as the Liberals’ “easy catch and release bail policies.”
Bill C-75 made bail easier to get by legislating a “‘principle of restraint’ for police and courts to ensure that release at the earliest opportunity is favoured over detention.”
The bill also requires that the circumstances of an Indigenous accused or the accused from “vulnerable populations” be considered at bail to mitigate the impact of the bail system on these populations.
The amendment was partly based on a point supported by Justice Minister David Lametti that there was an “overrepresentation of Indigenous persons” in federal prisons.
Even further from bail reform in 2019, Bill C-5, another piece of legislation tabled by the Liberal Party minority government was granted royal assent in November, which amended the Criminal Code and removed 20 mandatory minimum sentences for a number of firearms-related offences, such as robbery with a firearm.
Similar to Bill C-75 in its stated objective, Bill C-5 was presented as a measure to combat “systemic racism” by reducing the proportion of Indigenous and Black people in prison.
According to Poilievre, less strict bail conditions are not a helpful consideration for “vulnerable populations.”
“Those communities are disproportionately the victims of crime, and when a violent offender goes back onto the streets after having committed multiple offences, it’s likely to be the poorest and most vulnerable that will be the victims of his predation,” he said.
Poilievre also blamed the Trudeau government’s policies for the general increase in crime rates.
According to a Statistics Canada report released on Nov. 21, 2022, gang-related homicides in 2021 were the highest since 2005 with a count of 184.
The Canadian Press reported that six police officers have been killed in Canada since September:
- OPP Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala, 28;
- B.C. RCMP Const. Shaelyn Yang, 31;
- South Simcoe Police Const. Morgan Russell, 54;
- Const. Devon Northrup, 33;
- York Regional Police Const. Travis Gillespie, 38; and
- Toronto Police Const. Andrew Hong, 48.