Canoe News

Thursday, October 10, 2002

SOC upholds bail law

Canoe News

OTTAWA (CP) -- People accused of serious crimes can be denied bail even if they are not considered a continuing threat to public safety and are not likely to flee before trial, a badly split Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday.

By a 5-4 margin, the high court upheld a Criminal Code section that allows judges to refuse bail to "maintain confidence in the administration of justice," a sweeping provision that had been challenged on constitutional grounds.

The judgment grew out of a brutal 1999 slaying in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., that sparked intense media coverage and public concern.

David Hall, a 29-year-old supermarket meat cutter, was eventually convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in the death of his cousin's wife, Peggy Jo Barkley-Dube.

Hall's conviction was not at issue before the Supreme Court. The case centred on the way he was denied bail while awaiting trial, a decision with potential ramifications for others accused of serious offences.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, writing for the majority, noted Hall's crime was "heinous and unexplained," there was strong preliminary evidence against him and "people in the community were afraid."

She upheld the broad power of judges to deny bail in such circumstances to maintain public confidence in the justice system and prevent "public unrest and vigilantism."

Justice Frank Iacobucci, writing for the minority, said Hall could have been detained on other, less controversial legal grounds.

He condemned the Criminal Code provision that the bail judge relied on, saying it is overly broad, open to abuse and undermines the basic right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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