New Reverse Onus Law Could Change the Face of the Canadian Criminal Law

The old adage “innocent until proven guilty” could soon become a phrase of the past.  In August, a Montreal Court was scheduled to handle the first criminal case involving the new reverse onus law.  The Reverse Onus law is a recent amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code that went into effect May 2008.  The law applies to bail hearings and requires an accused defendant in a violent crime to prove why they should be released on bail pending trial.

The new reverse onus rule was created to apply strictly to violent offenses, however, the Montreal case involves charges of illegal gun possession for 12 alleged members of a street gang.  Some argued that the reverse onus law should not have been applicable because in this case, the 12 defendants were charged with firearm possession, not use.  However, others argue that the use of the law was fitting, considering its origins.  The Revere Onus amendment was created as a part of the Tracking Violent Crime Act.  The law was created to address the problem of violent crimes.  Bill C-2, or the Tracking Violent Crimes Act had goals.  Along with creating stricter guidelines for bail hearings, it also increased the age of consent from 14 to 16, and a mandatory fiver year prison sentence for use of a handgun during attempted murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, or robbery.

So, this hearing really creates a question around whether a non-violent crime, such as gun possession, should be subject to the Reverse Onus Law.  Since the law is so new, it is open to interpretation and will likely be shaped by interesting hearing in the year to come.  In theory, keeping the streets safe should be a top priority.  However, criminal lawyers and judges will need to find a way use the Reverse Onus Law to keep order in the streets, without stripping away the rights of Canadian citizens.

For now, no decision has been made yet on the gang gun possession case, as the bail hearing has been pushed, however, whatever decision is made will be history making for Canada.  If you have been charged with a criminal offense and are awaiting a bail hearing, you may want to consult with a criminal lawyer, as the stakes could now be a lot higher.