Report: Issues Regarding Bail Hearings in Northern Manitoba

Written by Calvin Ediger

In 2019 the Manitoba Court of Queens Bench made its ruling in the case of R. v. Balfour and Young.[1] In it, the Court identified several issues occurring in the Thompson judicial area. For context, the Thompson area is not only the largest judicial area in Manitoba, it also handles a high volume of criminal cases.[2] In the wake of this decision several further cases arose dealing with similar issues. Two of the most strikingly similar are R. v. Crate,[3] also heard in 2019 after Balfour and Young, and R. v. Budd[4] heard in 2021.

The trio of cases exposes the access to justice issues with bail occurring in northern Manitoba. Together these cases expose remarkably similar problems regarding the functioning of the legal system in northern Manitoba.

Overall, the cases touch on how under resourcing of justice in northern Manitoba has overburdened the system. At times, the methods used by judicial actors in northern Manitoba to attempt to deal with this situation have themselves resulted in further problems which further stretch the already inadequately resourced system.

Issues Identified

Justices of the Peace, crown attorneys, defence lawyers, and police services were all mentioned at least once in this trilogy of cases as having contributed to the untimely resolution of criminal law cases.[5]

All three decisions flagged the remand facilities in Thompson, or rather the lack thereof, as an issue of great concern. The accused are usually held in the RCMP detachment jail cells about which a local judge described the idea of a multi-day stay in these cells as inhumane.  There is limited cell capacity.  As suitable, accused are
driven to court by Sheriffs for an appearance . . . It is an inefficient use of time and manpower that affects court proceedings.[6]

Transportation to Thompson also was an issue flagged in all three cases. In Budd the accused was not transported from Norway House to Thompson in time for his next day bail appearance, resulting in a four-day delay.[7] In Balfour the court described these journeys as involving “driving great distances while [the accused is] locked in crammed vans and in foul weather. It is unsafe for Sheriffs and accused alike and adds to the chaos of the northern justice system.”[8]

Further the conduct of bail hearings themselves were found to be problematic. Delays in hearings due to an overflowing docket extended the accused’s time in custody. Often the accused appeared without counsel and seemed confused by the proceedings. In Budd “neither Crown nor defence counsel attended this appearance and that the JJP did not advise the accused that he had the option of having counsel appear that night to make application for his release.”[9] Judges and Justices of the Peace found themselves having to explain to the accused their options. The result was that “the critical purpose of the JJP hearing — to meaningfully deal with release — was undermined because Crown and defence counsel were not more active participants.”[10]

Impact on the Justice System

All these issues can also be seen as creating a negative feedback spiral. Each failure to follow correct procedure created a new issue for the courts to consider. This creates a situation where the case demands even more time and resources-time and resources that the judicial system in northern Manitoba clearly lacks, as indicated by the fact that the proper procedures were not followed in the first place. Thus, each case the court does not have the resources to handle increases the burden on judicial resources exponentially, making it even harder for see judicial system to handle caseload.[11] Each of the above issues could be identified as a lack of resources and/or a lack of funding. The general situation was best summarized by the deposition of one Crown attorney who said they “witnessed thousands of accused be practically denied the right to reasonable bail due to [a] crippling lack of resources.”[12]

[1] R v. Balfour and Young, 2019, MBQB 167
[2] Ibid, at para 10.
[3] R. v. Crate, 2019, MBPC 80.
[4] R. v. Budd, 2021, MBPC 13.
[5] R v. Balfour and Young, 2019, MBQB 167 at para 64.
[6] Ibid, at para 15.
[7] R. v. Budd, 2021, MBPC 13 at para 14.
[8] R v. Balfour and Young, 2019, MBQB 167 at para 23.
[9] R. v. Budd, 2021, MBPC 13 at para 13.
[10] R v. Balfour and Young, 2019, MBQB 167 at para 85.
[11] Ibid, at para 62.
[12] Ibid, atpara 66.

The views and opinions expressed in the blogs are the views of their authors, and do not represent the views of the Faculty of Law, or the University of Manitoba. Academic Members of the University of Manitoba are entitled to academic freedom in the context of a respectful working and learning environment.

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