Canadians should expect politicians to support right to bail, Virani's office says

Minister defends right to bail

The public should expect politicians to support their right to bail and to be presumed innocent, the office of Canada's justice minister says, warning that "immediate" and "uninformed reactions" only worsens matters.

A jury on Sunday found Umar Zameer not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a Toronto police officer who was run over in an underground parking garage in July 2021.

While prosecutors in the high-profile trial alleged Zameer chose to drive dangerously with Const. Jeffrey Northrup and his partner, both plainclothes officers, nearby, his defence said he didn't know they were police and felt his family was in danger when two strangers ran up to his vehicle.

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Arif Virani says the office knows the circumstances surrounding Northrup's death have inflicted "deep wounds" on everybody involved.

The minister's office says it extends its condolences to Northrup's family and also recognizes the "emotional turmoil" that Zameer and his family had to endure.

After the jury delivered its verdict, the judge took the rare step of apologizing to Zameer for all he experienced since first being charged.

That included several months in detention until he was granted bail in a decision that sparked outrage from Toronto's mayor and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

It was not until the jury was sequestered that the bail decision showing how weak the Crown's murder case was could be made public.

Ford told reporters on Tuesday that he only had "limited information" when he initially called Zameer's release on bail "completely unacceptable" and an example of the justice system needing "to get its act together." He also said Zameer was "the person responsible."

Virani's office says the public should be proud of the fact someone's guilt or innocence is decided by "impartial" juries and judges.

"Canadians should expect politicians to support the fundamental rights that underpin our justice system including the presumption of innocence and the right to reasonable bail," Chantalle Aubertin, a spokesperson for Virani said in a statement late Tuesday.

"Rarely are all the facts of a case known. Immediate, uninformed reactions can make things worse in situations where people are already hurting.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Criminal Lawyers' Association both say the case of Zameer underscores how essential bail is to the justice system and should serve as a lesson as to why political leaders would be best to refrain from weighing in on such decisions.

Shakir Rahim, who directs the criminal justice program with the civil liberties group, says without being granted bail, Zameer, an innocent man, would have spent the past few years behind bars.

Politicians who criticize bail decisions run the risk of "inflaming public opinion" towards an individual, which raises concerns about their right to a fair trial.

And, Rahim says, the case against Zameer highlights how a charge can be laid against anyone and that innocent Canadians need the protection offered by bail.

Last year, the federal Liberals introduced a suite of tougher bail measures after widespread concern from the Opposition Conservatives, premiers and police chiefs, that it was too easy to access for repeat violent offenders.

Virani, who shepherded the bill through Parliament after former Montreal MP David Lametti was shuffled from cabinet, defended the reforms as targeting those with violent criminal histories, while justice advocates warn it risks contributing to the overrepresentation of Indigenous, Black and other marginalized people in pre-trial detention.


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