OTTAWA -- Justice Minister Allan Rock has agreed to narrow the application of a proposed Criminal Code amendment that could force someone who has never been charged with a criminal offence to wear an electronic tracking device to monitor his or her movements.
The provision was part of a package introduced in September to deal with high-risk offenders. It was welcomed by national police groups but others, including memebrs of the Liberal caucus, questioned whether this element of the legislation would withstand a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The package creates a new category of criminal, long-term offenders, who will face up to 10 years of supervision by correctional services after they have finished their sentences.
But it also contains a judicial-restraint provision that will allow provincial attorney-sgeneral to apply to a judge when they have reasonable grounds to believe that an individual will commit a serious violent crime. The suspect need not have any prior convictions or be facing criminal charges and no specific victim has to be named.
A provincial court judge will have the power to impose general conditions on the individual for one year, such as keeping the peace or staying away from playgrounds or schools, or order him or her to be monitored electronically in provinces where such a program is available. Refusal to comply can mean a jail term of up to one year.
At a meeting of the Commons justice committee yesterday, Mr. Rock defended the provision as constitutional but acknowledged the concerns of his critics and said he will agree to significant amendments.
He asked the committee to examine three approaches to narrow the provision's application:
Mr. Rock noted that critics fear that electronic monitoring actually means detention. He suggested that the committee consider an amendment that would provide for electronic monitoring only in the most serious cases, where the court has concluded that without it there is compelling evidence that a violent crime may be committed.
Such amendments, he said, would not change the nature of the bill. "I think we can make changes of the nature I've described without endangering the fundamental purpose of the bill, which is tp protect us from people that might hurt us."
Bloc Québecois MP François Langois said he was concerned that the amendment could result in someone being acquitted of a criminal offence, only to be forced to wear an electronic bracelet.
Mr. Rock conceded that this could indeed happen. But, he added, a common-law tradition dating back to 1361 can require a citizen to keep the peace and to enter into a recognizance or bond to do so. This provision, he said, builds on the peace bond section that is already part of the Criminal Code.