OTTAWA -- The Liberal government has dropped a contentious plan to allow the electronic monitoring of people who pose a serious danger - even if they have never been convicted or charged with a crime.
The Commons justice committee voted yesterday to remove the provision from a package of Criminal Code amendments introduced last year by Justice Minister Allan Rock to deal with so-called high-risk offenders.
The reforms were hailed by police and victims' rights groups, but condemned by civil libertarians and defence lawyers.
Rock said he now agrees that the electronic bracelet technology is not yet "sufficiently advanced" to be useful against potential high-risk offenders.
"I've concluded the committee is right that we should yank the reference to electronic monitoring and perhaps consider it at some other time", he said in a telephone interview.
"I don't think deleting this material weakens the bill or diminishes its importance. But I think some of the points that were made against the bill were telling."
Under the "judicial restraint" plan, provincial attorneys-general will be able to apply to a judge when there are reasonable grounds to fear an individual will commit a serious personal injury crime. The suspect need no have any prior convictions or be facing outstanding charges and no specific victim need be identified.
The judge would then have the power to impose general conditions on the person for up to a year, such as to "keep the peace and be of good behaviour" or stay away from playgrounds or other areas where children congregate.
A breach of any of the conditions imposed by the judge could be punishable by up to a year in jail.
But the committee voted to delete a provision that would have required the judge in each case to consider the possibility of imposing electronic monitoring in the six provinces that now have such programs.
(Usually a tamper-resistant bracelet is attached to the person's ankle and the person is constantly monitored by authorities to ensure they don't visit places from which they are banned.)
"We're not prohibiting it, but what we've done is we've reduced the prominence of the prospect considerably by not requiring a judge to consider it in such a case", Rock said.
Organizations such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have said the monitoring provision would effectively end the long-cherished presumption of innocence because it imposes a form of house arrest on people who haven't even been charged with an offence.
Spokesman Alan Borovoy said he was pleased the monitoring provision is gone, but said the entire judicial restraint proposal is a "risky proposition".
"It amount to encroachment by clairvoyance because it doesn't requiter a conviction or a charge, that you have done something. Rather it's based on a belief that you're going to do something."
But Scott Newark of the Canadian Police Association called Rock's decision to remove the provision "ridiculous".
"I can think of no good reason for the government to once again retreat from public safety into whatever little cozy nest of political correctness they may think they're in", he said.
The changes must still receive third reading in the Commons and be passed by the Senate before they become law.
The bill would also create a new category of sex offenders called "long-term offenders" who could be subject to up to 10 years' supervision after they complete their regular sentence and parole.
Currently there is no supervision of released prisoners after they complete parole no matter how dangerous they are.