Let me take you back to a tragic day: January 17, 2015. In the early hours of the morning, RCMP Constable David Wynn and Auxiliary Constable Derek Bond were patrolling in St. Albert, checking license plates outside of a casino. After finding one flagged as connected to Sean Rehn, an individual with an outstanding arrest warrant, they went into the casino to look for him. When Rehn saw the police coming into the casino, he shot and killed Constable Wynn.
As Minister of Justice at the time, I went to the RCMP’s headquarters in Edmonton and viewed the video – an image that haunts me to this day. But what is even more haunting is that this tragedy could have been prevented.
Rehn had a lengthy criminal history, having been convicted of 66 offenses – many of which involved violent behavior - with many other charges pending. Because of a loophole in our criminal code, none of these charges were disclosed when he applied for bail just before he shot and killed Constable Wynn. (Yes, you read that right.)
Member of Parliament Michael Cooper and Senator Bob Runciman proposed a bill, S-217, that would have closed this loophole and required crown prosecutors to disclose the complete criminal history of a bail applicant at a bail hearing. Had this single change been in place at the time of Rehn’s bail hearing, there is a strong likelihood that he would have been detained – and Constable Wynn would still be alive today.
I had the privilege of bringing testimony before the committee that studied this bill after it passed second reading in the House of Commons. It was clear to me at this committee meeting that despite the support of this bill from organizations like the Canadian Police Association (representing more than 60,000 front-line police officers), the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, and the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness that the Liberals were intent on defeating this bill for purely partisan reasons.
There are many actors in our justice system – including police, crown prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers – all of whom work hard to make the system run well and deserve our respect. But we must give them the proper tools to work with. Mr. Cooper’s bill would have been one such tool. Cooper, Constable Wynn’s widow, Shelly MacInnis-Wynn, and the Conservative, NDP, and Green members who voted for S-217 deserve credit for their leadership on this issue.
In an era where the public increasingly demands transparency and disclosure, the Liberals voted down Cooper’s bill based on partisan politics - an action that may very well compromise our justice system. For shame.
Calgary lawyer Jonathan Denis, QC is a director of the Institute for Public Sector Accountability. He is a former MLA and Minister of Justice.