Bail hearing overlooked Alberta gunman’s criminal past

The Alberta government consented to the release on bail of the man who shot two Mounties near Edmonton last weekend, in a brief hearing in September with no mention of his long criminal record, and no discussion of whether he was a danger to society, a transcript shows.

The province’s consent flies in the face of comments by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, who said that in light of Shawn Maxwell Rehn’s long, complex criminal record he should not have been walking around free. Mr. Rehn had served three federal jail sentences, including one of five years for which he was released in 2013. Mr. Rehn’s nearly 60 offences were mostly non-violent, but included one from 2001 for assault with a weapon, and an assault in mid-2013 for which he received one day in jail. He was also subject to an indefinite ban on restricted weapons. None of that was discussed in the hearing. (The 34-year-old shot himself dead after shooting the two Mounties. One is recovering and the other is not expected to live.)

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Mr. Rehn obtained bail more than once in one of the toughest provinces for detaining accused people before their trial. More than 60 per cent of the prisoners in provincial jails in Alberta have not been convicted, according to Statistics Canada. Pretrial detention is a huge issue across Canada, with nearly 55 per cent of the 25,000 provincial inmates waiting for trial.Mr. Rehn was already free on bail on several charges when he was arrested again in September after a brief foot chase that ensued when the owner of a stolen motorcycle discovered Mr. Rehn driving his vehicle. Mr. Rehn faced 15 charges from two jurisdictions, including possession of an illegal weapon – a spring-loaded knife – which was doubly illegal, in that an Ontario judge had put him under an indefinite ban on possession of restricted weapons in 2011.

One of the new conditions requested by an Edmonton police officer representing the provincial Crown, listed as Constable W. Quan in the transcript, was that Mr. Rehn not drive a stolen vehicle. Alberta Justice of the Peace Joyce Lester made that a condition of bail. The shooting last weekend occurred after a Mountie investigated a report of a stolen vehicle.

“When I look at this case I see someone who had a rather lengthy criminal record at such a young age, someone who was on outstanding charges where obviously compliance with court orders seems to be a problem,” said Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Leo Russomanno. He was not involved in the case, and reviewed the bail transcript at the request of The Globe.

He said he was surprised that the court did not insist on a “surety” – a parent, friend or relative who puts up money and keeps watch over the accused person. Mr. Rehn was required as a bail condition to check in with a bail supervisor, but that typically is much less intrusive supervision than a surety provides, Mr. Russomanno said.

“In bail court we say they’re the person’s jailer in the community. Very often they’re the person [the accused] lives with. The surety is a law-abiding person who is putting themselves on the line for the detainee, and they’re promising to call the police” if anything goes awry.

Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis has declined to comment thus far. Michelle Davio, a spokesperson for the justice department, said in an e-mail that “this is a very complex case with multiple agencies involved. We’re all anxious to get answers, and given the complexity of the case, it’s important to take the time to allow for the multiple reviews/investigations under way, including the RCMP and ASIRT [Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which provides civilian oversight of police].”

William Pitt, a former RCMP officer and former criminology professor at the University of Alberta, called the bail hearing an “opportunity lost,” after reviewing the bail transcript at The Globe’s request. “They lost sight of what this guy represented and they saw this only as a minor problem.” He said the courts should have labelled Mr. Rehn a long-term offender, which would have imposed supervision in the community lasting up to 10 years on him. That law applies mostly to repeat sexual or violent offenders, but Mr. Rehn was neither.

“Until there is a concerted effort to defuse these time-bombs, we’re going to see more of what happened in St. Albert, Moncton and Mayerthorpe played over and over again,” Mr. Pitt said, referring to last weekend’s shooting and two others in the past 10 years. Seven Mounties were killed in the previous two shooting incidents.

There was no discussion in the bail hearing of whether Mr. Rehn presented a danger to the community. Brian Casey, a Halifax criminal defence lawyer, also reviewed the transcript at The Globe’s request.

“He probably would have been released anywhere in the country on these circumstances,” he said. “The underlying offence is possession of a stolen motorcycle. Pretty rare that anyone gets held for car theft. There’s nothing about the offence, including the fact he’s got a pocket knife, that indicates this could be a person who’s dangerous to other people. The fact that someone steals a car this weekend is no particular predictor that they might be involved in shooting a police officer in 10 or 12 weeks time.”

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