The Alberta government is launching a review into why career criminal Shawn Maxwell Rehn, the man who shot two Mounties last Saturday, was allowed to walk the streets in freedom – the question RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson posed after the shootings.
Mr. Rehn had committed nearly 60 offences, including a handful for possession of restricted weapons, by his early thirties. He served three federal jail sentences, and, after being released from a five-year term midway through 2013, went on to rack up several more charges – followed by his release on bail, twice.
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Speaking hours after RCMP Constable David Wynn died of injuries inflicted by Mr. Rehn, Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis announced a review into the Crown’s handling of all aspects of the Rehn case, including the bail system. An Edmonton police officer representing the Crown consented to Mr. Rehn’s release on $4,500 bail on 15 charges in September, though he was already out on a previous bail at the time.
“The pain caused by this tragedy to the officers, their families and colleagues and the community as a whole is nothing short of profound,” Mr. Denis said. “The multiple agencies that are involved are asking a question: Could this incident have been prevented? That’s a question that I ask as well. I think at times like this, it is important to act on the facts, and that is why I have directed the review of the Crown’s actions.”
The actions of Mr. Rehn, who took his own life after the shootings, highlight the question of what should be done, if anything, about habitual offenders whose records may not include a pattern of serious violence, but who repeatedly violate the conditions of their release.
John Muise, a former Toronto police officer, said he saw criminal records like Mr. Rehn’s on a daily basis during his five years as a member of the National Parole Board.
“Jails and communities are filled with the likes of this guy. Long criminal record, multiple firearm and weapons prohibitions routinely violated, bail and probation promises broken daily and outstanding warrants. Nothing special about this guy until he does what he did the other day to get away. I saw thousands of similar fellows during my time at the board.”
He questioned whether the system treats “administrative offences” – breaches of conditions of release, such as using drugs or not keeping the peace – seriously enough. “Administrative offences are very good indicators that someone doesn’t want to follow the rules. There are people out on two, three or four bails” – that is, who are charged and released four times while waiting for trial.
D’Arcy DePoe, a defence lawyer and past president of the Edmonton-based Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, is skeptical about what the review might achieve.
“The Justice Minister says he wants a review, but what’s he going to review? We have a bail system that already keeps a great deal of people in custody.” Alberta has more people in provincial jail awaiting trial than are convicted of a crime, and built a $600-million detention centre in the past two years to make room for them. “How many more $600-million buildings do we want to build in Canada?”
The federal government, which has created a steady flow of crime laws since taking office in 2006, is not touting any new proposals in the wake of the Mountie shootings. “We’re constantly reviewing our justice system,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in Montreal on Tuesday, but he rejected a “full-blown examination” of the Rehn case. “We’ve brought about a number of changes including … mandatory minimum penalties,” greater support for victims and tougher gun laws.
Even so, Mr. DePoe expressed concern about the Rehn case being used to justify much longer jail terms. “Are you going to create some kind of indefinite jail sentence? Predicting human behaviour is very, very difficult. You might end up keeping a whole lot of people in custody who shouldn’t be there.”
He said one answer is to focus on identifying and trying to rehabilitate habitual offenders. “Instead of putting massive resources into building more jails and incarcerating people, why aren’t we looking at psychiatric treatment? Why aren’t we looking at identifying learning disabilities, or identifying and treating people with fetal alcohol syndrome? We don’t do much of that.”
With a report from The Canadian Press