Reasonable Doubt: Peace bonds demystified and online surveillance bill criticized
This week, I will be carrying on in the same vein that my colleague, Laurel Dietz, has done in the past few articles: demystifying the criminal law, one definition at a time!
What is a peace bond?
A peace bond is a court order designed to prevent a person from committing or recommitting a crime that has an aspect of violence (i.e. assault, uttering threats, and criminal harassment). In this article, I will refer to the person named as “the accused” even though a peace bond is not a criminal charge nor does it carry a criminal conviction. I will refer to the person who has the fear as the complainant. What starts the process is the swearing of an information naming the accused. The complainant must have a reasonably-based fear that the accused will cause her/him personal injury or damage to property.
The peace bond information can be laid either at the outset of a matter or after criminal charges of another nature have been laid. If a criminal charge has been laid, Crown counsel can decide to proceed by way of a peace bond as opposed to continuing with the criminal charge. Crown counsel will look at all of the circumstances in making this determination. They will consider things like the seriousness of the alleged act (if the act giving rise to the charge is not that serious, a peace bond may be sufficient to address the harm done), whether the accused has a criminal record, if this has occurred before in the past, is there still a relationship between the two parties and what is it?
Then a hearing occurs before a judge who can then issue the peace bond if appropriate in the circumstances. The court order can last up to a year and the accused must comply with conditions such as: keep the peace and be of good behavior; reporting to a probation officer; counselling; no contact with the complainant; not to go to the complainant’s place of work, school, or residence; no firearms; no weapons; no alcohol or drugs. This court order is in force across Canada and if the accused breaches a condition, they can be charged.
The benefit of a peace bond is that it is not a criminal conviction, therefore if the person named in the information is otherwise a upstanding citizen, they can move forward without the stigma of a criminal record. The peace bond also gives the complainant security in knowing that there is a court order binding the accused.
I want to end this article with some thought provoking items. There’s a lot going on in the news right now regarding criminal law. In speaking about the new online surveillance bill that the Conservative government is trying to push, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews caused quite the uproar with his comment that you’re either with the government or with child pornographers. The intentionally inflammatorily-named “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” would go far in giving the police extra powers in obtaining personal information about Canadian citizens simply on request and without a warrant. Even some Conservative MPs are voicing criticism of the act, which tells us how outrageous and invasive it is if it were to be passed into law in its current state.
The Honourable Judge Daniel Steinberg just made the news with his ruling throwing out a case against a man accused of Internet child luring on account of delay. The accused waited 27 months before his matter went to trial. Judge Steinberg called the current state of the provincial court in B.C. “abysmal” and he specifically called out the government for causing the heinous circumstances the criminal justice system finds itself in. “I find that the consequences of the government’s decision-making and priority-setting have meant the creation in this case, as in many others, of an intolerable delay that offends the…Charter.”
Numbers are coming out regarding how much the federal omnibus crime bill will cost B.C. A newly released internal B.C. government audit predicts the crime bill will result in 470 additional inmates and an annual funding shortfall of at least $53 million. This is alarming information, especially in light of how badly the system needs funding.
Reasonable Doubt appears on Straight.com on Fridays. The column’s writers, Laurel Dietz and Nancy Seto, are criminal defence lawyers at Cobb St. Pierre Lewis. You can send your questions for the column to them at email@example.com.
A word of caution: Don’t take this column as personal legal advice, because it’s not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.