TORONTO The arrest of Christopher Husbands, the alleged EatonCentre shooter, has inadvertently lifted the veil on one of thejustice system's dirty little secrets the joke that a"recognizance of bail" often is. The 23-year-old Husbands, who is charged with one count offirst-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder in theSaturday evening gunplay at the downtown mall's busy food court,was ostensibly on "house arrest" as a condition of hisbail at the time of the
shooting. Court documents show he had eight conditions attached to the bail. Aside from the usual provisions to stay away from his allegedvictim and from drugs and guns, the key one was to reside with oneof his two sureties each of whom agreed to put up $2,000 ifHusbands didn't play by the rules at an east-end apartment"at all times seven days a week" except to go to school(there is no evidence in the documents where Husbands may have beenattending school) or when in the company of either surety.
He is charged with sexual assault in connection with a Nov. 5, 2010attack, and was granted the bail on Dec. 2 the same year. But in the aftermath of the food court shooting, there are severalunconfirmed media reports that Husbands allegedly had a score tosettle with Ahmed Hassan, the 24-year-old man who died at the EatonCentre. According to these reports, Hassan allegedly was one of several menwho reportedly confronted Husbands in a vacant apartment, stabbedand robbed him last February.
If true, it would mean that Husbands was out at least twice,brazenly breaching his most restrictive bail condition that hebe at his surety's apartment, under house arrest once when hewas inconveniently stabbed, the second time last weekend when hewas at the Eaton Centre. In truth, he hardly would be the first fellow to treat his bailconditions so casually. Court insiders prosecutors, defence lawyers, clerks, judges andreporters know that what happens in bail court is often a farce. There are, of course, those who come to court with honourableintentions both the person applying for bail and the one actingas surety.
But there's a significant number who don't do that, who come andsolemnly pledge they will watch the accused person like a hawk andmake sure he obeys every condition to the letter and even phonethe police if he doesn't and who haven't a prayer of doing so orthe faintest intention of trying. It's not there aren't laws in place to hold such suretiesaccountable. There are. Under Section 771 of the Criminal Code, there's a procedure called"bail estreatment" for just such situations, when anaccused person has breached his bail conditions.
But the process is complicated. First, the court has to endorse the recognizance, noting thebreach, the reason for the breach and "whether justice hasbeen delayed or defeated." The signed form, and any moneydeposited as security, must be forwarded to the clerk of theOntario Superior Court, seeking forfeiture of the deposit. The accused and the sureties may then be summonsed to a hearing,requiring them to "show cause why the recognizance should notbe forfeited." Such estreatment courts are held monthly, at least in Toronto. But the presiding judge has the discretion to order forfeiture ofthe funds, or a portion of the funds, or not.
Brendan Crawley, spokesman for Ontario's attorney general, toldPostmedia in an email Tuesday the office doesn't "keep statson estreatments," though "estreatments continue to beheld." Thus, the province has no numbers to suggest how often suretiessuch as Husbands' are called to explain what went awry, how theyare held accountable for the promises they made the court, or howoften the government actually moves to recover the money. In fact, as usual, in the matter of bail enforcement, it's theToronto Police doing the heavy lifting. Last year, the force's bail enforcement units there is one perdivision made more than 19,000 "bail checks" and 622arrests for breaches of bail conditions. These checks are prioritized, police spokesman Mark Pugash said,according to the seriousness of the alleged offence and the historyof the accused person in following court orders. The units were first formed, an initiative of Chief Bill Blair, inAugust of 2009.
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