A national law enforcement organization has joined other law enforcement groups in calling for reform in Canada’s bail policies for violent repeat offenders and criminals who use firearms to break the law.
Following the shooting death of rookie Ontario Province Police (OPP) officer Grzegorz Pierzchala, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) issued a statement on Dec. 30, 2022, calling for changes to prevent criminal acts by offenders out on bail.
The 28-year old constable was murdered while responding to a routine call about a vehicle in a ditch near Hagersville, Ontario, on Dec. 27, 2022, just after 2:30 p.m. He was on his first solo call and had just been informed earlier that day that he had completed his 10-month probationary period.
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said at a news conference on Dec. 29, 2022, that he was “outraged” that one of the suspects charged with first-degree murder in Pierzchala’s death was a repeat offender who had been released from prison and was out on bail.
The suspect was already prohibited from having a firearm by two previous court orders, from 2016 and 2018. The gun allegedly involved was a handgun with its serial number removed.
The death of Constable Pierzchala was “preventable,” Carrique said. “This should never have happened.”
The CAPC statement echoed Carrigue’s sentiments.
“The tragic deaths of several police officers as well as the harm inflicted on numerous other Canadians in recent months are a stark reminder that we now need to increase our focus on the issue of violent and repeat offenders as well as the bail process,” said the CAPC statement.
“As we mourn the tragic passing of Constable Pierzchala, the criminal justice system’s limitations and ineffective management of chronic and prolific offenders is painfully obvious.”
Police leaders are calling for systemic changes to the justice system, said the national association of chiefs of police. It added that the public and law enforcement officers have to be “protected from the criminal behaviours of violent and repeat offenders, particularly those charged with firearm-related crimes.”
The CAPC said their right to this protection must be given “far greater weight” than is currently the case when considering bail and sentencing.
“The current situation is frustrating and dangerous for police officers who see the very real impact that these criminals have on the perception and actual public safety of Canadians across the country,” said the CAPC.
The national association said it was joining the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) in calling for legislative reforms.
The OACP issued a statement on Dec. 29, 2022, stating that firearms-related crimes “are often perpetrated by individuals with previous offences for violent crimes and previous convictions for firearms offences.”
The Ontario association said that in many cases in which the accused was on pre-trial release—meaning was granted bail before the actual court hearing on alleged violence or firearms offences—any crimes that followed “were completely preventable.”
“As Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique, a member of the OACP Board of Directors, observed, ‘something needs to change,’” said the OACP.
“Further, the Commissioner captured the sentiments of all police members when he noted that, ‘Our police officers, your police officers, my police officers, the public deserve to be safeguarded against violent offenders who are charged with firearms-related offences.”
The OACP said legislative reforms have to occur, including the bail process involving violent repeat offenders and violent firearms crimes.
“Our police community is currently in the process of mourning the loss of a young officer and preparing to honour his life and sacrifice. At the appropriate time, we will be proposing specific legislative amendments related to firearms and violent crimes with a view to working with government and other justice partners to make our communities safer,” said Chief Nishan Duraiappah, president of the OACP.
First-Degree Murder Charges
Two suspects, Brandi Crystal Lyn Stewart-Sperry, 30, of Hamilton, and Randall McKenzie, 25, of Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, have been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Pierzchala.
The officer was shot as he approached a vehicle, which police say was stolen. Pierzchala was transported to hospital with life-threatening injuries but could not be saved.
McKenzie had a warrant out for his arrest, and had already been sentenced to three years in jail for assault with a weapon and theft of a motor vehicle. He had served time for a 2017 robbery and had a history of charges and convictions against him.
A court ordered a lifetime weapons prohibition.
“Since 2018, MacKenzie has been prohibited for life for possessing any firearm. And further, in 2021, McKenzie was again charged with several firearms-related offences and assaulting a peace officer,” said OPP Commissioner Carrique.
According to the commissioner, after the 2021 charges, McKenzie was released on bail with a number of conditions, including remaining in his residence. He had been expected to appear in court in September 2022 to deal with the charges, but he did not show up for court.