Canada's new justice minister pledges to enhance public security
By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's new justice minister said on Monday that the government will act to address the heightened sense of insecurity felt by certain sections of the population, though "empirically" it is unlikely Canadians are less safe from crime, he said.
Arif Virani, a Toronto member of parliament, was appointed justice minister in a broad cabinet shuffle by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week.
Virani, who came to Canada as a refugee from Uganda in 1972, said high-profile attacks on public transit in Toronto and elsewhere have contributed to a perceived lack of security.
"I think that empirically it's unlikely" Canada is becoming less safe, Virani told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
"But I think there's a sense coming out of the pandemic that people’s safety is more in jeopardy."
According to Statistics Canada, the country's police-reported crime rate increased 5% last year, with the violent crime rate increasing 2%.
An April poll by Leger found nearly two-thirds of Canadians surveyed thought crime had gotten worse where they lived.
In March a 16-year-old boy was stabbed to death at a Toronto subway station in what police called a random attack. The following month a 17-year-old was stabbed and killed on a bus in Surrey, British Columbia. Calgary police sought suspects in what they said were random attacks on transit this past spring.
Virani said the government also wants to target root causes of criminality such as housing and health.
Virani is a lawyer by profession and this will be his first cabinet position. But he said he has experience as parliamentary secretary on the justice file.
He will take on the government's bail reform legislation that would shift the burden of proof onto some defendants trying to get released pending their trial.
Asked if there was evidence indicating bail reform legislation is necessary or will help, Virani said the government heard calls for tighter bail rules from "quite a unified group of stakeholders."
"That evidence cannot be denied ... A responsible government needs to be in tune to what Canadians are seeking."
Also in the new minister's file is medical assistance in dying.
The government has yet to decide whether to allow advance requests for assisted death and whether to allow people under 18 to access medical aid in dying if they are deemed to have decision-making capacity.
Canada will allow people whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness to access assisted death starting in March.
Virani would not give a timeline for this decision but said his government is considering how to balance autonomy with protection.
"What we're always trying to do is ensure that we’re providing people with autonomy and freedom of choice and empowering their dignity but at the same time protecting those who are vulnerable."
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Matthew Lewis)