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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Almost 70 per cent of Manitobans in custody haven't been convicted: report

WINNIPEG - Manitoba has the highest number of people behind bars who haven't been convicted of a crime.

That's according to a new report from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society.

The report says innocent people across Canada are spending time in jail because of an increasing use of pretrial custody.

In Manitoba, 66 per cent of people behind bars are waiting for their trials compared with about 55 per cent nationally.

Corey Shefman with the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties says the province is setting people up to fail because of its zero-tolerance policy for breaches of bail conditions.

He says, for example, that someone who is five minutes late for an appointment set out in bail conditions, can be returned to jail.

It's an even bigger problem for alcoholics or drug addicts who are told to abstain as part of their bail conditions, he said.

"Addiction is a disease. It's not one that a courtroom can cure with the bang of a gavel," Shefman said Wednesday. "We're criminalizing activities that aren't criminal."

John Hutton of Manitoba's John Howard Society said many people are acquitted of the original charge, but end up with a criminal record because of minor bail condition breaches. Keeping those people in custody clogs up the justice system and makes it more probable that people will reoffend, he suggested.

"It's expensive and it's not creating a safer community."

There are good reasons why some should be kept in custody, but those who are released on bail should be released without overly restrictive conditions, Hutton added.

The report, entitled Set Up to Fail, calls on Manitoba to end its zero- tolerance policy for breaches of bail conditions. It also recommends a system-wide return to the presumption of innocence.

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