Clayton Eheler. (Facebook)

Clayton Eheler. (Facebook)

OPINION: B.C. courts handing out bail like Oprah Winfrey hands out free cars

If a gangster who once acquired a fraudulent passport while out on bail can get bail, can anyone?

Bail in B.C. courts lately reminds me of the famous Oprah Winfrey episode where she handed out cars to everyone in the audience: “You get bail! You get bail! Everyone gets bail!”

If anyone was going to be denied bail, I would have guessed it would be gang-connected cocaine dealer Clayton Eheler who, last time he was on bail, acquired a fraudulent passport.

He might have been on the next flight to Thailand or Tahiti if it wasn’t for facial recognition software used by Global Affairs Canada that led to the identification of Eheler as the man in the passport photo alongside his cousin Tyler Van Basten’s personal information.

Eheler is facing a retrial in the case overturned on appeal where he was convicted after being caught processing nine kilograms of cocaine in a Chilliwack apartment. He’s also facing federal charges for allegedly being part of a criminal organization. (Van Basten is a co-accused on that same file.)

READ MORE: Chilliwack gangster Clayton Eheler released on bail despite acquiring a fraudulent passport in 2019

So was I surprised that Judge David Albert granted Eheler bail?

Naively, I suppose, yes I was.

Eheler was put under some of the strictest of bail conditions, including electronic monitoring and 24-hour house arrest. He is not allowed to be within 100 metres of the U.S. border without written permission, and he is not allowed to be within two kilometres of an airport.

What could go wrong? Well unless the police are outside his door, lots. But he’s out on bail, due in court on Aug. 9 and if he shows up, I’ll try not to be surprised.

If Eheler gets bail I guess anyone should get bail, right?

How about Eric Shestalo, who was facing a domestic assault charge and was due in court on July 21, and instead drove to a home in Chilliwack and murdered two of his former romantic partners and injured one of their brothers. He then drove to Bridal Falls and shot and killed himself.

READ MORE: IHIT identifies women killed in Chilliwack double-homicide

Hindsight is 20/20, but should Shestalo have been granted bail?

Hilla Kerner with the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter thinks not.

“Chilliwack police and crown believed the victim,” Kerner wrote in a letter to the Attorney General, the Chilliwack RCMP, and the local Crown counsel office. “The perpetrator was charged. Why wasn’t he kept in custody until his trial? Why was he given the freedom to kill the women?”

Someone from the B.C. Prosecution Service (BCPS) responded to Kerner’s letter. They explained that Crown’s position on bail at Shestalo’s bail hearing was “consistent with the BCPS policy on bail, the governing legislation under the Criminal Code, and binding case law interpreting that legislation.”

“Furthermore, Parliament has directed the courts to exercise a ‘principle of restraint’ in bail hearings and give primary consideration to the release of the accused at the earliest reasonable opportunity.”

When in doubt, let ’em out.

The problem here is that the BCPS boiler plate response to Kerner uses legal language to make it sound as if the Crown had no choice, the rules are unbendable, and that bail is inevitable.

But also in the BCPS response: “For most offences, an accused person can be detained in custody pending trial only if the Crown can satisfy the Court that detention is necessary to secure the accused’s attendance in court, ensure the protection or safety of the public, or maintain confidence in the administration of justice.”

Detention is necessary to secure the accused’s attendance in court? I think many non-legal experts might say detention is a good idea for Mr. Eheler who has a proven proclivity to attempt to flee to avoid prosecution.

Detention is necessary to ensure the protection or safety of the public? Please tell the family of Mimi Kates and Amber Culley why Mr. Shestalo wasn’t detained.

As for the public’s confidence in the administration of justice? These examples might lower it.

Bail is not a guarantee in our system. No matter how the BCPS wants to rationalize acceding to bail requests from objectively bad people, there is legal room to deny bail.

This involves the conflicting principles of presumption of innocence and the need to protect the public and maintain faith in the criminal justice system.

If granting bail to people like Clayton Eheler and Eric Shestalo doesn’t diminish the public’s faith in the justice system, I don’t know what will.

READ MORE: Bail hearing set for Chilliwack gangster and cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler

READ MORE: New trial dates set for high-level Chilliwack drug trafficker whose conviction was overturned

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