By Erika Mathieu
“Rural crime is at a tipping point,” Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis told reporters during a rural media roundtable on April 12.
Joined by the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Tyler Shandro, the Ministers spoke to rural reporters about Budget 2023’s impact on safety, policing, and justice in rural communities.
Budget 2023 announced $1.2 billion in annual funding to operating expenses for Public Safety and Emergency Services, $709 million for public security in 2023–24, $34 million in 2023–24, $37 million in 2024–25, and $40 million in 2025–26 for correctional services. The budget also includes $15 million in funding over two years to operate the newly created Chief Provincial Firearms Office, and $65 million over three years in funding to help strengthen First Nations policing, a portion of which will support the Blood Tribe Police Service.
According to Minister Ellis, “Budget 2023 boosted funding to the Alberta Sheriffs by 26 per cent, and much of that $27.3 million will go towards increasing the number of officers available to serve rural communities, courthouses, and correctional facilities.”
Ellis and Shandro reported on their recent meeting in Ottawa with federal Minister of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino and Minister of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti, to discuss proposed legislative changes to Bill C-75 which Shandro said, “has really affected safety in our communities in a really negative way.” Although no immediate changes have been adopted, Shandro said the meeting revealed promise for potential legislative changes to the federal Bill C-75 in the future.
“At least the Federal Government is now conceding that they do need legislative changes,” Shandro said, adding a reverse onus clause for repeat offenders and those accused of a violent crime would be beneficial to public safety.
“As a result of C-75, we saw a lot of folks who would be arrested and then be out on bail and reoffending the same day,” said Shandro.
To deal with the volume of court cases, Budget 2023 also includes investments into the courts system that will see the creation of 50 new positions for prosecutors and 140 new clerks hired in the coming year along with seven new judge positions.
Shandro noted the challenges in recruiting for these court positions in small urban and rural areas, but said the implementation of an articling program should encourage professionals to remain in an area once they have been called to the bar and become lawyers. Shandro said although Alberta’s Budget 2023 has allocated funding to “innovative policing initiatives” and investing in the courts, he said “we can’t spend our way out of a problem the federal government created with Bill C-75.”
“Everybody should be presumed innocent until proven guilty,” but added, “there are a lot of situations where pre-trial custody is appropriate,” such as in cases where people have been accused of a serious crime, or those who are repeat offenders.