Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, fourth from the left, meets with members of Red Deer city council and Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan, fourth from right, on Friday. Contributed photo

Justice Minister on a reassurance mission

Minister touring 18 communities to hear concerns and talk about government’s crime and justice plans

Ensuring Albertans are confident our system of law and order is working is one of Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer’s goals as he tours the province.

“A big part of why we’re going out and doing this big tour of Alberta is to make sure we restore confidence in the justice system and listen to people,” Schweitzer said on Friday during a Red Deer stop, where he met with city council and local crime prevention advocates.

Schweitzer began his tour of 18 communities on Thursday, stopping in Bragg Creek and Springbank.

If there is an early theme, it is that people are concerned about public safety, especially in rural areas. It echoes what he has been hearing for months from Albertans and his colleagues in government.

For mid-sized cities such as Red Deer, the impact of drugs on community safety is a common concern.

Crime prevention and safety was a big part of the United Conservative Party’s platform and was addressed in its Alberta Strong and Free initiative.

Its rural crime strategy calls for additional police resources, better data collection and tightening the bail process to keep offenders off the streets.

“We are dedicated to implementing that full platform in Alberta as quickly as we can.”

A commitment has already been made to pay for 50 new Crown prosecutors and additional funding is promised for the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team.

The government also wants to expand drug treatment courts, which provide a pre-sentence justice alternative for drug-addicted offenders that integrates justice, health services and treatment.

Although successful in Edmonton and Calgary, it has not been decided whether they will be expanded to central Alberta.

“Right now, we’re looking at that,” he said. “We’re working with our department to see if we can get that capacity to branch out into our mid-sized centres like Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Grande Prairie.”

Schweitzer sat on Calgary’s drug treatment court board for five years and is a fan.

“I’m a big proponent for specialized courts. I think they are the right tool quite often to deal with some of these systemic challenges we have.”

Many rural landowners have expressed frustration with what they see as a catch-and-release justice system that allows repeat offenders to continue stealing almost uninterrupted.

Schweitzer said the province can help by ensuring Crown prosecutors have the resources they need, so cases are not dropped for expedience and can focus on repeat offenders.

“Right now, we have to do a better job of co-ordinating between police and prosecutors to address repeat offenders.”

Jean Bota, president of the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association, is encouraged by Schweitzer’s efforts to hear from the public.

“I think it’s very, very good he’s getting out there and talking to the community,” said Bota, a Red Deer County councillor.

“We want to hear what his initiatives are.”

Bota believes that courts focused on drug- or mental health-related cases could take some of the pressure off the system and are among the initiatives worth pursuing.

“There are a lot of little solutions out there we can start exploring,” she said.



pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

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