Courthouse will have to wait: Minister

Red Deer might have to get in line for a new court house, if Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis’s comments are any indication.

Red Deer might have to get in line for a new court house, if Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis’s comments are any indication.

While helping open Corrections Week in the city on Monday, Denis said he’s aware of the local push for a larger new courthouse to replace the cramped existing one at Ross Street and 48th Avenue.

But Denis said other Alberta communities also have their demands — such as for a new remand centre for Calgary and a new courthouse for Sherwood Park.

The minister said he could not rank which capital need is greatest at this time.

But the first priority for his department is balancing the budget. “It’s important that we get the budget on track. Red Deer’s courthouse is on a capital list, but it may be a number of years before we get to it,” said Denis, who couldn’t pinpoint how long. He only stated it would not happen this year.

Red Deer’s Mayor Morris Flewwelling said he intends to start a conversation about the local courthouse with the minister. City council is proposing the parking lot behind the former downtown RCMP station as a good location for a larger new building, but the mayor said the land couldn’t be reserved for years.

“We might be able to hold onto it for a year and half or so, but we’d need to know very soon” that project would go ahead, said Flewwelling.

He and the minister were among the dignitaries who spoke at an official opening ceremony for Corrections Week in front of the Red Deer Remand Centre.

Denis, who at one point, lost his speech notes to strong winds, said it’s important to recognize the vital work of behind-the-scenes corrections staff because they don’t get the same attention as front-line police.

Jail and remand centre guards also put themselves at risk every day to maintain public safety, said Denis. But the perception that’s often perpetuated by movies and the media is that corrections staffers are either too harsh or too lenient, he added. “Too many people don’t know the good work that’s done.”

There are some 2,340 staff working in the corrections field in Alberta. About 3,100 inmates are in Alberta’s correctional centres and just over 210 young offenders are in provincial custody.

Drug-sniffing corrections dogs and the Southern Alberta Regional Tactical Team made appearances at the opening reception. At one point, a dog discovered a pre-planted bag of drugs under the minister’s chair — prompting laughs from the crowd.

The black-suited, helmeted tactical team set off a smoke bomb and discharged a weapon.

The 69 employees of the Red Deer Remand Centre were described by new director Wayne Johnson as “my new correctional family.” The Calgarian said he’s grateful for their support as he learns the ropes in a new city.

Public open houses will be held at the Remand Centre today (Tues) and Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m.

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