Lawyers say Alberta’s plan to sue criminals for health costs is unenforceable

EDMONTON — Alberta’s groundbreaking attempt to force criminals to pay their victims’ medical costs is a political stunt that is “all sizzle but no steak,” says two law groups.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s groundbreaking attempt to force criminals to pay their victims’ medical costs is a political stunt that is “all sizzle but no steak,” says two law groups.

Frank Addario, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association, said Alberta’s legislation is “a terrible idea” that will do nothing to solve the problems that contribute to crime.

“If I could put this in Alberta terms, I would describe the legislation as all hat and no cattle,” Addario said Wednesday in an interview from the group’s Toronto headquarters.

“The government would be much better served by dedicating its energy to eliminating the causes of crime.”

The Right of Recovery Act was introduced this week in the legislature and gives the government the right to go after anyone treated for injuries from a crime for which they’re later criminally convicted.

The law also would be used to file lawsuits against convicted drunk drivers who injure themselves or others and opens the door for the province to sue tobacco makers for the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses.

Justice Minister Alison Redford said the Conservative government is comfortable that the province may be the first with such a law and concedes everyone is entitled to challenge legislation.

“Our view is that it is enforceable,” said Redford. “What I’ve learned from 20 years of practice is that lawyers do have differing opinions of what legislation will stand and what won’t.”

She also said Alberta is willing to risk a legal battle with this legislation.

“That’s why we have the courts,” she said. “I expect that if we do decide to use this that there will be some sort of application made and if so, we’ll argue the merits of it in court.”

“I think it’s very important to be a groundbreaker,” she said. “I think it’s good policy … to ensure that we’re protecting the rights of people in this province.”

But Laura Stevens, past president of the Alberta Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, describes the legislation is unenforceable and “all for show.”

Alberta should instead be focusing money on the areas identified in a recent report on how to keep the province’s communities safe from crime, she said.

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