EDMONTON — Alberta’s justice minister is demanding an apology from the Opposition Wildrose for distributing tongue-in-cheek coupons informing wannabe scofflaws that their first crime is on the house.
“It’s childish and I think that whoever did them needs to apologize,” Jonathan Denis said Thursday. “It’s a patent abuse of taxpayer dollars.”
The full-colour coupons feature a faux bar code beside pictures of a dour-faced Premier Alison Redford and a smiling Denis.
“Enjoy One Free Crime!” shouts the headline. “Vandalize! Shoplift! This one’s on us!
“The holder of this coupon is entitled to one free minor crime without prosecution!”
The cheekiness continues in the fine print at the bottom.
Coupon holders are told they must present the paper when they are arrested to be valid. And it expires if Redford’s government falls.
Wildrose critic Shayne Saskiw said the coupons are a light-hearted attempt to draw attention to a serious policy change in the Justice Department that was announced in last week’s budget.
First-time petty crime offenders — such as vandals and shoplifters — are to be redirected to alternative measures programs as a way to rehabilitate them and free up court resources to pursue more serious offenders.
Saskiw has labelled it the Tory “hug-a-thug” program.
He said petty crime never feels petty to the person victimized. He said shop-owners and business people will pay the price if would-be thieves and vandals know there are no consequences for a first or second crime.
The policy change is one of many in the justice system stemming from the budget.
Denis also announced that the government plans to save $1 million a year by ending electronic monitoring for anyone under house arrest. Offenders used to wear electronic ankle bracelets allowing justice workers to monitor their whereabouts and ensure they didn’t wander away. The cost was $20,000 a year per offender.
The offenders had either been convicted of low-risk crimes or were awaiting trial on high-risk ones. The Wildrose and the guards who carry out the monitoring have expressed concern that ending the program puts the public at risk.
Denis said high-risk offenders who would have been eligible for electronic tracking will now be denied bail and kept in jail pending a trial.
The government is saving another $1 million by ending a program that allowed some offenders to serve their time on weekends so they could keep their week-day jobs. That program cost taxpayers extra dollars in staffing and logistics because weekend offenders had to be kept separate from the general prison population.
Denis also said that while the government wants to see more first-time vandals and shoplifters directed to alternative measures, prosecutors can still charge them and pursue a court case if they feel it’s merited.
“The consequences are still there as they always have been for individuals who commit crime,” said Denis.
“This is one of the strongest law-and-order governments that this province has ever seen.”
The issue has seen tempers flare in recent days in question period. Both Denis and Redford have stressed the government matched its money with Albertans’ priorities.
“Not one judge, not one prosecutor, not one police officer was cut in this budget,” Redford told the house on Wednesday.
The Wildrose party is known for eye-catching publicity stunts that the government derides as cheap and tasteless.
Last year, when Redford missed a number of sitting days in the house, the Wildrose crafted an Old-West-style wanted poster.
Redford said it affected her family when her daughter’s school friends saw the poster and warned her that her mother was missing.