September 29, 2017 4:27 pm

‘It’s a mistake’: Winnipeg lawyer calls out Conservatives for eliminating GPS tracking program

An example of an electronic monitoring device.

Global News / File
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A Winnipeg lawyer is calling the province’s decision to phase out electronic monitoring for convicts a step backwards.

“It’s disappointing, it’s disturbing, it’s a step backwards and it should not happen,” Defence lawyer Jay Prober said.

Justice Minister Heather Stefanson told Global News the Conservative government plans to completely phase out the GPS monitoring program over the next few months.

WATCH: Justice Minister Heather Stefanson’s one-on-one interview with Global News

She said the system is flawed and is “unreliable and inaccurate.”

However both lawyers and GPS tracking experts disagree.

READ MORE: Manitoba government scrapping GPS ankle-bracelet tracking program for convicts

“It works. It really is abominable that the government is taking this step backwards,” Prober said. “It’s a mistake.”

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Prober said electronic monitoring has proven successful across many different provinces and in the United States. He said not only is it an important tool for the justice system to have but one that helps ensure the public’s safety.

“It not only protects the victim, it protects members of the public and gives a measure of comfort to the court and the judge imposing the sentence,” Prober said. “Ask the victim, or the alleged victim, how safe they feel now. I think they are looking at it from the wrong perspective.”

At the peak of its usage, the government said 14 people were being monitored on the program. This includes high risk car thieves, violent domestic offenders and parolees.

WATCH: Global’s Brittany Greenslade looks into the province’s decision to phase out the electronic monitoring program

Currently, there are just seven people being monitored. Three of those include violent domestic offenders.

READ MORE: Domestic violence: when the law isn’t enough

In British Columbia, 63 offenders are currently being monitored using GPS trackers. In Ontario there are 204.

“It works in those provinces and it works in the United States,” Prober said.

“This was a technology problem. They aren’t using the proper devices,” SafeTracks GPS President Vince Morelli said. “It’s disheartening what’s happened in Manitoba because these tools work.

Morelli said Manitoba is using outdated technology and there is new, extremely accurate devices being used across the country.

He pointed to a number of high profile criminal cases, including convicted killer Travis Vader, where GPS electronic monitoring played a key role.

RELATED: Travis Vader gets life sentence for killing Lyle and Marie McCann

“While he was out on bail during the trial, he had (a SafeTracks) bracelet on him,” Morelli said. “When police went to pick him up he was not at his place. They contacted us and we were able to give them his location. They moved in and it was a seamless arrest.”

Morelli said he had high hopes for Manitoba to become a leader in the fight against domestic violence after the former NDP government announced it was looking at expanding its monitoring program in 2015.

That decision came on the heels of the murder of Camille Runke. The 49-year-old was killed by her ex-husband who breached his probation order multiple times before her death.

“I am shocked and disappointed at the Government’s decision to eliminate the GPS ankle bracelet monitoring program in Manitoba, “Jennifer Noone, a close friend of Runke, said in a statement. “It was possible to know the whereabouts of the perpetrators which ensured the safety of victims in domestic violence cases. Without this device, what is protecting the victims?”

READ MORE: ‘He finally got her, we knew’: Friends of St. Boniface murder victim want change

But with the decision to eliminate the program all together, Morelli said victims hardly stand a chance.

“(The government) says ‘don’t worry we’re going to look after the victims.’ How? God forbid if something were to happen to any of those three,” Morelli said. “They’re all going to have blood on their hands.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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