Alberta government introduces new public safety protocols aimed at addressing crime concerns

Click to play video: 'Provincial changes to address escalating crime in Alberta’s cities'
Provincial changes to address escalating crime in Alberta’s cities
The Alberta government wants criminal to know they're not welcome in Alberta. As Sarah Ryan explains, changes are coming to the justice system and for Crown prosecutors aimed at cracking down on violence and drug use — especially in Calgary and Edmonton – Sep 11, 2023

Alberta’s provincial government announced new protocols on Monday in an effort to address increasing concerns about violence being committed in the province’s major cities.

The new initiatives include the introduction of what the government calls “targeted prosecution units” as well changes to bail practice protocol.

At a news conference in Edmonton, Justice Minister Mickey Amery said the new targeted prosecution units in Alberta’s major urban centres will consist of teams from the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service that will “focus in the increased level of crime and the prosecution of violent criminals in Edmonton and Calgary.”

These prosecutors will work with police to focus on issues specific to the communities, including drug houses, available social supports and their relation to the types of crimes being committed, the province said.

“The position of the Alberta government is absolutely clear: there is no safe haven in Alberta for criminals,” Amery said. “These changes add to our existing efforts to make sure all criminals, especially repeat violent offenders, are held accountable for their actions.”

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Click to play video: 'Relief and concern over Alberta’s new violent crime measures'
Relief and concern over Alberta’s new violent crime measures

The government said changes to the province’s bail protocol will be made in order to prioritize public safety and “take a tough approach on crime caused by repeat violent offenders gang activity.”

“The protocol provides guidance to prosecutors to seek to detain any accused who is a threat to public safety, especially repeat violent offenders, unless the risk to public safety can be addressed by bail conditions,” the government said in a news release. “Prosecutors must evaluate the risk that the accused will commit another offence if released.”

In July, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi wrote a letter to the federal justice minister calling for “immediate action” on bail reform.

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Sohi’s letter also pleaded for better release and reintegration plans, given the high concentration of correctional facilities and parolees living in the Edmonton region.

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Amery, said Monday he is also ending Alberta’s “triage practice protocol,” which was initiated in 2017.

The government that brought it in said the protocol was aimed at helping prosecutors deal with a court system facing a strain on its resource by focusing on cases that have a better likelihood of conviction and finding ways to resolve cases more quickly.

Click to play video: 'Alberta introduces new protocols to crack down on repeat violent offenders'
Alberta introduces new protocols to crack down on repeat violent offenders

On Monday, the provincial government said the protocol’s elimination will help to address violent crimes in the community and “ensure all viable charges are prosecuted.”

“In the absence of needed bail reform from the federal government, Alberta is taking a zero-tolerance approach to ensure citizens are safe and secure in their communities,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis.

“Violence, social disorder and open-air drug use is unacceptable, and we will do everything in our power to take back our streets and ensure they’re safe for Albertans.”

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“The public safety challenges facing our cities have changed, forcing the police and policymakers to really adapt and respond.

Ellis indicated random or unprovoked attacks in Calgary and Edmonton have historically been relatively uncommon but suggested recent homicides and assaults in those cities have raised concerns.

He said during his time as a police officer, it was common for those involved in violent crimes to be known to each other.

“Now, we are seeing a rise in violent attacks on citizens who are just going about their daily business,” Ellis said.

Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir retorted against the UCP government’s announcement, saying it needs to reverse spending cuts and invest “in addressing crimes and crime prevention, stopping repeat offenders and providing funding to address the social determinants of crime.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta introduces new protocols to crack down on repeat violent offenders'
Alberta introduces new protocols to crack down on repeat violent offenders

Edmonton police discuss new ‘Safer Public Spaces approach’

On Monday, the Edmonton Police Service issued a news release about an initiative it is implementing that it calls Safer Public Spaces.

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The Safer Public Spaces project will include ongoing focused work between EPS and community partners in health and social care, including addressing open-air drug use in public.

“There has been a visible increase in socially unacceptable behaviours on our streets and in places like our parks, pedways and LRT stations,” EPS Chief Dale McFee said. “The impacts of violence and social disorder, including random violence, have grown increasingly prominent.

“We are sending a clear message that safety is the priority. No Edmontonian should be at risk of becoming a victim, and no one should feel that their right to go about their lives within these spaces is compromised.”

According to EPS, the city’s violent crime rate increased by 13 per cent between 2021 and 2022, with an 18 per cent increase in the number of victims of violent crime in that same period.

Sindi Addorisio, manager of Boyle Street’s health cabin overdose prevention site on the south side of Edmonton, said if the city is going to crack down on open-air drug use, more supervised consumption sites are needed.

She said the focus on open-air drug use is concerning, and that more wrap-around services — like supportive housing and harm reduction — are needed for the community.

“It’s not only the focus on people coming in to use their substances safely – that’s the main reason – but to build relationships with communities that are using substances, to help them access primary care and housing and treatment and mental health and counselling,” Addorisio said.

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“It’s not just the drug use we need to focus on, it’s the wrap-around and the continuum of care.”

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