Orr: Alberta’s justice system is failing

Alberta's criminal justice system discussed in our MLA Ron Orr column.

The criminal justice system was created to keep our communities safe.

To respect and restore victims, and to rehabilitate offenders to be self-sufficient and law-abiding. Sadly, Alberta’s justice system is failing our province. Accused criminals are walking free because of a lack of resources while crime is on the rise.

A September 2016 report card on the criminal justice system called “Evaluating Canada’s Justice Deficit” gave Alberta a grade of C plus. The report card found Alberta has problems with criminal justice efficiency. The percentage of charges stayed or withdrawn in Alberta was 35.3 percent on average and the average criminal case length was on average, 183 days.

Over the last year, the Wetaskiwin Crown Prosecutors’ Office, which serves Ponoka and area, has seen a 36 per cent increase in the number of charges commenced. This increase is, by a substantial margin, the highest yearly percentage increase in the entire province. It is also the largest percentage increase in charges of any office in the province over the last decade.

The increase of almost 4,000 criminal charges is dramatic because the Crown Prosecutors’ Office is struggling to effectively prosecute in the midst of a crisis. And worse, there is only an 85 per cent charge clearance rate. The charge clearance rate is well below the provincial average of 93 per cent.

The charge clearance rate means that in 2015/2016 there were more than 2,100 charges that the Wetaskiwin Prosecutor was unable to conclude. Fifteen per cent, or 2,100 charges, are just dropped.

Citizens are very concerned about the rise in crime, and they want the NDP Government to do all it can to keep the most dangerous offenders monitored, and off our streets.

For Blackfalds and Lacombe, the current budget commitment to a new Red Deer court house is a good thing. One that has been promised for about a decade but never got done.

Last week, the Wildrose Caucus launched the Alberta Crime Task Force to consult directly with Albertans about the state of our justice system. The task force will be chaired by Wildrose Shadow Justice Minister Angela Pitt and co-chaired by Wildrose MLA Don MacIntyre.

The Crime Task Force will listen to Albertans directly about the impact of rising crime in Alberta and the effect of NDP government policies, and seek feedback on solutions to make communities safer.

Wildrose MLAs will be touring the province over the next several months to produce a report with recommendations for the government. Albertans are encouraged to fill out the feedback survey at www.crimetaskforce.ca. All information provided online and in person will be factored into the Crime Task Force report.

MLAs will also be receiving feedback on the following:

Increasing monitoring of violent offenders and stricter enforcement of conditions of release;

Tasking a panel of legal experts to expedite prosecutions against gang members and criminal organizations;

Pushing for tougher sentencing on trafficking and production of dangerous opioids like fentanyl; and,

Introducing Bill 201, legislation that would have mandated public reporting of key justice system indicators including the sentencing records of judges in criminal cases, criminal plea-bargains, and bail orders and violations.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Policing and prosecuting violent crimes must be the first priority of justice, and officers must have the time and the tools to focus on protecting Albertans.

Thank you to the officers who daily put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe.

If you have concerns regarding this or any issue, feel free to contact my constituency office at 403 782 7725 or by mail at 101, 4892 46 Street, Lacombe, AB T4L 2B4 or e-mail Lacombe.ponoka@assembly.ab.ca.