Thursday, 28 March 2019

Integrity and Alberta Politics: "Tough on Crime" - Alberta Votes 2019, part 4

Today (March 28) Kenney did a presser. You can watch it here. What follows is an account of what Jason Kenney, leader of the UCP, laid out in his "Tough on Crime" platform, and my own observations and concerns about what he said. Make of it what you will.

He lists some frightening stats on a "crime surge" in Alberta:
- auto theft is up, at 3 times the national average, with 62 stolen vehicles per day on average
- AAA says there has been a 32% increase in vehicle thefts since 2014 and 29% of all vehicle thefts in Canada happen here in Alberta where we only have about 12% of the population
- in some rural communities the crime rate rose by over 250% compared with just 4 years ago. They included communities like Innisfail and Bonneyville, where property break-ins were up 94% and 133% respectively
- Last year the Edmonton police service reported that since 2015 assaults were up 11%, and property crimes were up 13%, and sexual assault incidents were up by 17% in Edmonton
- Also last year the Calgary police reported that over the last 5 years, under the NDP, their was a 17% increase in property crimes, a 25% increase in financial robberies, a 26% increase in sex offenses, and a 28% increase in robberies, a 36% total increase in assault crimes

Fact Check: In the first 7 months of 2018 (compared with before the NDP rural crime strategy began in Feb 2018) there was an 11% drop in property crime. The RCMP reported 366 fewer home break-ins, 648 fewer stolen vehicles, and 2,358 fewer thefts.  (from Emma Graney, The Edmonton Journal, 27 March, 2019)

Also, in a later Q & A:

So, Kenney is announcing a "crime wave" based on crime stats from when the PCs were still in power. Wow. Just, wow. Sort of like getting unemployment figures off kijiji....

Integrity, people. And competence. But mostly integrity.

Kenney says:
Macleans magazine reported last year that 7 of the most dangerous cities in Canada are Alberta cities. Says Jason Kenney. #1 Wataskiwin, #2 Red Deer, #3 Lethbridge, #6 Cold Lake, #8 Whitecourt, #9 Spruce Grove, #10 Sylvan Lake, #13 Edmonton.

Fact check: Mr. Kenney seems to be using the list from some other year. In the 2019 list of Macleans 20 most dangerous places, Wetaskawin is #3, Red Deer is #6, Whitecourt is #11, Lloydminster (AB & SK) is #13, Grande Prairie is #14, Cold Lake is #15, Lethbridge is #19, and Hinton is #20. 

Court System and Sentencing
Kenney says the wrong people getting early parole. And then he goes on to speak at length about longer sentencing.

Kenney promises:
$10 Million for 50 new prosecutors and support staff

Law Enforcement
Jason Kenney pledges $20 Million over 4 years (an increase of 2/3) to the Alberta Law Enforcement Response teams (ALERT)

Kenney goes on at length about "hundreds of children being victimized" because the NDP doesn't care and won't adequately fund the ICE unit. A bit rich, coming from the guy who wants to out LGBTQ youth. I guess these are straight white children, so it's ok to worry about their safety.

Wait, what? There's $20 million to fund an opioid enforcement unit? What is that, exactly? Is that a team with narcan out saving lives? Or a team locking up addicts?

Creating a charitable foundation so ALERT can receive charitable contributions. Does this mean we are going to have our dinner interrupted so someone can ask for money for the police?

And Kenney pledges a $2 Million fund to expand use of electronic monitoring to protect women from domestic abusers.To track men to make sure they won't revictimize their targets.

Clare's Law
Jason Kenney says he would introduce Clare's Law in Alberta.

Clare's law was imported from UK, and is now in effect in Saskatchewan. There are some serious problems with this law. First, the law makes it so anyone can go to the police and get the details of their significant other's past criminal history. The idea is that people, particularly women, should have the right to know if the person they are getting into a relationship with has a history of violence. It's hard to argue with that. Except there is an unintended consequence. You see, people who get the information on their partner and stay anyway... their calls for help and their reports of violence may not be taken as seriously. After all, she knew what she was getting into...

Furthermore, not all police departments or detachments handle the law the same in England and Wales where it has been in place since 2014. Researchers found it takes an average of 40 days to get the information after a request has been made, and fewer than half of the approximately 8,000 requests made by 2017 resulted in any disclosure. 

Public Right to Know Act
Jason Kenney says he will introduce a Public Right to Know Act, wherein the Department  of Justice would have to file an annual report in the legislature of the number of crimes committed including by those on bail, on probation, on conditional sentences, on parole, or statutory release, those with 3 or more criminal convictions, those subject to deportation order for criminality, or who were previously removed from Canada for being criminals. What purpose would this serve? I have several ideas, but I will elaborate on that later.

Drug Treatment Courts
Jason Kenney promises to expand the use of drug treatment courts with a bump of $5 million in funding. This would be his demonstration of how compassionate he is.

UCP Rural Crime Strategy
He goes on to say a UCP government will implement the UCP rural crime strategy outlined last year, which, he says, is comprised of 3 dozen recommendations

These include:
- working with police to ensure all relevant data is collected
- providing additional police resources
- updating and tightening bail process to keep offenders off the streets
- close co-ordination between police services and units established in each district focused on high risk repeat offenders
- ombudsman for crime victims

Changes to Criminal Code to Protect Rural Areas
Kenney says he will also advocate with the federal government for amendments to the criminal code dealing with rural areas. A UCP government would seek sentencing principles to ensure that in rural crime offenses specific facts be considered by sentencing courts as aggravating factors - if a criminal is clearly targeting people who live in a remote area because of that vulnerability that should be considered an aggravating factor in their sentence
"Terrorizing rural families"

It is not in the slightest clear if an attempt to make sentences longer because the crime happened in a rural area would withstand a constitutional challenge. In all likelihood, it would not. 

Parole and Victim Services
The UCP would replace parole board of Canada with an Alberta Parole Board for sentences less than 2 years. Essentially, no parole.

The UCP would review of current model of victim service delivery

Repeat Offender Policy
The UCP would develop a repeat offender policy - create a police/crown repeat offender unit in each district - most property crimes are repeat offenders, and make sure all history of offenses is available to crown prosecutors. 

This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it is already common practice for the crown to research and know all the relevant prior arrests and convictions. Second, this might disproportionately negatively affect the poor, and those struggling with mental illness or addiction. Missing hearing and breaking bail conditions are among the most common offences. Third, a "repeat offender policy" sounds a lot like a move to a three-strikes policy. 

 Let's revisit that Public Right to Know Act for a moment. If you wanted a three strikes legislation like in the US, how would you try to build public support? Probably by trying to demonstrate that people re-offend. And you do this by making very public pronouncements about how many people were charged a second or third or fourth time...

The counter argument to this is, of course they will re-offend if the corrections system does not equip them with the tools they need to be contributing members of society. If you have a bunch of stats of re-offenders, then you can go in one of two ways. You can choose a line, like 3 offenses, and lock them up permanently after the third, like they do in the US, regardless of the nature or severity of their crimes. Or, you can look at better rehabilitation in the prison, and entire correctional system. 

Remember that in the US, the "three strikes and you're out" rule feeds and sustains the private prison industry. They need to keep their jails full so the corporations that own them can make money. We don't have private prisons in Canada, at least not so far, and overcrowding in our jails can be a huge problem, so why would anyone even look at the "lock 'em up forever" route? 

(Rural) Use of Force in Self-Defence
Jason Kenney then says the UCP will review crown policy manual to ensure appropriate consideration is given to whether the use of force in defense, in sections 34 and 35 of the criminal code should preclude prosecution against victims of crime. That is to say, if somebody in rural Alberta feels compelled to use reasonable force in defense of their life, their safety, or their property, that should be considered reasonable under the criminal code. Kenney says, "We want to make sure that prosecutors don't end up charging people like they did down in High River, they ended up charging someone for defending their farm."

Kenney has said in subsequent interviews that he isn't encouraging vigilantism. Except, it sounds like he is. His rationale is that many people live more than an hour from a police response. And yet, the entire UCP caucus voted against an NDP strategy to combat rural crime in the spring of 2018, which included adding more RCMP constables to police rural areas. 

"Property rights", "Landowner rights", "Self-defence" have all been dog-whistle terms for quite some time. Many Canadian farmers seem to deeply envy the rights of their American counterparts to shoot people who come on their land without much fear of prosecution. This intensified after Coulten Boushie was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley on Stanley's farm in 2016. Kenney appears to be appealing to this envy, and also, possibly, some anti-First Nations sentiment among some farmers. 

Judges and Prosecution
Jason Kenney says he will negotiate additional queen's bench justice appointments with the federal government

And, sort of repeating himself, he says the UCP will update crown prosecutors policy manual to require crown prosecutors to provide the court with an offenders past record and outstanding charges during bail hearings. Sometimes the judge is not told by the prosecutor that defendants have other convictions or charges against them, according to Kenney.

Finally, Mr Kenney says his government would put more money into the return of accused on outstanding warrants to Alberta for prosecution.

A Bit of Context
Back during the Harper era I wrote a blog about justice and best practices. It contains an examination of practices from several jurisdictions and some expert insights. You can read it here.

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