Justice Minister brings rural crime talking tour to Red Deer

Alberta’s Minister of Justice and Solicitor General continued his province-wide tour focusing on rural crime on Friday by visiting with stakeholders in Red Deer.

Doug Schweitzer told rdnewsNOW he’s keen to listen to Albertans who are frustrated by how severe rural crime has become.

“Our campaign commitments are multi-pronged. One of them is making sure our prosecutors have the resources that they need, so we are dedicated to hiring 50 new prosecutors. On top of that, making sure we disrupt organized crime… people are using that money to feed addictions,” he said.

“As well, we’re making sure we come at it from a treatment side by making sure we fund drug treatment courts. Right now, those are only available in Calgary and Edmonton and we’re working to make sure we can expand those types of services across Alberta.”

Schweitzer said the drug treatment courts can have an impact on crime connected to the ongoing opioid crisis and in communities where supervised consumption services are offered.

“I’ve seen the success you can have when you work in tandem with other organizations, whether it’s health, housing or social services to make sure it’s not dealt with in isolation,” said Schweitzer, who sat on the Calgary Drug Treatment Court for five years. “That’s why we’re expanding drug treatment courts, because it has a proven track record of giving people suffering from those addictions the ability to recover. It also keeps people safer in their communities and reduces theft. It works for everyone.”

In spring 2017, the NDP government committed nearly $100 million to a new Red Deer Justice Centre which would replace the current Red Deer Courthouse. The minister said that project is currently in the design phase.

“It was emphasized to me by Red Deer city council how important that initiative is, and I’ve also met with local MLAs, and they’ve stressed to me how important it is that we have greater court capacity,” he said. “It is one of the capital infrastructure projects in the justice world and is one of the highest priority items for us.”

During his conversations with Red Deer city council, Mayor Tara Veer addressed the longstanding ask of The City of Red Deer to provide a more fair funding formula for municipalities that fund their own police, versus smaller communities that have it entirely paid for by the province.

“It’s actually been studied for decades in Alberta and quite often politics gets in the way of finding an equitable arrangement across Alberta,” he stated. “We’re in the process of talking to stakeholders about how we can find a sustainable police costing model going forward, so stay tuned for more details.”

While many initiatives won’t be implemented overnight, especially with a budget on the way, Schweitzer noted that a lot of work is going on behind the scenes in order for the UCP to fulfill its campaign promises.

“You’ve seen the MacKinnon Report that came out; Alberta is in a tough financial position, but at the same time, there are lots of different innovative things that we can do to deliver better services for less money,” he said. “We’re looking at everything we can possibly do here in Alberta to find more efficient ways of delivering services, so freeing up policing time and freeing up court time.”

Schweitzer’s tour continues with stops in Lacombe and Ponoka on September 10 before he heads north and south of central Alberta.