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Alberta makes changes to Crown prosecutors to fight rise in violent crime

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Minister of Justice Mickey Amery stand together during the swearing in of her cabinet, in Edmonton, Friday, June 9, 2023. Amery says special teams of prosecutors will be formed to focus on violent crime and criminals in Edmonton and Calgary.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is making changes to criminal prosecutions to reduce the rise in violent crime.

Justice Minister Mickey Amery says special teams of Crown prosecutors will be formed to focus on violent crime and criminals in Edmonton and Calgary.

Prosecutors will also be given new direction to argue before judges that violent repeat offenders should either be held in custody or be subject to bail rules that will ensure public safety.

“There’s an increasing sense that our justice system is not holding criminals publicly accountable for their actions and letting the public suffer the consequences,” Amery told a news conference Monday.

“This is simply unacceptable.”

The new teams are to be drawn from the existing pool of 300 prosecutors and will specialize in issues plaguing downtown communities, such as drug houses.

Amery also announced the province’s 2017 triage protocol for prosecutors is no longer necessary and will be abandoned.

The protocol was implemented to stop cases from being tossed out due to excessive delays. Prosecutors were asked to take resources into consideration when deciding to pursue some cases, including seeking plea deals and considering whether cases were winnable.

The province has hired 50 more prosecutors in recent years, and Amery said the Crown Prosecution Service has assured it can handle the increased workload as the triage protocol is abandoned.

Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis said the changes come with other previously announced supports, including money for 50 new police officers in Edmonton and another 50 in Calgary and $5 million for each city to make transit rides safer.

Ellis said the province is acting on root causes of crime through a number of measures, including 10,000 new publicly funded addiction treatment spaces.

But Ellis said residents’ immediate needs can’t be ignored.

“You have the right to walk down the street without being violently attacked,” said Ellis.

“You have a right to take transit without inhaling second-hand crystal meth smoke. And you have a right to walk downtown without being caught between clashes of violent organized crime gangs.”

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he agrees the root causes of crime must be addressed, but city council must act on concerns from residents and business owners who don’t feel safe in their neighbourhoods.

“We heard you that you're concerned about visible drug use in public spaces,” said Sohi.

“Everyone here agrees that the status quo is simply not working and things must change. We need to stabilize the situation.”

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said the announcement is “the start of a new direction.”

“There's been a visible increase in socially unacceptable behaviours on our streets, in places like our parks, pedways, LRT stations and most other public spaces across our city,” said McFee.

“The impacts of open air drug use (and) the drug trade have become increasingly prominent, unpredictable (and) random. Violent behaviours due to the types of drugs available are rising and the criminal element is only growing.”

Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said the United Conservative Party government has failed to address Alberta’s violent crime rate by actions such as off-loading policing costs onto municipalities and cutting social supports.

“Combined with other UCP cuts and policies, violent crime has steadily increased along with rising rates of poverty, houselessness, addictions and the proliferation of guns and gangs,” said Sabir in a statement.

“Instead of re-announcing their previous commitments, the UCP must reverse all of their cuts while investing in addressing crimes and crime prevention, stopping repeat offenders and providing funding to address the social determinants of crime.

“Albertans have had enough of empty UCP promises.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2023.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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