Minister suggests Alberta adopts “Clare’s Law” to prevent domestic abuse
Following the murder of Clare Wood in the UK by her boyfriend, who had a domestic violence record not disclosed to Clare by police, Saskatchewan conducted an in-depth review of six domestic homicides and provided a list of 19 recommendations. They found a specialized first responder team was needed to handle domestic violence cases effectively.
Saskatchewan is the first Canadian province to legislate their version of “Clare’s Law” to reduce what is the highest domestic violence rate among the provinces. The legislation allows for law enforcement, family members, the person at risk, and other professionals involved to requesting an application to disclose the criminal record of a person under reasonable suspicion of domestic abuse.
In 2015, 5,976 cases of intimate partner violence were reported in Saskatchewan. That’s 666 cases per 100,000 people. There has not yet been enough time to determine how effective Clare’s law has been in Saskatchewan, but the principles behind the law should guarantee few ill-effects if any.
Alberta currently holds the third-highest rate of intimate partner violence, leading to 166 deaths between 2008 and 2017. That poor performance is reflected in the fact that 557 women per 100,000 and 228 men per 100,000 were abused by a family member, according to 2015 Statistics Canada numbers.
Rajan Sawhney, Albertas minister of Community and Social Services, called for the province to deal with its domestic violence problems by also adopting Clare’s Law.
“Give Sawhney credit for mentioning it [in the legislature] to help curb domestic violence,” said Jonathan Denis, Alberta’s former Attorney General.
“Our government is committed to addressing domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Among the other initiatives underway, we pledge to pass an Alberta version of Clare’s Law to ensure Alberta’s at risk for domestic violence have fuller awareness of a domestic partner’s history of violence or violent acts,” stated Sawhney.
There is “no one solution” asserted Denis “[Clare’s law is] a step forward…[authorities] can’t presume guilt by accusation,” keeping the law from being abused, making this step forward very agreeable.
Although these changes to current law are positive measures, some factors will continue to hamper law enforcement in rural parts of Alberta.
Kara Barker, an Albertan Crown prosecutor, summed these problems up as being mainly budgetary, and time-related.
In Alberta, the previous NDP government implemented a 4-1/2-year wage freeze, which has disincentivized lawyers looking to become crown prosecutors. Now, there are 306 Crown prosecutors in Alberta, with 105 Crown prosecutors working in regional offices. Leaving only 20 in rural offices, predominantly Northern Alberta.
“I am not sure that my caseload has increased as a result of the salary freeze, but I do know that we have lost a lot of talented people in the past couple of years. What I do hear is that caseloads are going up and a lot of junior prosecutors work long hours to manage these heavy workloads,” explained Barker.
What proved more concerning was the case burden, the wage freeze in culmination with the federal government imposing time limits on criminal trials (18 and 30 months) ever since the 2016 “R v Jordan” Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruling. The effect is that courts have been effectively triaged. Overall the caseload burden has increased, forcing cases of lesser importance to be cast aside.
In Alberta alone, since the 2016 SCC decision, 46 cases have been thrown out of court due to delays.
“In 2013 a woman in Airdrie was the victim of an alleged sexual assault – case dropped due to delays – Lepp injected a sense of urgency” explained Denis.
Other experts suggest moving rural traffic court issues in rural [areas] to a tribunal system, allocating more time in tackling severe offences.
The UCP has pledged $10 million for rural crime and $2 million for Crown Prosecutors, which the RCMP cites will lead to a distinct improvement in combating crime, particularly in rural ridings to the north and south.
A recent UCP report on rural crime also urged a federal review of self-defence laws and the release of annual public reports detailing provincial crime statistics.
With the current solutions of increasing law enforcement budgets, and implementing more decentralized courtroom systems being longer-term solutions, rural Albertans need some assistance in the meantime. Kara Barker shared some advice on what can be done now about domestic violence.
“Some other approaches would be education. Young people need to be aware of this type of violence. Interpersonal violence is so insidious. It can start innocuously and gradually escalate. If people are made aware of what it looks like, then maybe they can identify it at the earlier stages before their lives get so entwined.” Barker said.
Rural crime and safety should be a non-partisan issue, and the province should expect more cooperation between different political perspectives in the future. The rise in crime has effects on all Albertans.
A liquor store in Edmonton is testing out a new security program to combat a string of thefts over the past 18 months. Under the proposed new security system, customers will have to scan their ID before they can enter the premises according to a recent article in CBC.
Alcanna, Canada’s biggest private retailer of alcohol is launching a pilot project in partnership with Edmonton police. The project will be tested at Ace Liquor, located at 11708 34th St. in northeast Edmonton. Alcanna stated the intent of the project is to deal with “the epidemic of liquor store robberies that has plagued the city,” a problem that has escalated rapidly in the past year and a half.
“In 2019, EPS officers responded to almost 9,600 calls of theft of liquor — about 26 calls per day across the city,” Const. Robin Wilson said in the release. An increase of 200 percent since 2018.
“It’s not just people taking advantage of something that is easy, it’s somebody preying on people as well,” he said.
Dale McFee, Chief of Edmonton police told CBC News that investigators often find that some of the thefts are gang-related and that it presents a huge problem for the city.
“Ultimately, the way we are right now and the amount of officer time and different things that are going on in this space, it’s not working. So it’s time to try a few things.”
The new scan system requires patrons to scan their identification before the door will unlock and allow entry into the store. This practice has already been used by bars and nightclubs in Edmonton for years.
The Alcanna pilot project has been positively received by many including Const. Wilson who commended the company for “taking proactive steps to increase the safety of both their employees and the general public,”
Joe Cook is the vice-president of Alcanna which in addition to Ace Liquor, also owns the Liquor Depot, Wine and Beyond and Nova Cannabis brands. “Just as was done with pre-pay and pay at the pump for gas stations, we are hoping Patronscan creates a safer shopping experience,” said Cook in a news release. “This is not shoplifting,” he said. “It is robbery with real or threatened violence.”
Edmontonians won’t have to worry about their privacy rights as the customer ID information will not be kept in the devices but stored in Patronscan’s data centre with restricted access, according to a press release from Alcanna.
Albertan oil and gas companies owe the province’s rural municipalities unpaid property tax, and the amount has doubled since the beginning of last year. Some people are referring to this trend as a tax revolt according to CTV News.
“If Alberta’s property tax system is not amended to prevent oil and gas companies from refusing to pay property taxes, many rural municipalities will struggle to remain viable,” association president Al Kemmere said in a release.
The municipalities want the province to change the rules in order to force companies accountable for the taxes they owe Kemmere explained. As it currently stands property taxes are controlled by the province and not the local communities.
“A lot of the oil and gas is doing their fair part as citizens, but we need legislation to force others to pay much like everybody else has to pay,” said Kemmere.
Rural Municipalities Alberta conducted a survey of the owed taxes and found that the number has increased 114 percent from a similar survey they conducted in the spring of 2019. According to the survey, oil and gas companies owe a total of $173 million.
Reeve Paul McLauchlin estimates that his municipality of Ponoka County, south of Edmonton, is owed about $2.6 million out of a total of $27 million. The oilpatch consultant said, “It creates operational constraints, our ability to provide community services. We have nonprofits asking for assistance. We say ‘no’ more and more.”
Many people in the industry believe that it’s the way that taxes are assessed that is driving companies out of business. The provincial government is in charge of assessing properties however they evaluate them based on replacement cost and not market value.
“We defend the need for the province to take a look at how assessment works and have it reflective of the market,” said Ben Brunnen, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
“A lot of these unpaid taxes are coming in jurisdictions where you’ve got assets that are older and not as productive or economic. The choice for these types of assets is to shut (them) in or find a way to reduce costs.” he said.
Brunnen suggested that some municipalities are going to have to accept less revenue from oil and gas companies as a result of such shut-in walls which are often abandoned or never reclaimed after bankruptcy.
Last year it was ruled that municipalities are unsecured creditors by the Alberta Court of Appeal. This ruling effectively puts them at the back of the line when it comes to tax collection following a bankruptcy.
The Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project works to comprehend the impact of old energy infrastructure on the province. Regan Boychuck, a researcher working for the project claimed, “Oilpatch property tax are now voluntary.”
About 40 per cent of unpaid taxes are from distressed companies that are feeling the effects of an industry hit by lower resource prices according to McLauchlin. The rest belongs to companies that continue to operate without paying.
“My personal opinion is that this is a tax revolt,” McLauchlin said. “They are using this as a lever to decrease their assessment and change those costs.”
One could argue that in a sense the process has already begun. Alberta’s United Conservative government brought in legislation that allowed municipalities to cut taxes on specific well by up to about one-third last year.
Initially, the cuts would be reimbursed by the province but the municipalities said that the program has been abandoned and they are left to deal with the loss.
Boychuck said despite the decline of oil and gas reserves the mill rates on wells and other facilities have remained unchanged for years.
“What industry is really saying is that they’ve depleted their wells so far they can’t cover operating costs. The wells are done and whatever wealth remains needs to be directed to clean up rather than looted any further before bankruptcy.”
The Orphan Well Association is an industry-funded group that was created to clean up abandoned wells. They currently have 3,400 abandoned wells under their care and that number is up by 300 since the beginning of last year.
An Alberta company that makes diesel from garbage is planning to take the company a step further by adding three new plants—all in southern Alberta.
Cielo Waste Solutions and Renewable Energy currently operates near Lethbridge, AB and plans to make the expansion later this year. So far they’ve started a trial plant in Aldersyde, AB.
The company produces biodiesel fuel by mixing waste and motor oil that has already been recycled. The end product is meant to be a high-grade fuel at a low cost.
CTV reported that the fuel has been used in both vehicles and jets.
Since the recent success of the company, they want to bring the new plants to Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, and Brooks.
Director at the company, Lionel Robins said, “Any kind of wood waste, plastics – all seven types, not just a few plastics—all the clamshell plastics that just been buried in the past, rubber, municipal sod waste. Basically everything but rock, metal and glass.”
By next summer, the company is planning to have all of their new plants in full operation.
They have started construction on an additional plant in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
A one-day “Value of Alberta” conference examining Alberta’s place in Confederation is taking place next week, as tensions in the province remain high following the province’s overwhelming anti-Liberal and anti-Trudeau vote, which saw nearly 70 percent of the province vote solely for the Conservative Party.
Event spokesperson Becca Polak see the event will help Albertans look at the ways the Canadian government is stunting Alberta’s growth as a province.
“Every day we hear from members of the Alberta Proud community debating what is possible with Alberta’s future. Most of our community wants a Canada that values Alberta. We want both Alberta and Canada to succeed, but we also feel that many elements of Canada are blockading Alberta and holding our future at ransom,” Polak said of the tensions. “Our members wanted to know what was possible and what can be done. So we decided to host this conference to further the discussion.”
The event, which is hosted by Alberta Proud, a group that strives to celebrate Alberta while creating a conversation about Alberta and its relationship with the other provinces, will seek to “examine Alberta’s place in Confederation and the feasibility of Alberta becoming more autonomous.
The tune of autonomy isn’t one being sung by Alberta alone.
One month ago, Moe stated publicly that he believed his province should have more of a say over their immigration system, drawing direct comparison to Quebec.
Moe says he wants control over the growth of Saskatchewan’s population, which aims to increase by 300,000 residents over the next 10 years by adding 100,000 new jobs, increasing the province’s population to 1.4 million.
“The goal is not to say what the percentages would be. The goal is to have the flexibility to make the percentages work for the people and the industries in this province,” said Moe to The Canadian Press.
“In many cases, like climate policy, the provinces are most connected with the needs of the industries that are operating in our communities across the province.”
Speakers include Conrad Black and author Dr. Ted Morton.
“We think that all Albertans who are concerned about these issues will benefit from this conference,” said Polak. “No matter how you feel about separation or more autonomy for Alberta it is useful to understand where Alberta stands today, how we got here, and the options that are available to us in the future.”
Polls have also revealed that the west, and Alberta specifically, feel as though the nation is fracturing due to alienation. The majority of those surveyed in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and in the Maritimes believe that Canada is “more divided than ever,” and according to Ipsos vice-president Kyle Braid, those numbers have reached “historic” heights, specifically in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The conference is set for January 18 at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre. More conference details will be announced at www.AlbertaProud.org.