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Justice reform proposals get mixed review from BCCLA

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association applauds some of the justice reform proposals made yesterday by Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, and is disappointed by others.

Two of the announcements which receive top marks are the A.G.’s decision to table amendments to the Police Act in the spring sitting of the Legislature, and his commitment to use alternatives to incarceration to deal with non-violent offenders.

“We are gratified that these changes to the complaints process under the Police Act, changes which the police and citizen groups worked for so long and hard, will finally see the light of day,” commented BCCLA president Kay Stockholder. “The BCCLA has been working for these changes for 12 years, and consensus between the police and citizen groups was reached over two years ago. It should be the first item on the spring legislative agenda.”

The civil rights group also commends the A.G. on his proposal to divert non-violent offenders from the criminal process, and to focus on rehabilitation and restitution rather than on punishment.

“This is the right way to go. Our jails and prisons are already overcrowded. We don’t need more or longer jail terms for those convicted of minor or non-violent crimes. Community service, probation and supervision are far more effective ways to deal with these people,” said Ms. Stockholder.

On the other hand, the BCCLA is disturbed by the A.G.’s intention to make more aggressive use of the dangerous offender provisions of the Criminal Code, and to lobby Ottawa for broader criteria for dangerous offender applications.

“B.C. already has one of the highest rates of dangerous offender applications in Canada,” noted Ms. Stockholder. “It appears that either the A.G. is saying that despite this, prosecutors haven’t been doing their jobs, or else he is merely trying to cater to the ’get tough on crime’ elements in our society.”

The BCCLA rejects the idea of broadening the criteria for a dangerous offender finding. It notes that Ottawa has just brought forward legislation to create a long term offender classification to deal with the problem.

“We don’t oppose, in principle, the idea of requiring long term supervision of those people at risk of re-offending,” said Ms. Stockholder. “The long term offender proposal is crafted narrowly enough to include only those who pose a danger that can be addressed by supervision in the community.”

The rights group is also concerned about the Dangerous Offender and Career Criminal Identification System which the A.G. announced. He said it will be used to identify potential dangerous offenders.

“Who decides that a person gets placed on this system?” asked Ms. Stockholder. “And who gets to see this information? Can one dispute being named on a police file as a ‘potential’ dangerous offender? There are several unanswered questions here.”

The A.G. announced that come spring the B.C. Police Commission will be eliminated, and its function in monitoring and reviewing police forces will be taken over by the Attorney General’s ministry. The BCCLA questions the wisdom of this move. In the Association’s view, the Commission has a valuable function to perform in researching police issues such as use of force policies, in auditing police compliance with provincial standards, and in serving as an independent sounding board for citizens’ concerns about policing.

“We fear that this important job will get lost in the ministry, falling victim to budget constraints, ministry priorities and internal politics. A scaled down Commission would do a better job at about the same cost,” said the BCCLA president.