AV: What does our justice system do well?
When it comes to adjudicating individuals’ fundamental rights and interests it does a really good job—as good as can be expected given the frailties of human memory. With, say, a murder trial, there’s a good system for protecting the rights of the individual, for ensuring the evidence gets presented, for ensuring the rules around the evidence are fair, for ensuring the system does the best job it can to make the right decision. In situations where an individual is facing significant jeopardy or where we’re dealing with large commercial transactions, that ability to focus and use the full court procedure is very important.
AV: You’re Alberta’s first justice minister appointed by a non-conservative party since the 1960s. Has one-party political dominance made Alberta’s justice system more conservative?
In some ways yes; in some ways no. A few things on the books had lingered past their time. I altered the enforcement mechanism on CTrain tickets and municipal bylaw tickets so that people don’t go to jail for unpaid tickets. That had ended in other provinces and had maybe stayed past its best-before date here because of political leanings. But we’ve been fortunate in terms of our police. In Calgary, for instance, a lot of very progressive policies were already in place. Even though it wasn’t necessarily the case at the provincial level, police understand that sometimes the best way to prevent crime is to link people to services, rather than use an old-school “super tough on crime; if someone steals nail polish, lock them up and throw away the key” mentality.
AV: What’s an example of this?
Some of my first conversations with police were around investing in affordable housing. Police services were well aware that affordable housing does a lot more to reduce crime than, say, increasing penalties on minor offences would. They were very supportive when we moved to not using jail for unpaid CTrain tickets. With respect to the opioids crisis, police constantly say “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this.” They have a good understanding of the history of the problem, of the fact that because these drugs come in such small amounts and are so powerful, we’re never going to solve the problem by only attacking the supply side. We have to work on the demand side. Folks must have access to treatment and housing and the social supports they need.
AV: How do you approach the balance between protecting public safety and protecting individual rights?
That’s one of the big challenges of our time. The facts surrounding cases are increasingly complex. A lot of crime occurs through technological means; a lot of evidence collection deals with—somebody sent a Facebook message, or you can tell where someone’s phone has been. New technology is increasing new case law. It can increase the work. For instance, police have to apply for more warrants, more production orders, things like that. That additional evidence all has to come to court. It all has to be scrutinized, which means more court time, prosecutor time, police time. It’s a challenge because ensuring rights in each case takes longer than it used to. It puts a strain on the system.
Interviewed by Evan Osenton. Evan is the editor of Alberta Views.
Find the full article in the December 2018 issue of Alberta Views.