Alberta mandates body-worn cameras for police; B.C. unveils repeat violent offender initiative

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (March 15, 2023, 12:39 PM EDT) -- Alberta has announced that it is mandating body-worn cameras for all police services in the province, while British Columbia has unveiled a program which will establish dedicated police-prosecutor-probation officer teams focusing on repeat violent offending.

At a press conference announcing the move March 14, Alberta’s Public Safety and Emergency Services Minister Mike Ellis said Alberta will be the first province in Canada to mandate body-warn cameras for police, calling the move “transformational.”

“This is about a paradigm shift, as police are no longer seen as an arm of the state but rather an extension of the community they serve,” he said. “In order to become an effective extension of the community, there must be trust, oversight and accountability. Building trust between the police and the police serving the community is a central and most essential part of the transformational change we are undertaking in Alberta.”

The province is partnering with the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police (AACP) to develop the mandate and standards required to implement the use of body-worn cameras province-wide, in addition to working out costs and logistics. This work includes conversations with front-line police officers in Alberta, including all municipal police services and the three self-administered Indigenous police services.

With body cameras in place, Ellis said it will be easier to review interactions with police services, which will help promote accountability for all parties.

“We believe that mandating the use of body-worn cameras will help strengthen public safety by documenting the behaviour of the police in public, collecting better evidence and improving our approach to resolving complex complaints during investigations,” he said. “They will provide a factual and objective review of the event, eventually saving time and money relating to court and investigations.”

And Alberta’s neighbour to the west was also making moves on community safety March 14, with British Columbia announcing the creation of dedicated police-prosecutor-probation officer teams to help keep communities safe by focusing on repeat violent offending throughout the province.

The Repeat Violent Offending Intervention Initiative, which is part of the province’s safer communities action plan, will have police, dedicated prosecutors and probation officers focus on improving public safety by co-ordinating responses across the justice system and supporting better outcomes for offenders.

Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth

Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth

B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and solicitor general Mike Farnworth said that the province is “pulling out all the stops” to make sure British Columbians feel safe.

“Our government made a commitment to tackle the complex issue of repeat violent offending, and we’re backing that promise with concrete action,” he said. “With the Repeat Violent Offending Intervention Initiative, government agencies will have the resources they need to pool their expertise and work collaboratively to protect communities and help people break the cycle of offending.”

The province is investing $25 million over three years to support 21 Crown counsel and 21 other professional B.C. Prosecution Service professional staff to establish and support the dedicated prosecution teams, four full-time BC Corrections officials to develop, co-ordinate and evaluate the program and nine correctional supervisors. Nine probation officers will be based in correctional centres for enhanced release planning, with 12 dedicated probation officers based in community corrections offices to support the teams.

The initiative, which will operate in every region of B.C., is already being staffed, with implementation expected to begin in April 2023. The teams will identify cases for investigation and intervention and provide documentation that will help prosecutors make informed decisions about charge assessments and prosecutions.

“Repeat violent offending is a concern right across the country,” said B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma. “That’s why just last week we secured a federal commitment to make legislative changes to the Criminal Code that would add stronger provisions on repeat violent offenders and some firearm offences. At the same time, we’re making changes here in B.C. to strengthen enforcement and improve services to make our communities safer and healthier for everyone.”

The initiative will be enhanced by improved monitoring of violent offenders, which will focus on improving public safety through early intervention in cases involving certain people. The province said a co-ordinated approach will assist Crown counsel in making informed decisions about charge assessments and prosecutions through improved information-sharing.

More information about B.C.’s safer communities plan can be found here.

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