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'Disheartening': Alberta government promise to track domestic violence offenders lags

CALGARY — The Alberta government is lagging on a promise to fund electronic monitoring of domestic violence offenders even as other provinces push forward with programs believed to have saved lives.

CALGARY — The Alberta government is lagging on a promise to fund electronic monitoring of domestic violence offenders even as other provinces push forward with programs believed to have saved lives.

The United Conservative Party's 2019 campaign platform said a government led by Jason Kenney would spend up to $2 million to expand the technology to prevent offenders serving community sentences from having contact with their victims.

Justice Ministry spokeswoman Katherine Thompson said work continues to fulfil the commitment and it will be funded in future years.

Thompson drew attention to a $450,000 contract awarded to United States vendor eHawk Solutions to allow pretrial accused and low-risk offenders to report to their probation officers through a mobile application. 

The government document, known as a request for proposal, does not mention tracking of domestic violence perpetrators but said the contract could create greater capacity for probation officers to more effectively supervise moderate and high-risk cases.

Thompson said the government is reviewing the addition of GPS monitoring to the contract but that it will be subject to approval.

Criminologist Scharie Tavcer of Mount Royal University in Calgary focuses on issues of relationship violence. Tavcer said electronic monitoring is not the only solution, but the province's delay in funding further risks harm to victims.

"The government fails to realize the trickling effects of violence on our communities," she said. Everything from the justice system and policing to employment and overall health of affected families is strained, she added.

"Everything's interconnected when we've got victim after victim after victim. All those systems are taxed."

Quebec has committed $41 million to an electronic bracelet program to ensure offenders better comply with the conditions of their release.

The devices typically consist of an ankle bracelet worn by the offender and another device in the victim's possession. Authorities are alerted when the two come too close. If the distance continues to decrease, police can be sent.

Prince Edward Island has had a similar program for more than five years. A statement from P.EI.'s Justice and Public Safety Department said monitors have been used in 155 cases of domestic violence between 2016 and 2021. Two offenders breached orders and went to a victim's home.

"This program allows victims to remain in their home in a safe way, rather than needing to attend a shelter or remain with family or friends indefinitely," the ministry said in the statement. 

"Victims report feeling an increased sense of safety when they are aware that their abuser is being monitored."

Tavcer said Alberta's delay in funding forces social agencies interested in similar programs to rely on community donations or sponsorship when funding is already stretched thin.

The Calgary Police Service in the past had a small number of trackers in circulation using funding from an unnamed corporate sponsor. There are no trackers in use now, the service said in a statement.

Vince Morelli is president of Red Deer-based company SafeTracks GPS Canada, which provides tracking technology to victims and offenders of domestic violence across the country.

Morelli said he has been in conversations with members of the UCP government, some of which have been promising, but there are still no finite plans in place. 

"It's just so disheartening that we're right here in Alberta," he said. "We're responding to (requests for proposals) from everywhere else in Canada."

In the meantime, women are dying, Morelli said, and the COVID-19 pandemic and isolation have only increased risks of violence.

Former Alberta Crown prosecutor Scott Newark, an advocate for this type of monitoring, said it not only provides a sense of safety to victims of partner violence but can work to reduce reoffending.

"Electronic monitoring brings in accountability into that process that helps them because they know that they're going to get caught if they don't comply with what the rules are," said Newark.

He said the government would miss an opportunity to create safer communities should the funding not come through.

"Fund what works. Put money into things that actually produce results."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2022.

Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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