Modernization behind $65-million cut to justice ministry: Province

Minister of Justice and Solicitor General of Alberta Kaycee Madu.Minister of Justice and Solicitor General of Alberta Kaycee Madu. Postmedia, file

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Alberta’s justice ministry will see a $65-million cut to operating expenses this year which the province says is due to continued modernization efforts.

The provincial budget released Thursday shows the ministry’s operating expense for 2021-22 is $1.3 billion, which is $65 million less than the forecasted expense for the 2020-21 budget.

Blaise Boehmer, spokesman for Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, said the province is focusing on technology and updating processes to modernize services, such as those within the courts.

“For example, we are working with the judiciary to modernize court services and operations, some of which was already demonstrated and sped up to address the pandemic, such as expanding the use of remote court hearings,” Boehmer said in an emailed statement.

“Through SafeRoads Alberta, changes to impaired driving enforcement and consequences are designed to keep our streets safer and not tie up police, prosecutors and judges in courtrooms; this helps the justice system to focus on the most serious matters.”


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User-friendly justice system

Boehmer said the ministry is also working to make the justice system more user friendly and efficient in areas such as traffic tickets, adjournments, filings and virtual courts through Justice Digital.

During the pandemic, Justice Digital has been used to set up virtual court appearances to maintain physical distancing. Other initiatives under Justice Digital include a digital traffic ticket service allowing Albertans to manage their tickets online, offering options to request more time to pay, plead not guilty and request a trial date, and dispute the ticket with the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.

Through an adjournment digital service, those involved in a court matter can request first appearance adjournments for provincial criminal adult cases online. Justice Digital is also working to improve “desktop productivity tools” for court clerks.

One of the largest operating expense cuts seen in Thursday’s budget was $16.7 million to adult remand and correctional centres.

Boehmer said staffing is a big portion of the operating costs for these centres.

“To spend staffing dollars as efficiently as possible, an analysis is being done on the use of overtime so as to reduce reliance on overtime shifts, and strategically manage and fill vacancies,” he said.

He added other savings are expected to come through the use of technology to streamline administration and supervision, reviewing contracted services, “group-purchasing” initiatives and sharing contracts with other branches of government.


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NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir says funding cuts to the justice ministry will have an adverse impact on services.NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir says funding cuts to the justice ministry will have an adverse impact on services. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia

But NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir criticized the cuts and is concerned they won’t actually translate into efficiencies.

“They are cutting from prosecution, they are cutting from provincial court, Queen’s Bench, they are cutting from family and youth programs, they are cutting from serious and gang-related offences,” Sabir said.

“They are cutting every aspect of the system and I do not believe that this will not have an adverse impact on services the justice system is offering right now and it’s supposed to offer.”

He added workers at correctional facilities have been under “tremendous pressure,” with some having outbreaks of COVID-19 and the province should have includes more supports for these facilities in the budget.

While the ministry as a whole will see less funding in 2021-22, $43.7 million will be dedicated primarily to the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) to tackle criminal investigations. ALERT will see a $3.7 million increase compared to last year’s budget.


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