POLITICS

Provinces complain to feds about justice funding cuts, seek long-term cash

11/07/2012 01:00 EST | Updated 01/07/2013 05:12 EST
OTTAWA - Federal ministers got an earful from the provinces over lack of money for justice programs, says a summary of their recent national meeting in Regina.

Provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice and public safety raised concerns about funding cuts and a lack of long-term cash commitments, notes the federal communique.

They singled out the Youth Justice Services Funding Program and the Aboriginal Justice Strategy. Ministers also asked for more money for criminal legal aid, police recruitment and First Nations policing.

In addition, they requested "adequate notice and enhanced consultation" about the coming into force of federal crime bills — which can place an administrative burden on provinces.

Earlier this year, Parliament passed the federal omnibus crime bill, which imposes stiffer sentences for sexual offences against children, ushers in mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and toughens penalties for violent young offenders.

It also ends house arrest for many crimes and forces people to wait longer for a criminal pardon.

The meeting wrapped up last Thursday but the summary was not issued until late Tuesday, just as many eyes turned to the U.S. election results.

The account provides a glimpse at simmering tensions between the two levels of government at a time when provinces are being asked to juggle various justice-related demands.

"Provincial and territorial ministers raised concerns about the federal funding reductions and lack of long-term commitment to maintain various cost-sharing programs," says the communique.

They also asked that the federal government consult them when cuts are being considered.

"We had a good discussion with the federal government," Saskatchewan Justice Minister Gordon Wyant said Wednesday. "I think they understand what some of our issues are."

Last summer the government trimmed more than $35 million — or 20 per cent — from the youth justice funding program.

The meeting summary says provincial ministers asked for "long-term, sustainable and adequate funding" for First Nations policing, highlighting the program's benefits for aboriginal communities. Territories asked to be included in the program.

In addition, ministers sought an extension of the $400-million Police Officers Recruitment Fund, due to expire in March, citing concerns about public safety, says the summary. The fund, initiated in 2008, was intended to put up to 2,500 more officers on the beat.

The government said it would provide "further information on the future direction and funding" of the aboriginal policing program "as soon as it becomes available."

But it said there are no plans to renew the one-time funding for the police recruitment fund.

"A number of provinces talked about how important the First Nations policing policies were, and how we wanted to see additional funding in those areas," Wyant said.

"I think the federal ministers certainly did hear us when we talked about those."

Provincial ministers also asked the federal government to consider increased penalties for impaired driving, particularly crimes involving repeat offenders, serious injury or death, says the summary.

They also discussed challenges for police with medical marijuana grow operations, adds the communique. They were told that Health Canada is considering changes to regulations including a possible new supply and distribution system that would use only licensed commercial producers.

The ministers also:

— Directed senior officials to identify possible gaps in the Criminal Code on cyber-bullying and the non-consensual distribution of intimate images;

— Expressed support for proposed changes to the bail regime;

— Agreed to look at reforming preliminary inquiries, which Alberta, for one, sees as a waste of time and money in many cases;

— Discussed concerns about prosecutions involving workplace fatalities and injuries;

— Examined ongoing efforts to address the long-standing issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.