11/01/2011 02:54 EDT | Updated 01/01/2012 05:12 EST

Manitoba eyeing GPS ankle bracelets for domestic abusers, stalkers

WINNIPEG - Serious domestic abusers and stalkers in Manitoba may soon be among the first in Canada to wear ankle bracelets equipped with GPS technology that track their every move.

The NDP government is working on expanding its ankle bracelet program from tracking chronic car thieves to monitoring serious abusers. The bracelets would be used to enforce restraining orders, court-imposed restrictions and could alert authorities if the offender enters a restricted zone inhabited by the victim.

Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh, who talked about expanding ankle bracelets during the recent provincial election, said officials are still studying the technology and will announce a detailed strategy in the spring.

"It's not the one bullet answer to crime, but it can be useful in certain circumstances," said Mackintosh, adding bracelets are not intended to replace jail time.

"We think that serious violent offenders should be in jail first and foremost. The new technology's application in no way must do anything to be an incentive for people to be given probation sentences rather than jail sentences."

Many jurisdictions in the United States use ankle bracelets to monitor domestic violence offenders while out on probation but the technology doesn't appear to be widely used north of the border.

Ontario rejected the idea as costly and ineffective several years ago, but Alberta has set aside almost $500,000 for a pilot project to allow RCMP to track domestic violence abusers.

Manitoba has been using such bracelets for several years to track high-risk car thieves and the NDP promised to expand the program in the leadup to last month's election victory.

But many have questioned whether bracelets actually work. The province said more than half the young offenders ordered to wear a bracelet managed to remove it and at least one offender was accused of stealing a car while wearing the bracelet.

"We want to make sure the glitches, the challenges, the shortcomings are identified, that they're neutralized and then Manitoba Justice will put together a strategy for extending it to domestic violence offenders," Mackintosh said.

Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill said using ankle bracelets on car thieves has been somewhat successful and he would be interested to see whether such a system could be applied to domestic abusers.

"Any time you have a situation where you can control a person and stop them from committing a crime, if that's going to help, that's a good thing."

Marlene Bertrand, chair of the Manitoba women's advisory council, said it is worth trying anything to prevent domestic abuse and keep victims safe.

Once a woman makes the difficult decision to escape a violent relationship, Bertrand said that's when she is in the most danger. If ankle bracelets could help keep at least one woman safe while she's trying to start her life over again, it's worth it, she said.

But Bertrand noted that tracking offenders like this won't keep all victims safe.

"If they have no respect for the family, the justice system or society ... if someone is absolutely committed to take another person's life, there is nothing that is going to stop them," she said. "But I'm for trying every piece of technology that we have available. Just because it doesn't work for this group or these people, I don't think we should rule it out."