Legislative changes set to take effect next week are aimed at freeing up police officers and court staff from the time-consuming task of issuing and processing warrants for minor bylaw infractions, the Alberta government says.
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said Monday the May 1 enactment of An Act to Modernize Provincial Offences will give law enforcement and court staff more time to focus on serious and violent offences.
The act will eliminate the use of warrants to enforce tickets and overdue fines for minor, non-traffic-related infractions, like not paying a transit fare or failing to shovel a sidewalk.
Ganley said the changes will ensure that people don’t wind up in jail for failing to pay such fines, but that the fines will instead be enforced through civil measures such as restriction of motor vehicle registration.
“Court staff spend nearly 9,000 hours every year processing warrants for minor offences,” Ganley said at a news conference in Airdrie.
“These changes will ensure that law enforcement and court staff and corrections services will all have more time to deal with serious criminal offences.”
Alberta RCMP assistant commissioner Marlin Degrand said the elimination of warrants for minor offences and tickets will be a “significant benefit” for police officers.
“Many hours in the past were consumed with these warrants,” Degrand said.
“This will help free up police officers to focus more time on proactive activities and keeping their communities safe.”
Chris Hay, executive director of the John Howard Society of Alberta, said the changes will also help to reduce the cycle of poverty and incarceration in Alberta.
Hay said under the previous system, someone could be fined $200 or $300 for not paying a $3 transit ticket. If that person didn’t pay the ticket or attend court, than a warrant was placed for their arrest.
“Once you’re picked up, you’re viewed as a flight risk and you might be incarcerated over a $3 ticket,” said Hay.
“I think from an economic point of view, there’s something significantly wrong with that…but I also think that there’s something socially wrong with that. I don’t think someone should be incarcerated when they’re not a danger or risk in any way to the public.”
Ganley said typically when someone with this type of warrant comes to police attention it’s largely by accident, when they come into contact with officers for another reason.
“Then that officer would be taken off the street to process the individual," said Ganley. "So we will get time back in a lot of places, and I think that’s important."
There are currently about 200,000 outstanding warrants in Alberta. Around 45 per cent of these warrants are for minor provincial and municipal bylaw infractions, Ganley said.
The legislation will also expand the use of e-ticketing. Currently, Alberta law enforcement officers use e-tickets for photo radar offences. The change will allow officers to electronically file tickets with the court at roadside locations.
Degrand said this expansion will “virtually eliminate” police clerical work on tickets and could reduce traffic stops to a third of the time they currently take.
The legislation was introduced by the Alberta government last spring.