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Justice bill aims to officially recognize First Nations policing in Alberta

A new bill which formally recognizes First Nations police forces under policing legislation in Alberta proposes several changes to the province's justice system.

Bill 38 also enables use of telephone and video conferencing for court proceedings

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu introduced Bill 38 in the Alberta legislature on Wednesday. (CBC)

A new bill which formally recognizes First Nations police forces under policing legislation in Alberta proposes several changes to the province's justice system.

Bill 38, the Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2020, also enables the province to hold referendums and Senate elections in concert with municipal elections, allows courts to summon juries electronically, changes the way police grants are calculated for communities over 5,000 and enables the use of telephone and video conferencing for trials and hearings. 

The act also allows matters like entering a plea and setting a court date to be done by email, phone and other electronic means instead of requiring the accused, lawyers, judges and court staff to appear in court. 

Justice Minster Kaycee Madu said formal legislative recognition of First Nations police services means changes resulting from the current review of the Police Act will apply to them. 

On a practical level, the change will give these police services the ability to enforce the First Nation's bylaws, Madu said. 

"With this amendment they will now be able to issue that ticket and go to the court to enforce them rather than having to bring charges with respect to traffic violations," Madu said. 

"It is one problem that we have heard time and time again from our First Nations people."

Insp. Farica Prince of the Blood Tribe Police Service in southern Alberta said Bill 38 is "first step towards equity for Indigenous police services."

"Since our creation, we have faced many inequities that have made it difficult to provide the community with the service they deserve and our employees with the support they require," Prince said in an emailed statement. "We have not had access to the same resources or opportunities as our policing partners and we are significantly underfunded in comparison.

"Recognition under the Alberta Police Act empowers us to govern ourselves and it will provide a sense of stability and security, to the hard working people of our organization and to the community."

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the justice system to work in ways to keep people appropriately distanced and safe. Madu says the amendments in the bill build on that. 

"We have made a lot of changes to make sure that the citizens can still deal with the justice system [from] the comfort of their homes and offices and whatever they may be in our province," he said.

Bill 38 also enables Alberta to hold senate elections and referendums in tandem with municipal elections.

The bill aims to bring the Police Act in line with the rest of the Government of Alberta, by using population figures determined by Treasury Board and Finance for communities over 5,000. 

Population is one factor used in determining how much municipalities pay for policing. The government says the change in statistics is a housekeeping matter. 

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