Violence, crime prevention top justice priorities

The Yukon government is asking the RCMP to focus on preventing and solving cases of violence against women in a list of priorities it released May 16.

The Yukon government is asking the RCMP to focus on preventing and solving cases of violence against women in a list of priorities it released May 16.

Every year the minister of justice gives Yukon RCMP a list of priorities based on consultation with the Yukon Police Council and the Department of Justice.

While the priorities encompass everything from drug trafficking to traffic safety, violence against women is at the top of the list.

“It’s a problem across Canada. We know it’s a problem here in the territory and we know it’s not something that can be delayed,” Justice minister Tracy-Anne McPhee told the News.

The government wants the RCMP to continue to train their members to ensure a “compassionate and appropriate response to sexualized assault and domestic violence.”

It also highlights efforts to prevent sexualized assault and exploitation of youth and children.

NDP justice critic Liz Hanson was satisfied with the priorities, especially the emphasis on violence against women.

She did wonder whether the justice priority to “target all levels of the drug trade” was still relevant at the time the federal government is moving to legalize marijuana.

McPhee clarified that priorities were aimed specifically at targeting drug dealers selling fentanyl and fentanyl-derivatives.

Hanson also agreed with the priority given to the RCMP to properly introduce officers to the communities they police.

“We’ve been very keen on the focus on the relationship with the community,” she said. “Making sure that when people are recruited to work in communities they have a good understanding of dynamics and culture of that community.”

The priorities also include an emphasis on prevention and harm reduction.

Police officers could, for example, use their discretion to not charge somebody on probation who is found intoxicated and bring them home instead of detaining them.

“We want to make sure (police officers) are using their discretion to make sure they’re forming good relationships and assisting rather than simply moving to charges,” McPhee said.

“Police officers do this all the time but we want to make sure it’s a priority.”

One thing Hanson thought was missing was increased resources for the community of Burwash Landing.

“They’ve repeatedly requested having on-the-ground policing there,” she said.

“It’s a long distance from Haines Junction or Beaver Creek.”

On the topics of speeding and distracted driving, McPhee insisted education was key. She didn’t commit to increasing speeding fines but said the government would look at having “appropriate penalties.”

The NDP introduced a motion in the legislative assembly May 18 calling on the government to compare Yukon’s distracted driving rules with other jurisdictions.

As the list of priorities focuses on police work, McPhee acknowledged it was only “one piece of the puzzle” in the fight against crime.

“We’ve taken a one-government approach,” she said. “We don’t think these things can be dealt within silos.”

The departments responsible for health, social services, justice, housing and the women’s directorate are all working together she said, for example on the issue of addictions.

Hanson cautioned the government against the “blank slate” approach.

“Over the last number of years, there’s been dozen of NGOs spending an awful lot of time looking at the root causes (of crime),” Hanson said.

McPhee told the legislative assembly she hadn’t looked at a 2012 report on poverty and crime, Hanson said.

“It’s very frustrating for NGOs and people living a hard life on the streets or having lived the experience of poverty to have to keep explaining over and over again there are lots of reasons, lots of background to why. Not everybody is born a pathological criminal,” Hanson said.

Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost committed to review that report, McPhee said.

“I know everyone thinks we’ve been here for a long time but we’re really just getting started.”

Yukon party Justice critic Brad Cathers told the News he was satisfied with the priorities because they were very similar to the ones he gave the RCMP when he was justice minister.

“There are some adjustments, but largely speaking (those are) similar priorities.”

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