Even as the provincial government dismantles the Family Violence Intervention Court as part of 2013 budget cuts, Justice Minister Darin King said this week that it’s still looking to set up a different specialized court system.
The issue came up in Estimates Committee, a House of Assembly mechanism that allows opposition MHAs to ask ministers and senior bureaucrats about budget spending in an informal way.
New Democrat MHA Gerry Rogers spent a hefty amount of time during the committee meeting asking King about the decision to cut the Family Violence Intervention Court, which she says is a major mistake.
“We cannot afford to keep incarcerating people. It’s not about being soft on crime. This is about investment. This is about trying to mitigate the effects of crime. It’s about trying to stop it,” she told The Telegram. “We’re now going to be, I believe, the only province without a family violence intervention court.”
King said he understands where Rogers is coming from, and he understands that she’s got a close association with the issue.
“The difference between her position and mine at this point is that I have to make a decision around the budget and the whole department. She’s into an advocacy mode, and obviously advocating that it’s a good thing. That’s fair. That’s politics,” he said. “I’ve never said it’s not a good thing; it’s just a dollars-and-cents decision, so we’ve decided not to continue it.”
The family violence court was a specialized system in which people involved in domestic violence were forced to plead guilty to get into the process. The system was designed to handle matters more quickly, and provide more support for offenders and victims.
It was still a pilot program, and King said the decision to eliminate it had to be made.
But even as the government is dismantling the system, King said he’s still working to make good on a 2011 election promise to set up a specialized drug court.
The goal, according to the PC party’s Blue Book, would be to “reduce crime committed as a result of drug dependency through court-monitored treatment and community service support for offenders with drug addictions.”
King said the government is not spending any money on the idea this year, but it hasn’t dropped it.
“We’re just studying the idea,” he said. “We’ve not deviated from our Blue Book commitment. If we do, we’ll communicate that to the people.”
The Blue Book also highlighted the Family Violence Intervention court — although it didn’t promise to save it from the budgetary axe.
“Our government currently sponsors a pilot program similar to those offered in other jurisdictions called the Specialized Family Violence Court,” the PC party election platform said. “Selected perpetrators of domestic violence receive counselling to address the root causes of the violence in a concerted attempt to eliminate the violence at its source. Victims of domestic violence also receive support and counselling from this process.”
King wouldn’t say if a drug court is more important than a family violence intervention court.
“I think that’s very much a person’s opinion. I won’t respond to that,” he said. “The only decision I’ve made relative to that is that in this year’s budget, the family violence court is not a priority with the budget I have. I have not said the drug court is more, because I’m not funding it.”
Rogers said the province needs both.
“It’s about reducing recidivism. It is about trying to mitigate the possibility that this person is going to reoffend and it’s about rehabilitation,” she said. “It costs way more to lock someone up than it does to provide services.”