The Ministry of Attorney General is responsible for administration and delivery of justice services in the Province, as well as human rights, multiculturalism and immigration. Our mandate is to protect the safety and security of all British Columbians.
As Attorney General, and as a community member, I understand the importance of safe communities. We are working to develop innovative crime prevention strategies, provide effective levels of policing and law enforcement and give police the tools they need to ensure community safety.
The process of justice reform is well underway in British Columbia and will continue in the future. While tough enforcement, prosecution and incarceration are needed for serious crimes, people have told us they want preventative and restorative justice measures for low-risk offenders.
We have a responsibility to protect the rights of all British Columbians, particularly our most vulnerable citizens. Continued emphasis on enforcement of the Human Rights Code, multicultural projects and anti-hate initiatives will help us meet this commitment.
The work of the Ministry is diverse and far-reaching. It touches the lives of all citizens of the Province. Our challenge as a ministry is to find ways to continue to deliver justice programs and services within a fiscal climate where resources are limited.
Strategic planning, though it is only one component of the entire planning cycle, is a way of providing direction within the Ministry. It is a tool that will allow us to maintain essential services and focus limited resources on important programs and projects.
A strategic plan's value is in its application. It provides direction and impetus within a results-oriented framework. It is a living document that, if skillfully employed, will guide Ministry responses to a complex, changing environment. It will enable the Ministry to monitor results and adjust its programs accordingly.
The Ministry's work cannot be accomplished without the dedication and commitment of staff. This is why our strategic plan also stresses the importance of a supportive workplace environment, - one which allows for the development and retention of a skilled and productive workforce.
Our mandate is to deliver a justice system
that allows people to feel safe and secure at home and in their
communities. We will continue to consult with staff, stakeholders and the
public, in the days to come, to find ways to reach this important goal.
Together, I am confident we will succeed.
The need to continuously improve performance is not limited to the Ministry. In April 1996, the Auditor General of British Columbia and the Deputy Ministers' Council issued their second joint report entitled Enhancing Accountability for Performance: A Framework and an Implementation Plan. This report calls for increased accountability, more extensive use of performance measures, and a shift in management focus from process and activities to intentions and results.
Responses to the Ministry's challenges, to demands from the public we serve and to the government accountability initiatives are best developed within the context of an ongoing planning process. This document presents the first element of that process, a three-year strategic plan. The intention of the plan is to:
The plan is a result of extensive consultation
with many levels of policy, planning and management decision-makers within
the Ministry. It also builds on previous work, including Strategic Reforms
of British Columbia's Justice System. A companion document, Ministry
Service Delivery Plan, will include more detailed information on programs
and projects that are designed and operated to carry out the strategies
set out in this document, as well as timelines, budget linkages, and
performance monitoring mechanisms.
In Canada, constitutional responsibility for the justice system is shared by the federal and provincial governments.
The federal government legislates the criminal law and procedures and the laws relating to divorce, immigration, admiralty matters, bankruptcy and interprovincial trade and commerce. It is also responsible for prosecuting drug offenses, providing penitentiaries and appointing Superior Court judges.
Provincial governments are responsible for the administration of justice, including the operation of all courts, the prosecution of criminal code offenses, the provision of correctional services, the provision of policing and law enforcement, and the appointment of Provincial Court judges. The provinces are also responsible for civil law other than in specific areas of federal authority, such as divorce.
In British Columbia, the Attorney General is the chief law officer for the province and the official legal advisor to the Lieutenant Governor and the members of Cabinet responsible for legal affairs. The Ministry of Attorney General is responsible for the administration and delivery of justice services throughout British Columbia. The Ministry’s programs can be broadly grouped into four areas: criminal, civil/family, administrative and regulatory. In addition, the Ministry is responsible for human rights, multiculturalism and immigration settlement programs, as well as a number of independent agencies, boards and commissions.
The Ministry of Attorney General will deliver programs within its constitutional responsibilities which:
The Ministry of Attorney General is a supportive employer committed to delivering effective services in accordance with the following values:
The Ministry of Attorney General will strive, in partnership with others, to help build a province where:
The Ministry will progress toward its stated vision by accomplishing its goals. The strategies to achieve these goals include continual improvements to existing programs and services as well as new measures to effectively respond to an ever changing and complex environment.
The Ministry must adapt to an ever changing environment in order to deliver effective and efficient services to all British Columbians. This section outlines some of the key internal and external factors that affect our plans and policies.
The declines in crime rates seen over the past few years are in part a consequence of a changing demographic profile. While the BC population continues to grow, the population under 25 is expected to slowly shrink in proportion to the total. The 45-64 age group will increase most in both absolute and relative terms. By 2008, those 45 and older will comprise 42% of the population.
We can expect overall crime rates to continue to fall since people over 45 are much less likely to be offenders. At the same time, because older people tend to be more concerned about and fearful of crime, we should not expect the urgency of crime as a public issue to decline over the next decade.
BC receives a high volume of international immigrants and retirees from other provinces. Many international immigrants are unfamiliar with the structure and principles of our justice system. They often bring different expectations and special needs for legal education, translation and interpretation services as well as multicultural community policing. In addition, immigrants are more likely to be the targets of criminals who see them as easy victims.
Representation of visible minorities in the Ministry lags well behind the external workforce. Except in the upper management area and among BC's police forces, aboriginal people are under-represented; this is most apparent in the service occupations. Overall, people with disabilities have almost the same representation in the Ministry as in the external workforce.
Although the overall representation of women in the Ministry actually exceeds their proportion in the general population, this is largely a consequence of over-representation in clerical jobs. Women remain under-represented in management and professional positions.
The Ministry's workforce is considerably older than the general population. More than two-thirds of our employees are over 35 years old; about one-quarter are over 50. Nearly half of our senior managers will be retiring over the next decade.
Public Opinion and Expectations
Recent surveys indicate that British Columbians are most concerned about violent crimes and crimes where children are victimized. Most continue to feel that crime is increasing, particularly among youth, that the justice system is too lenient, and that respect for the law is in decline. Confidence in the police remains quite high, but low for other aspects of the justice system.
Crime prevention programs are viewed as a higher priority than law enforcement as a means of reducing crime. At the same time, there is very strong support for stiffer sentences, particularly for young offenders. On the whole, more people support alternative community-based sentencing than building more jails; even those who want to see more jails built clearly agree that different approaches are required for non-violent, low-risk offenders.
One of the few recent attitude shifts observed over the past five years has been a broadening of the focus of concern about crime. Although violent crime is still seen as the top priority for law enforcement, almost as many people think that property crimes such as auto theft should be given more attention.
Most of these attitudes tend to vary considerably across regions, genders, age, income and other demographic groups. This variability suggests that Ministry policies and programs need to be tailored to specific sectors.
The structure and dynamics of families have been changing significantly in recent years, putting more pressure on family courts and services to deal with the emergent issues for children and parents. There are increasing proportions of common-law unions and single-parent families. Family incomes are much more likely to be below established low income cut-off lines where there is a lone parent, particularly a single mother. Children whose parents have a common-law relationship are more likely to see their parents separate; they also experience parental separations at a younger age. Less stability in employment continues to pose additional problems for separating families.
In efforts to support families and protect children while balancing the competing rights of all parties in disputes, family law and the way justice services are delivered are undergoing a number of changes in the areas of divorce, child custody, access, support and protection. The family justice system has been adjusting to complex issues involving fathers’ rights and those of same-sex couples and parents.
Although government revenues are down and there are indications of recession in 1998, the long-range forecast is for economic recovery to begin in the year 2000. The projections are for renewed growth in GDP, employment, weekly earnings, housing starts, residential investment, personal income and corporate profits. However, the effect of the slump in 1998 will likely be felt in the civil courts for several years in terms of liens, foreclosures, bankruptcies and business actions.
Crime rates have been dropping across Canada over the past few years. This trend continued in 1997 for almost all categories of crime, including homicide, robbery, break-ins, motor vehicle theft and impaired driving. Nevertheless, BC has the highest homicide, property and drug crime rates among Canadian provinces, and was second only to Saskatchewan in overall crime rate in 1997.
Among Canada's nine largest metropolitan areas, Vancouver had the second highest violent crime rate in 1997 (behind Winnipeg) and the highest property crime, overall and other Criminal Code offence rates. Compared to six similarly-sized cities, Victoria led in all categories.
Because it is a major international port, Vancouver is an active centre for the drug trade, money laundering, and counterfeit credit card, security and document schemes. These and other factors make BC fertile ground for the propagation of international criminal organizations.
Court Case Delay
The number of appearances per criminal case has grown substantially from an average of 3.8 in 1992/93 to 5.3 in 1998/99. While this may seem a small change, it has enormous impact on overall court resources considering the total volume of more than a hundred thousand cases flowing through the courts annually. The latest estimates from March of 1998 are that there are almost 24,000 cases over 120 days old, and 16,000 of those are over 240 days old.
Although total judge sitting hours have increased slightly, we have seen a 50% increase in Family Court hours, for child apprehension hearings in particular. The effect has been to divert judicial resources away from criminal court and increase delays for criminal matters.
Small Claims Court is experiencing its own case delay problems. Although the informal settlement conference process succeeded in reducing the proportion of cases proceeding to trial, court resources have been insufficient even for a declining volume of cases. There are now long delays in awaiting settlement conference and trial dates.
While the number of people sentenced to jail has been growing at about the same rate as the general population, pre-trial workloads have increased dramatically. Since 1991, remand populations have more than doubled and community services’ bail supervision work has more than tripled. Probation and conditional sentence caseloads have also grown substantially. At the same time, special programs to protect particularly vulnerable members of the community (victims of spousal or sexual assault) are consuming more than half of all community resources.
Consumer protection regulations are being increasingly used to combat criminally fraudulent telemarketing schemes operating out of BC. More investigations staff and forceful legislation will be required to allow us to work effectively with police agencies.
In regulating the residential tenancy area, manufactured home parks continue to present several challenges. People who own manufactured homes but not the land on which they are situated and serviced are particularly vulnerable. Existing standards and dispute resolution mechanisms need to be reviewed.
Emerging consumer issues include the impact on consumers of large corporate mergers, standards for electronic commerce, residential tenancy security deposits, and self-compliance across the regulatory area.
The general public believe that social factors such as poor parenting, broken homes, poverty and the effects of drugs play a larger role in causing crime than does a justice system that is perceived to be 'soft'. Consistent with this view, we are working with other social policy ministries and the federal government to provide integrated support systems for those groups and communities that need them the most.
Although the decline in reported crime rates may well persist into the next decade, the common feeling is that crime is on the increase and that the justice system is ineffective. The Ministry will continue not only to make innovative crime prevention programs and public safety initiatives a priority, but also to revitalize confidence in the justice system and the sense of security among all British Columbians.
Because of court backlogs and the high costs associated with increasing court capacity, there is growing pressure to develop alternatives, particularly for many family and civil disputes as well as less serious criminal offences. A number of innovative approaches are being implemented and tested that are aimed at resolving disputes out of court through mediation, counseling and education services. The Ministry has established community-based accountability and alternative measures programs and has expanded diversion for non-violent, low-risk offenders where appropriate. At the same time, new court rules and case management procedures are being developed that will allow the courts to operate more efficiently.
Internally, we are exploring strategies to replace our aging workforce with experienced people and have plans in place to make it more closely match in profile the population it serves. The Ministry is also looking for ways to improve access to the justice system in communities that are characterized by increasing multicultural diversity.
In terms of technology, the upcoming challenge will be to utilize innovations in computing and communications to speed-up and make more efficient the way the various independent agencies comprising the justice system exchange and use information. The difficulty here is not so much in developing the technology itself as applying it while respecting the complex of laws, authorities and court rules which govern the justice system as we know it.