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2008-02-01: Letter on Proposed Safer Communities Legislation

Click here to view this letter as a PDF.

January 31, 2008

Hon. Gerard Greenan
Attorney General
PO Box 2000
Charlottetown PE C1A 7N8

Dear Minister Greenan:

It has come to our attention through the media that your office has received a copy of Nova Scotia’s Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) legislation. We understand that you have been asked to look into the feasibility of this legislation for Prince Edward Island.

While we very much appreciate the value of safer communities and neighbourhoods, the Prince Edward Island Advisory Council on the Status of Women has concerns about this type of legislation and its potential effects on women and families.

When similar legislation was proposed for Newfoundland and Labrador, our colleagues in the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Advisory Council did a careful assessment of the proposed Act, and they identified significant implications. A full copy of their Brief is attached and is also available at http://www.pacsw.ca/docs/iss-scan-brief.pdf

Some of the questions they raised, we certainly echo on Prince Edward Island.

Why set up a system to take civil action on criminal issues at this time?

We have a criminal code and criminal justice system in place to deal with many of the offences covered under SCAN legislation. The criminal justice system uses a high standard of proof, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and provides other checks and balances that safeguard citizens against false prosecution and harassment. Under civil law, the burden of proof is significantly less, and so are the safeguards, checks, and balances that protect individuals’ rights and freedoms. At the same time, SCAN legislation allows for what we consider a serious punishment: eviction from a person’s home and shelter.

Is SCAN legislation the right response to the right problem?

We understand that there are emerging concerns about crystal meth production in Summerside, for instance, and that transferring some criminal law issues to provincial authorities might free up RCMP and municipal police forces’ time to investigate the most serious offences. But a parallel SCAN investigatory system would not only have financial costs for taxpayers: it could cost citizens some of their rights and protections under the law. Is the crime problem on PEI sufficient to warrant a provincial investigatory authority? If the problem is lack of police time and resources to address crime under the Criminal Code, that is the problem that should be addressed. If the problem is lack of time and resources for crime prevention in communities, that should be addressed as well. Action on either or both of these fronts should precede setting up a system that could cost both money and citizens’ freedoms.

Does SCAN legislation solve problems or just move them around?

Our colleagues at the Manitoba Women’s Advisory Council have had the longest time to observe the effects of SCAN legislation, and they report that there has been no evidence presented to show that the legislation reduces crime. The statistics report only how many properties in Manitoba have been shut down. There is no indication in statistics whether the individuals perpetrating unwanted behaviours moved to other properties or gave up their criminal activities.

How would SCAN work in small communities or Aboriginal communities?

It is unclear if SCAN legislation in other jurisdictions is effective or has any force in smaller communities, where neighbours might be more widely separated. This could have the effect on PEI of driving illicit behaviours out of cities and towns and into the countryside. This would clearly not be a desirable outcome for this province. It is also unclear in other jurisdictions how SCAN legislation applies in Aboriginal communities and who has investigatory authority.

Does SCAN give the potential for communities to punish individuals for activities that are not criminal under Canadian law?

Prostitution, which is not a criminal offence, is a potentially evictable activity under other jurisdictions’ SCAN legislations. Eviction from one’s home is, in practice, a punishment. Is eviction an appropriate action to take against a woman in these circumstances? Are there equivalent consequences for people who are buying sex?

In cases where an individual is evicted for illicit behaviour, what happens to innocent members of the household?

SCAN legislation in other provinces does not account for what happens to household or family members evicted as a result of one household member’s activities. The implications of this for children are significant; proposed legislation in Newfoundland and Labrador would have required notification of Child and Family Services in all circumstances where children were in an affected home. Further, it is unclear if adequate support services are available in PEI communities to accommodate emergency shelter needs for individuals or families turned out of their homes.

How would SCAN legislation apply to owner-occupied properties?

It is unclear how eviction provisions, in particular, would apply to residential properties occupied by their owners. This leads to a concern about how SCAN legislation could disproportionately affect low income Islanders, since there is a strong association between renting and low income: renters tend to spend a larger proportion of their incomes for their dwellings, and people with low incomes tend to be renters.

What will protect individuals from misuse of SCAN provisions?

In other jurisdictions, SCAN legislation holds tremendous potential to be misused. It takes only a neighbour’s complaint to launch an investigation. A complaint may be launched due to resentment or rivalry or out of maliciousness. Complaints may result from varying moral values and tolerance levels in a diverse neighbourhood. Given the lower burden of proof in civil matters, owners’ and tenants’ rights may be put at risk.

The Advisory Council on the Status of Women finds no sufficient justification to consider this kind of Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods legislation for Prince Edward Island. We call on the Attorney General to set aside the request to implement similar legislation to that of Nova Scotia, unless sufficient justification arises or is found.

If Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods legislation is ever to be considered for Prince Edward Island, we ask the following:

  • Answers to questions such as those we raise in this letter
  • Significant public consultation on any proposed legislation
  • Specific attention to the implications of legislation for those who are residents of affected properties but who are not involved in illicit activities (often women or children)
  • Assessment of provincial social supports (such as alternative or emergency shelter) available for people pushed out of their homes and/or off their properties
  • Research into crime reduction from jurisdictions that have similar legislation, to establish its effectiveness

Please do not hesitate to contact our office with any questions. We would be happy to clarify our position or provide additional rationale.

Sincerely,
Lisa Murphy
Executive Director

CC: Hon. Valerie Docherty, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women
Michelle Harris-Genge, Interministerial Women’s Secretariat
Cory Thomas, Summerside City Council
John Dewey, PEI Federation of Municipalities

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