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Asking probing questions on the reasons for the high rate of violent crime in Manitoba


On October 7, I asked the Minister of Justice in Estimates questions on the reasons for the very high rate of violent crime in Manitoba. 
Mr. Gerrard: I have in front of me the violent Crime Severity Index for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, BC, Ontario, Canada. What is striking is that during the tenure of your government there has been a dramatic increase in the violent Crime Severity Index in Manitoba, which has gone up from 138.6, in 2015, to 169.8 currently–well, or 2018. So that's a 31-point increment in the violent Crime Severity Index here in Manitoba. There's no parallel with this anywhere else in Canada.
      And I know Saskatchewan, for example, was similar to Manitoba, you know, in 2015, but the numbers in Saskatchewan are virtually identical in 2018 to what they were in 2015.
      So my question is, why has Manitoba alone, of all the provinces, seen a dramatic rise in the violent crime rate in the last several years?
Mr. Cullen: I appreciate the member raising the issue.
      We certainly recognize that violent crime is on the increase. I think Manitobans certainly 'recognithe'–recognize that as well. That's–and we as a government recognize that.
      You know, that's why we've been consulting with police forces across the province, consulting with stakeholders around the province, including municipalities, other governments, local govern­ments. And as a result of that–those discussions, we've put together a policing and public safety strategy. We just rolled this out not too long ago and I applaud the good work that was done within the department putting together these strategic goals. And we're certainly excited about it.
      We know there's challenges out there, we know there's societal challenges that we've seen–cultural and other issues as well. Well, we've put together a strategy and we've got eight points in this strategy that we're working towards. We've–as part of that strategy, we've made announcements on programs that we put in place and you're going to hear more announcements about programs we're going to put in place that I'll dovetail back to the strategy we have in place.
      There's no silver bullet to the solution around violent crime and that's why we're working at violent crime all across government. We recognize there's issues with illicit drugs. Clearly, meth is a challenge. Not to say we're going to point all of the increase in crime and violent crime on crystal meth–there's other things at play here. But we think with this strategy in place, moving forward, as long as we stick to the strategy and engage our stakeholders and look at a new approach to dealing with crime, I think we're going to provide some pretty good outcomes.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes, there's clearly something happening in Manitoba which is different from any other province.
      And you bring up meth, but my understanding that a variety of other provinces are dealing with meth as we are dealing with meth. Maybe we have just much more of it than other provinces or maybe we're not managing it, or preventing it, or something, as well as other provinces.
But, clearly, we are an outlier, and the question is what is different in Manitoba in the last few years than in other provinces which have not seen this change. You know, in fact, you know, it's not because we started lower. In fact, we started above most other provinces, and we've still seen this remarkable increase. And compared with the rest of Canada or compared with Ontario, our violent crime severity index is more than twice as high compared with British Columbia. And people have talked about Vancouver as being a high-crime area, and yet, our violent crime severity index is more than twice as high as British Columbia.
      So what kind of investigation is the minister undertaking beyond just consulting? Clearly, this is such a big difference that there should be some factors that can be discovered. What kind of an investigation is the minister doing to try to discover the differences–beyond just, you know, consulting?
Mr. Cullen: I will forward a–this–our policing and public strategy–public safety strategy–to the member for his perusal, and he can take a look at our strategic goals and also the accountability piece of it.
And one of the key goals here is to improve policing effectiveness through better intelligence and collaboration. So, this in my view is key to how we deal with crime. We have to understand where crime is occurring, why crime is occurring, and then we can deal with it.
So we're focused on this strategic goal, our team here. We've established a Strategic Innovation Unit within the Department of Justice to help facilitate this collaborative and this intelligence-led model, and I think it will provide us some very positive outcomes.
      You know that criminal activity transcends municipal boundaries. So we have to be cognizant, and we have to be dealing with various police forces across the province, and, in some cases, outside of the province as well. So this is the approach we've taken, is how do we, with the number of agencies across the province, how do we work better together in sharing information? And we're on the–not path to establish a–I would call it like a province-wide organization, if you will, that will have a database for that information. And once we have that database of information, then we can make effective policing decisions based on that information that we have.
      You know, there is certain variations of that database out there now, but I don't think it's effective in terms of what we need here in Manitoba. So that's why we're trying to build a Manitoba solution here that will engage all of the police forces, hopefully the local governments as well, in that process. So once we build that capacity here, I think we'll be a lot more effective in terms of making the policy decisions and the policing decisions that we need to combat the violent crimes that you talk about. So we're excited about that key strategic goal moving forward.
Mr. Gerrard: The minister had mentioned meth, right? So I would ask the minister: Is there enough difference in the incidence of meth addiction in Manitoba compared with other provinces that it could account for part of this, or more than part of this?
Mr. Cullen: Certainly, other provinces are facing their own challenges, whether it be meth, fentanyl, opioids, and everybody's at a different place. We may have had an earlier start in meth in terms–versus say, Saskatchewan and Alberta, but we know that Saskatchewan and Alberta are facing their challenges with meth, for sure.
      I would submit to you, when it comes to the high rates of violent crimes, we still have probably alcohol as still being the major contributor, and I don't think we can ever get around that. I know when we talk about downtown public safety, clearly meth gets the spotlight. But you talk to people involved downtown, and alcohol and substance abuse are still probably the No. 1 offender. So I don't think we can lose sight of that, as well.
      And that really leads to our whole discussion about addictions and mental health and how we deal with it. Today we just announced–I call it the next phase of mental health and addictions in Manitoba. We've committed money as government for mental health and addictions. We just made the initial announcements on this phase going forward. You're going to hear more announcements about specific programs to deal with addictions and mental health issues over the next few months.
      There is no silver bullet for solving the mental health, addictions and crime that we have. That's why we've laid out this strategy, an eight-point strategy which is an overarching strategy, and then we're going to have programming–programs fall underneath that strategy which will take a bite out of crime, one step at a time. And I wish I had an easy solution to this, but it's going to take a collaborative effort, a concerted effort by everyone to fight the situation we've got ourselves into.
      And, certainly, part of this understanding it is getting that intelligence model and trying to understand what the root causes of some of this violent crime is. So we're undertaking that, we're engaged in that. It's not an easy process. It's a challenging process. Nobody's done it before here, but we're committed to taking it on and see if we can provide better outcomes for Manitobans.
Mr. Gerrard: The minister talks about meth and alcohol. There surely should be some fairly straightforward statistics that could be gathered in terms of the proportion of violent crimes that were associated with the use of alcohol, and the proportion of violent crimes associated with the use of meth.
      Does the minister have those statistics?

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