CANMORE – A provincial pilot project between Crown prosecutors and RCMP is showing success and expanding this fall.
Launched as a pilot in 2019, the pre-charge approval project asks Alberta Crown prosecutors to review and approve all criminal charges to an information being laid by police. The goal was to have less criminal charges being stayed or withdrawn.
Launched in Canmore, Hinton and Strathcona County, the province said 69 per cent of respondents said the project should continue with the pilot expanding to Red Deer this fall.
"I can confirm we are participating in the pre-charge approval pilot since September last year and I can confirm it is working for us locally," Canmore Sgt. Stan Andronyk said.
"Whenever we charge someone criminally, we serve release documents and information is sworn, so before we laid the information, the Crown reviews the file to provide their opinion on charges laid."
Typically the process for RCMP to lay charges is done without input from prosecutors. While it is a standard procedure across the country, it is one that can lead to charges going nowhere, as charges might be stayed or withdrawn.
"Police use a different test in laying charges than prosecutors in proceeding with charges," Carla Jones, Alberta communications advisor for Justice and Solicitor General said in an emailed statement.
"When an investigation meets the police standard and does not reach the higher prosecutorial standard, the matter must be stayed or withdrawn. The pilot project looked at if a process could be established to ensure that only charges that meet the higher prosecutorial standard are laid."
An example of charges withdrawn or stayed can been seen in the Stoney Nakoda youth, who shot the German tourist in the head in 2017 case. The 16-year-old originally faced 14 criminal charges, but the Crown prosecutor withdrew nine charges including attempted murder before the trial.
Provincial Crown Dane Rolfe cited the unlikelihood of a conviction with the original charges at the time. The youth ended up being found guilty of aggravated assault and one count of discharging a firearm with intent after a trial last year.
In another example, numerous criminal charges against an illegal Banff cannabis dispensary were dropped in 2018.
RCMP raided the dispensary in early 2017 and multiple charges against 10 staff members in relation to illegal distribution of a controlled substance were laid at the time. When the case went to court the following year, the federal Crown prosecutor withdrew charges against nine of the accused and stayed charges for one, citing there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction in the case.
Instead, all seized items which included $24,000 in cash, more than three kilograms of dried cannabis and THC-infused products like creams, oils and bath bombs, hash oil and resin were forfeited. One of the reasons the charges were dropped included the fact recreational cannabis was becoming legal later that year.
The pre-charge approval pilot was developed with Justice and Solicitor General, the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, the Public Prosecution Service and the RCMP. The province said at the end of the pilot, all of the detachments and Crown offices asked to continue the project.
"As a result of positive results, all of the participating locations will continue to use pre-charge approval and it will be expanded to Red Deer this fall," Jones wrote.
During the six-month pilot, more than 1,300 charges involving 493 police files and 456 unique accused went through with the pre-charge approval process.
When comparing cases and charges to the same months the previous year, the province found a total decrease of 21 per cent in commenced cases and a total decrease of 29 per cent in commenced charges arising from the three RCMP detachments.
Officials found little to no impact on the timeliness of laying charges.