DELTA - Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond today unveiled the second pillar of B.C.'s Families First Agenda: Safe Communities, Strong Families.
This pillar includes initiatives that put children's best interests first, ease the resolution of family disputes and help make communities safer from gang violence.
"Safe and secure communities are key building blocks for strong, healthy families," said Bond. "That is why our government is proud to provide support for front-line police officers and the anti-gang strategy that's been so successful in shutting down gang activity in our neighbourhoods. It's also why we're increasing the number of child protection mediators."
To build on the initiatives that help make British Columbia communities safer and more secure:
- An additional $66 million is being committed to the Guns and Gangs Strategy - specifically to sustain, for three more years, 168 anti-gang officer positions that were created in 2009.
- A strategic plan for policing is being developed that includes looking at ways to strengthen the Organized Crime and Gang Unit so their presence is felt in all communities targeted by organized crime.
To improve access to justice and support families in finding alternatives to the courtroom:
- The new Family Law Act will come into effect on March 18, 2013, putting the best interests of children first and helping to reduce pressures on the courts.
- Thirty-five new child protection program mediators have been added to improve the availability of mediation services for vulnerable families in remote, rural and Aboriginal communities.
- B.C.'s Justice Access Centres will be expanded to provide additional access to front-end justice information and services, to help solve family and civil justice problems faster and more effectively.
In addition to these changes, a difference has been made in the lives of 45,000 British Columbia families because of the increased resources to the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) that have resulted in a record collection amount of $190 million in family support in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
"It has been a priority for our government to focus on how we can help families feel safe in their communities," said Bond. "We have an aggressive strategy to take guns off the street and crack down on gang activity, and we support crime prevention and programs to prevent youth from joining gangs in the first place. But at the same time, we need to ensure the justice system provides new alternatives like family mediation, and mediation rather than litigation."
"Expanding the use of mediation reduces the number of court hours spent on child protection matters but, more importantly, it helps to reduce some of the stress felt by the children and families involved," said Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeil. "Their issues are resolved more quickly and in many cases children are able to safely leave government care and return home faster."
"Child protection mediation is an opportunity for all of the parties to come together to discuss their ideas and concerns and to work together to create a plan that meets the needs and interests of the child or children," adds Kari Boyle, executive director of Mediate BC Society. "The mediator's role is not to make decisions, but to make sure that everyone has a voice in a respectful planning process focusing on the child's needs."
"Dangerous and deliberate behaviour can potentially cost the lives of innocent people," says Chief Officer Dan Malo, Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia. "Working to arrest those involved in violent organized crime activity, mitigate gang rivalry and the seizure of illegal firearms is some of the most important work we can do to keep British Columbians safe. It takes many skilled officers in many communities, working together to make it happen, and the government's continued support is vital."
Over the coming weeks, more ideas and actions will be put forward to further our government's commitment to supporting families in B.C. These family-first initiatives, part of the Families First Agenda, will help support vulnerable families and provide them with supports and tools that will help them to participate more fully in their communities.
BC Policing Plan: http://blog.gov.bc.ca/bcpolicingplan/
Family Law Act: www.ag.gov.bc.ca/legislation/family-law/index.htm
Child Protection Mediation Program: http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/child-protection-mediation/
How to find a child protection mediator: http://www.mediatebc.com/Find-a-Mediator/Find-a-Mediator.aspx?RosterTypeId=3
Hear families talk about their experiences with the child protection mediation: http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/child-protection-mediation/videos.htm#first
Family Maintenance Enforcement Program: http://www.fmep.gov.bc.ca/
Justice Access Centres: www.ag.gov.bc.ca/justice-access-centre
A backgrounder follows.
Government Communications and Public Engagement
Ministry of Justice
250 889-5945 (cell)
Media Relations Manager
Ministry of Children and Family Development
250 508-8403 (cell)
Safe Communities, Strong Families
B.C.'s Guns and Gangs Strategy: Three Years of Success
In February 2009, the Government of British Columbia launched a comprehensive guns and gangs prevention strategy. Since its launch, gang teams and officers have:
- Helped to reduce gang-related murders from a peak of 35 in the Lower Mainland in 2009, to 18 in 2010 and eight last year.
- Stopped allegedly planned killings. For example, four men with links to rival, violent drug factions that were operating in Cranbrook are facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.
- Investigated the death of a Kelowna father who had no links to gangs or organized crime, allegedly at the hands of gang members. Seven men, including two full-patch Hells Angels who remain in custody, are charged with second-degree murder. Police advise the Kelowna Hells Angels are in disarray following these arrests.
- Confiscated hundreds of firearms:
- Of 472 firearms recovered last year, 314 have confirmed links to crime.
- In one case, officers busted a large methamphetamine lab east of Kamloops and seized 32 firearms, including an M-16 assault rifle, plus silencers and a grenade.
- In another case, the Prince George team seized 26 weapons and arrested a fully armed and body-armour-clad suspect, preventing a targeted shooting.
- Laid numerous charges against drug traffickers. For example, over 15 months, the 18-member Cariboo Region Integrated Marijuana Enforcement (CRIME) Task Force seized nearly 120,000 marijuana plants on 70 properties, leading to charges against 78 suspects.
- Restrained millions of dollars of proceeds of crime and offence-related property. As well, police referrals to B.C.'s civil forfeiture program fuelled record proceeds of more than $15 million over the past two years, most of which had links to gangs and organized crime.
- Significantly disrupted the United Nations gang and the Red Scorpions through the arrest and detainment of many of their leaders.
- Kept tabs on gang and organized crime figures and associates, enhancing the depth and sharing of gang-related intelligence and expertise among police. The Uniformed Gang Team:
- Checked 13,432 people with suspected gang ties over 19 months - an average of more than 700 person checks a month - as well as 14,730 vehicles and 468 curfews of those on probation orders.
- This work resulted in 382 subjects arrested over a 12-month period.
- Worked with police and federal agencies, on both sides of the B.C.-Washington border, to enhance information-sharing about, and collaboration to counter gun and drug smuggling and other gang and organized criminal activity.
Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP)
The Family Maintenance Enforcement Program monitors and enforces family support court orders and agreements. Currently, approximately 84,000 parents are enrolled in the FMEP and support payments are received for 67,000 children. The total amount of support payments collected in 2011-12 increased by 5.7 per cent, more than doubling the average annual increase over the past ten years.
Monetary penalties are imposed on those individuals who are registered in the program and are delinquent in making their payments through FMEP. These fees, along with the $18 million the program is estimated to have saved government in income assistance costs this year, make the FMEP a cost-neutral program.
Since 2002, the total annual amount of child and spousal support payments received through the FMEP has increased by over $50 million. In fact, last year, the program processed over 500,000 individual payments (more than 2,000 per day), with a turnaround time standard of two days or less.
Child Protection Mediation
Close to 800 families used the child protection mediation program last year, up from less than a 100 when the roster was first established in 1997. The government of British Columbia is recognized as a leader in North America for its innovation in child protection mediation.
In family situations where there are child protection concerns, the mediation program offers families an alternative to the courts for resolving disputes and reaching agreement about plans to care for the children including the contact parents will have while their children are in care. Mediation can reduce stress on the family, the time children spend in care and the number of court hours required for child protection matters.
Family Law Act
The new Family Law Act will officially come into effect on March 18, 2013. The legislation will change the way families resolve disputes, encouraging out-of-court resolution, putting the best interest of children first and help to reduce pressures on the courts. The new Family Law Act:
- Supports ways for parents to resolve family matters outside of the courtroom, where appropriate, through agreements, mediation, parenting co-ordination and arbitration.
- Creates a new tool to address family violence - a new protection order will help the courts more effectively deal with family violence situations. Breaching a protection order will be a criminal offence.
- Helps ensure children have time with their parents by creating a range of remedies and tools for non-compliance that will ensure parents receive - and follow through on - parenting time they are given.
- Clarifies how property is divided to improve fairness when couples breakup after being in a marriage-like relationship for more than two years. As a result, fewer people will need to go to court to settle their property disputes. In turn, costs associated with the division of property in these situations will be reduced.
Replacing the outdated Family Relations Act, the new Family Law Act was the result of five years of extensive consultation. Among some of its major benefits, the new law clarifies parents' responsibilities and the division of assets when relationships break down, supports families in resolving disputes out of court and creates tools to address family violence.
Government Communications and Public Engagement
Ministry of Justice
250 889-5945 (cell)