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Newfoundland and Labrador bringing back electronic monitoring

Georgina McGrath speaks to reporters Thursday in a St. John’s courtroom.
Georgina McGrath speaks to reporters Thursday in a St. John’s courtroom. - Tara Bradbury

Minister also introducing bail supervision as alternative to remand

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Georgina McGrath stood at the front of a courtroom in St. John’s on Thursday. There was no judge, no hearing. It was a news conference, and the domestic violence survivor faced the visitors’ benches, speaking briefly about her experience of abuse and its lasting effects.

She described an anonymous person at first — ultimately admitting she was the woman in her story. She described the woman’s life today, married to a non-abusive partner last September, struggling to sleep soundly in her home each night.

“She checks that (bedroom) window to make sure that it is open even with the littlest crack on the coldest of nights. She says her prayers, and prays for no dreams, no nightmares. For some time she needs to feel that air and the sound of the ocean, that enters through that little opening,” she said. “If not, she will wake, with the tightness of her ex-partner’s hands around her throat and the smell of his breath upon her face.”

The speech provided valuable context to the day’s announcement — a decision by the Liberal government to bring back electronic monitoring of select offenders, and introduce an option for supervised bail.

Both items are being funded in the upcoming provincial budget and expected to come into effect this fall.

“Announcing this today will make a difference in so many lives, especially for victims,” McGrath said, adding she believes the measures could have made a difference in her life.

“This could have made a difference to me. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the police force in Labrador City. This device would have instilled that confidence,” she told the gathering, referring to electronic monitoring.

The event was attended by representatives from both police forces and the provincial Department of Justice. Public safety advocates generally offered praise to the government, and to Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons, for the decision on monitoring.

Electronic monitoring or, as it’s commonly known, ankle bracelet technology, was discontinued by the previous administration in 2013.

Parsons said his understanding is the cuts were tied to cost, but at the same time committee work in the years since identified a need to restore the electronic monitoring program.

Work is ongoing to test the latest “bracelet” technology and re-establish related protocols. The minister described the progress to date, and readiness to move into a tender process this summer.

“It’ll actually help when we talk about breaches of no contact (orders). Basically, we have an evidence system now that will make that easier,” he said of the GPS-based monitoring systems, while speaking to reporters immediately following the announcement.

Parsons said the second issue mentioned — the introduction of bail supervision — is also about providing additional options in the system.

It will more specifically allow for the supervision of select accused persons, avoiding their pre-trial incarceration, when a judge believes it is warranted.

It is expected to reduce the number of people on remand awaiting trial in Her Majesty’s Penitentiary and other provincial correctional institutions.

A total of $354,000 will be included in upcoming Budget 2019 for both programs.

In April 2013, lawyer Randy Piercey had warned cuts to the number of probation officers and the end of electronic monitoring would result in more people being put behind bars, with judges believing they have no other options.

Parsons said by announcing the restoration of electronic monitoring and the introduction of bail supervision options now, individuals both inside and outside of the Justice system will have time to prepare for the return of expanded options in the system.

As The Telegram reported Thursday, Parsons plans to seek amendments and the implementation of a key piece of Justice legislation during this sitting of the House of Assembly, but neither the return of the electronic monitoring program nor the introduction of bail supervision will require any change in legislation.

Twitter: @TeleFitz


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