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'We're going after the offenders': Sask. to suspend welfare benefits for 'serious' offenders with warrants

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The Government of Saskatchewan has introduced legislation to suspend social assistance benefits to prolific violent offenders with active warrants, and to use information from the Ministry of Social Services to find those evading the law.

“The people of this province do not want to see prolific, serious, violent offenders that are currently on warrant status being supplied financially by the taxpayers of this province,” said Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell.

After tabling the Warrant Compliance Act in the legislature Thursday, Tell told reporters there are currently about 1,300 outstanding criminal code warrants in the province.

“I am certain that there are going to be, of those very serious code warrants outstanding, that there are going to be individuals that are on government assistance of some sort,” Tell said.

Tell says the proposed intelligence gathering team will consist of government, law enforcement and social services employees. 

The program would focus on those with indictable offences. Entities like Social Services will be able to “use discretion” when providing information to the Warrant Intelligent Team.

“We’re not wanting to impact the families of these offenders. We are going after the offenders, the serious offenders, that are gathering or living off financial assistance to be out in the community at large on a criminal code warrant,” said Tell.

Myles Sanderson was receiving financial assistance from the province at the time of the massacre, according to Tell.

RCMP confirmed he had stopped meeting with his parole officer prior to the attack and was in violation of his release measures.

“Following events in James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, it is imperative that we enhance our ability to collect information on violent offenders with outstanding warrants," said Tell in a news release on Thursday.

The Warrant Compliance Act will not impact people who have completed their sentence, says Tell.

A criminal defence lawyer says people wanted by police on charges are innocent until proven guilty in court.

“Most people with warrants out in this province and across Canada have not been convicted of that offense so the presumption of innocence is still alive at that point,” said Julia Quigley.

“People could be cut off without having any idea that they had a warrant out when they might have gone and dealt with that warrant and turned themselves into police. So that really raises concerns there.”

She says without including a definition of prolific violent offenders in the act, it could negatively impact women and children and potentially affect a “huge swath of people.”

“What most people need is some support from government. This is not going to have the effect of actually addressing the root cause of crime. If anything it’s going to further disenfranchise people, which might actually result in higher crime rates,” said Quigley.

She says suspending benefits and social housing, is an “extremely punitive measure” and it will disproportionately impact Indigenous people.

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