Edmonton, Alberta, Canada … Auditor General Doug Wylie issued two reports today following tabling in the Legislative Assembly. The first report is a performance audit on Processes to Manage Bail Hearings and Case Management of Adult Criminal Prosecutions. The second report – Report of the Auditor General–June 2021 – includes:
- an examination of Processes to Provide Information About Government’s Environmental Liabilities
- a Progress Report on Systems to Ensure Sufficient Financial Security for Land Disturbances from Mining
- an assessment of implementation of recommendations from eight of our previous reports
In 2017, Crown prosecutors took over handling first-appearance bail hearings within the 24-hour timeline required by the Criminal Code of Canada. In its 2016 Jordan ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada imposed new maximum time limits for concluding trials – 18 months in provincial courts and 30 months for Court of Queen’s Bench.
In examining the processes for managing timelines for bail hearings and meeting the timelines under Jordan, the Auditor General determined Alberta Justice and Solicitor General has adequately designed systems and processes to manage both, but there is room for improvement.
The audit found:
- In 2019, 11 per cent of the 45,719 bail hearings held in Alberta exceeded the 24-hour limit.
- The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) has worked with other stakeholders to set new target processing times, and produces weekly and monthly reports on the percentage of bail files exceeding the 24-hour limit. However, ACPS has not done a detailed results analysis since May 2019, nor it does appear to have evaluated the effectiveness of changes it has made to fix problems in the bail hearing process.
- Between October 2016 and March 2020 there were 267 Jordan applications filed in Alberta courts. Of those, 66 cases had to be withdrawn or stayed, including charges involving first degree murder, serious sexual assaults, child pornography, fraud and drug trafficking.
- ACPS has the processes to track, report and analyze cases nearing or exceeding the Jordan timelines, but the audit found no evidence that it has done so or scheduled any similar analysis since June 2019.
“Improving these processes is important to prevent criminal charges being dismissed by the courts because of preventable delays to bail hearings or trials not being completed within the Jordan time limits,” Wylie said.
Environmental legislation in Alberta requires operators to clean up (remediate and reclaim) their sites to existing environmental standards—commonly known as the “polluter pay” principle. As a result, government is responsible for cleaning up the sites it owns or operates, and for sites where government has accepted responsibility.
At March 31, 2020, the government recorded $248 million for environmental liabilities based on information available to them at that time.
A review of the underlying processes at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), Alberta Environment and Parks and Alberta Transportation to provide information about the government’s environmental liabilities found:
- There was a lack of clarity between Environment and Parks and AER about who is responsible to clean up and pay for certain sites.
- There was a lack of clarity about funding sources to AER to manage and clean up the sites it is responsible for.
- The government has not adopted a consistent ranking system for contaminated sites to determine which are a priority to clean up.
- Environment and Parks and AER do not have effective systems to know what it will cost to manage sites.
- Transportation lacks sufficient processes to ensure it is complying with environmental legislation at its highway maintenance yards.
In 2015, the Auditor General found that a significant risk in the calculation of financial security for oil sands mine operators could result in insufficient security collected to cover reclamation costs.
In assessing progress on a recommendation from the 2015 report, the Auditor General found that Alberta Environment and Parks has not made satisfactory progress implementing the recommendation.
“The Mine Financial Security Program is meant to incentivize operators to complete progressive reclamation over the life of a mine, and to protect Albertans from having to incur the costs of reclamation work,” Wylie said. “The collection of security from operators is a key element of the Mine Financial Security Program. After six years of analysis, the department has not decided if and how the security calculation should change.”
Assessment of Implementation of Recommendations from Previous Reports
Wylie noted that over the past year, the government has implemented 11 previous recommendations from the Auditor General. This includes recommendations for improvement for the school-building program, commercial vehicle safety, electronic health records and granting processes at Alberta Health, and information technology disaster recovery processes at Alberta Health Services.
Two recommendations for improvements to the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) Program have also been implemented, with one additional recommendation repeated as more work needs to be done related to setting service standards for application processing times, and improving procedures and guidelines to ensure staff apply policy in a consistent manner.
“I am very happy to be able to report this, as it means processes have been improved to mitigate risks and to better serve Albertans,” Wylie said.
To read the full reports, please go to www.oag.ab.ca
Appointed under Alberta’s Auditor General Act, the Auditor General is the legislated auditor of every provincial ministry, department, and most provincial agencies, boards, commissions, and regulated funds. The audits conducted by the Office of the Auditor General report on how government is managing both its responsibilities and the province’s resources.
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