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Law to withhold licences over outstanding warrants a work in progress

Legislation tabled three years ago to withhold a driver's licence and vehicle registration from offenders with outstanding arrest warrants remains a work in progress, Justice Minister Andrew Swan said Thursday.

His admission came after Progressive Conservative justice critic Kelvin Goertzen raised the matter in question period, claiming the Selinger government was dragging its heels on the public safety file. Goertzen said it appears the government has failed on a second initiative to withhold welfare payments from people with outstanding Criminal Code warrants. There are about 20,000 outstanding warrants in the province, though a person can be wanted on more than one warrant.

"This is actually a debate that's been going on for five years," Goertzen said outside the house. "I don't think taxpayers should have to fund individuals who are avoiding the law and possibly causing a danger to society."

Swan said in June 2011 the government would streamline police access to information in provincial databases to track down and apprehend individuals with outstanding warrants.

He said the access would enhance the work of a newly created joint Winnipeg police and RCMP police warrant enforcement unit.

Swan said Thursday that, to date, the seven-member unit has executed about 2,000 warrants, bringing 1,400 people into custody, but officials only have access to the province's welfare rolls to run names. Swan said about 30 people who've applied for or already get employment and income assistance (EIA) have been flagged each month since December 2012 for having an outstanding warrant.

"All but three people who've been flagged by EIA have actually gone and done exactly what we want them to do," Swan said. Under the program, people who get EIA are required to deal with outstanding warrants to prevent benefits from being cut off. Provisions are in place to minimize the impact on family members. If two or more people are in the household, there will be no cut to basic benefits for rent, utilities and health care. Eligibility is reinstated once a person confirms outstanding warrants have been cleared up.

Swan said the legislation to withhold licences will be proclaimed and enforced "in the near future," as soon as courts and Manitoba Public Insurance databases can be properly linked.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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