B.C. aims to support repeat offenders while protecting communities

  • May 05, 2022

From The Times Colonist

The British Columbia government has hired two experts to investigate and report on how best to prevent cycles of crime involving prolific offenders and those who commit random violent attacks.

Attorney General David Eby said a small group of people is creating disorder and chaos, mostly in downtown cores, as businesses are trying to recover from the pandemic.

Eby said former deputy police chief of Vancouver Doug LePard and Amanda Butler, a criminologist specializing in mental health and addiction, are expected to come up with creative solutions and submit a report with recommendations in four months.

However, some proposed solutions could be considered before then, Eby said Thursday.

Repeat offenders are unlikely to take up voluntary supports for issues related to mental health and substance use, but solutions may involve compulsory participation in programs that integrate both health and justice systems, not just policing, he said.

That could include a community court program, like a drug court that operates in Vancouver, which would provide social services and health supports.

"It may be that integrated courts are a response for some communities," Eby said. "That would be something for our experts to review."

The announcement comes after a group of 13 mayors in B.C.'s urban areas wrote to the attorney general last month about prolific offenders that are routinely arrested but often released to again attack strangers or damage property. 

Cities in B.C. are among others across North America that are grappling with similar issues, and smaller communities are not immune, Eby said, citing Terrace, Trail and Quesnel.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said that while overall crime rates have dropped, unprovoked random attacks and property crimes have risen and a small number of prolific offenders "repeatedly victimize British Columbians" and are also responsible for shoplifting and graffiti.

Mayor Colin Basra of Kelowna said many offenders are often released from jail without supports and are arrested again and again, so stronger consequences are needed to protect citizens.

"The catch-and-release cycle of the justice system building up over time has had consequential impacts on our local residents' sense of safety and on our local economy," he said.

While other mayors, including Lisa Helps of Victoria and Kennedy Stewart of Vancouver, also hailed the announcement, the head of the Surrey Board of Trade said she was disappointed because the issue doesn't have to be revisited.

"The provincial government already has a report on hand that contains potential pilot projects and recommendations on how to deal with prolific offenders, but many of these have not been implemented," Anita Huberman said in a written statement.

The economic development of any community relies on its reputation as a safe, viable region in which to locate and where customers are willing to enter businesses, she said.

Kevin Marks, president of the BC Crown Counsel Association, said several immediate solutions could be considered as the two experts prepare their report.

"As Crown counsel, our members are on the front lines and they see what's happening," he said in a statement. 

Marks said a team of special chronic offender prosecutors could be assigned to exclusively handle the cases of the best-known repeat offenders.

"By knowing the history and background of these offenders, they can better assist the court on making decisions that do not allow these offenders to freely commit crime while out on bail."