A report and recommendations on how to tackle British Columbia’s chronic offender problem is “too little, too timid, and too late,” according to the leader of the province’s Official Opposition.
Kevin Falcon made the comments following the release of 28 recommendations, the product of a four-month review of the repeat offender issue led by former deputy Vancouver police chief Doug LePard and health researcher and criminologist Amanda Butler.
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The recommendations focus heavily on increasing crisis and mental health supports within the justice system along with enforcement to “address the underlying causes of offending.”
The province committed to at least three of the recommendations Wednesday: coordinating communication between health, criminal justice and social service organizations; developing programs to address the needs of First Nations offenders; and re-launching a prolific-offender management program piloted by the former BC Liberal government between 2008 and 2012.
“They often do this, they get consultants, they come back with a report, the NDP make an announcement, they try and talk tough, and then nothing really changes,” Falcon said of the review, adding he was skeptical the government would act on the recommendations.
Falcon said despite police recommending charges, no-charge assessments by provincial Crown prosecutors under the NDP have climbed 75 per cent. Criminals, he argued, have taken note.
“If you just talk to the public, they do not feel safe,” he said.
“When you have people being attacked by machete-wielding individuals at gas stations, people being randomly stabbed, women with children being knocked over in Chinatown, moms being chased down the streets with their kids in strollers — this is a very different Lower Mainland and province than it was five years ago.”
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Key recommendations in the report include investment in civilian-led mental health crisis teams, the creation of crisis-response and stabilization centres that accept walk-ins, and the creation of ‘Low Secure Units’ for people with mental health and substance use disorders “who present with a high risk of harm to others” but don’t meet the threshold for forensic care.
The report also recommends the BC Prosecution Service look at “therapeutic bail” orders, allowing a delay of sentencing while offenders with mental health or addiction issues undergo treatment which can potentially result in avoiding a criminal conviction, and increasing resources for Crown counsel and probation officers on repeat offender cases.
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And it recommends the term “prolific offender” itself be dropped, “as this term not only perpetuates harm and stigma but also fails to address that these individuals lack security and safety.”
That recommendation was met with derision by Vancouver electric vehicle shop Eevee’s owner Bradley Spence, who said he cleans graffiti from his storefront daily and has spent tens of thousands of dollars on broken windows and increased security.
“Honestly they’re kind of laughable and it just seems like it is the same old same old. I don’t think it’s going to get any better based on what I read,” he said.
Spence said he’s moving his shop out of Chinatown when the lease is up, and is himself moving to the U.S. out of frustration.
“We don’t even bother contacting the police anymore, because they never do anything about it,” he said.
“You’re not going to stop crime if you’re not prosecuting these people and putting them in jail for the crime they’re committing. It’s very frustrating that nothing is happening.”
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John Clerides, owner of Vancouver’s Marquis Wine Cellars and a vocal critic of the city and province on crime issues, was similarly unimpressed.
“I’m rolling my eyes. Changing the name from chronic offenders to something else that diminishes their responsibility? A chronic offender is a chronic offender,” he said.
Clerides credited the government with following through on its review, but said how the recommendations are implemented, and whether anyone is empowered to make changes felt on the street is what will matter.
“It’s like whack-a-mole and nobody really knows what other people are doing, and it’s just throwing a pile of money at it and almost down the drain because it doesn’t seem to be helping,” he said.
While critics were quick to paint the recommendations as underwhelming, B.C.’s urban mayors appeared optimistic about their potential.
The review came after the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus sent an open letter to the province calling for stronger bail conditions, stricter consequences for breaching those conditions, and stronger consideration for “maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice” in bail and charge assessment policies.
Speaking at the report’s unveiling Wednesday, caucus co-chair and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said the mayors were confident “accountability, justice and safety, adequate care and consequences” would result from the implementation of the 28 recommendations.
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“We are pleased to see a number of recommendations capture the concerns we raised for our communities, but none more so than the recommendations where health and justice intersect, including the immediate work by the province on a dedicated provincial committee structure for coordinated service planning,” he said.
Basran added that the mayors were “keen” to see the implementation of civilian-led mental health teams and the proposed new secure therapeutic facilities.
But he also hinted that the mayors would be closely watching the province’s next budget to see whether the NDP followed through on the recommendations.
“We will continue to be a voice for impactful responses to crime in our communities,” Basran said.
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