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Suddenly, B.C. to become tough on crime

After five years of watching street crimes spiral out of control as Attorney General, B.C.’s new premier plans to crack down on chronic offenders
Smashed storefront in Vancouver’s Yaletown a symbol of rising street crime across B.C. | Chung Chow

The B.C. government has launched a Safer Communities Action Plan that aims to keep repeat offenders off the streets and strengthen communities, according to David Eby, who has been B.C. Attorney General for the past five years.

The role of the Attorney General (AG) is to provide legal advice to the government and “the initiation and conduct of all prosecutions of criminal offences.”

Eby stepped down as AG to run unopposed for the premier’s chair.

Now Premier, David Eby made the safety announcement November 20, just days after being sworn into office, saying that, suddenly, public safety is now his key priority. 

The plan recognizes that there is “zero tolerance” for violence in B.C. and concentrates on helping people overcome the process of being in and out of jail, he said. 

However, as the Opposition BC Liberals noted, all of the changes could have been made months ago, and many have been demanded by experts for a long time.

 In April of this year, for example, mayors representing B.C.’s biggest communities called on the provincial government for more support to stop repeat offenders amid a rise in property crimes and random assaults.

“Our residents, frontline police officers and our councils are frustrated. We implore the Province and for your Ministries to move forward quickly on tangible solutions,” the letter from the BC Urban Mayors and Caucus said.

Since 2017 – when Eby took over as Attorney General – there has been a 118 per cent increase in the amount of time the province takes to review files it receives from police, and a 75 per cent increase in the rate of the BC Prosecution Service choosing to not charge suspects based on police cases, according to the letter.

The mayors had flagged cases where super-chronic offenders had 50 convictions or more and were still walking free.

“More than 900 innocent people have been violently attacked by strangers in Vancouver alone since the BC Liberals first called on David Eby to issue a directive to Crown Prosecutors and end his harmful catch and release policy for repeat criminal offenders,” Liberal leader Kevin Falcon said in a press release following Eby’s safety plan announcement.

“It’s clear that what was announced this morning had been prepared for months and was withheld for David Eby to opportunistically take the credit. For David Eby to play politics with public safety is unconscionable.”

Eby said that one of the first steps is setting up “co-ordinated response teams” to address the issue of violent offenders. 

“These teams are made up of police, dedicated prosecutors, probation officers,” he said. “Their mission is to prevent violent crime before it happens, and when it does happen to make sure that violent offenders wait for trial in custody and not in our community.” 

The plan also calls for increasing response to those in mental-health crisis with initiatives like 12 new “peer-assisted” care teams, some of them Indigenous-led. 

“These peer-assisted teams intervene when people are in mental-health crisis in our streets, freeing up police to focus on crime instead of social services,” Eby said. 

Eby said Attorney General Murray Rankin will instruct prosecutors to implement “a clear and understandable” bail policy for repeat violent offenders within existing federal guidelines. 

“We’re also providing training and resources for prosecutors to work with police to make sure that the materials that are put in front of the court in the case of a violent offence are complete, so the court is making a decision on all of the facts and can protect the public,” he said. 

The plan will also deal with the high numbers of Indigenous people in the justice system, Eby said. Action includes opening 10 new Indigenous justice centres across the province to go with three that are already in operation. 

Eby said people struggling with addictions and mental health need treatment to get better, and the plan calls for a new model of care for them “that moves seamlessly from crisis response in our emergency rooms and our streets to detox, to treatment and supportive housing.” 

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog praised the plan’s scope. 

“We’ve all seen the impacts of criminal behaviour in the downtown,” he said. “That’s why I’m pleased to see the province’s co-ordinated approach of both enforcement and strengthened services, which will help break the cycle of repeat offending, help people to receive the supports they need, and help people feel safe and secure in our community.” 

– With files from Times Colonist and  Business in Vancouver