An upswing in criminal activities caused by a relatively small number of prolific offenders across the province is “solvable”, says B.C.’s Attorney General Eby, days after the government commissioned a two-person team to investigate the issue.
Doug LePard, a retired deputy police chief from Vancouver, and Amanda Butler, a criminologist from Simon Fraser University, will have four months to prepare a report and recommend solutions. If the experts arrive at solutions before that, the government is open to implementing them right away, said Eby.
“We know that there’s an issue of this group of people who are committing repeated offences and that the criminal justice system under the rules established by the federal government is not working to address these behaviours. What we don’t know is within provincial authority, the best way to deal with that problem and that is the core question that I am asking these two individuals to answer.”
The $50,000 investigation will aid the government in identifying where to best target their efforts and to ensure effective allocation of resources, Eby said.
“We’re open to anything [suggestions] but what I want is for the changes to be effective, and to be fast, and sometimes that involves getting out on the ground and doing the research,” he said.
Still, it is very unlikely the duo will be physically travelling to northern communities but will virtually liaise with mayors, municipal governments, police chiefs and service providers in communities, Eby added.
The May 5 announcement came after Eby faced heat in the legislature and heard from several rural and urban mayors who accused his ministry of failure to protect the public.
Eby defended Crown counsel prosecutors, saying that pointing fingers at anyone specifically in the justice system is too simplistic to address this incredibly challenging issue.
“I do not believe that Crown counsel who live in these very communities where they work, want these individuals out on the street anymore than anybody else,” he said.
He said there was a big decline in the number of reports to Crown counsel, coming in from the police. Crown counsel have 36 per cent more resources from the government but are dealing with 20 per cent fewer reports from police, he said. The investigation will also address this discrepancy in data.
While provincial crime numbers show a significant decline in property theft, the reports coming in from local government leaders and retailers across the province suggest an uptick, he further explained.
“If you just looked at the statistics without talking to anyone, you might be fooled into believing that there’s not an issue to address. But the mayors are very clear that the crime that is taking place is very concentrated, not just geographically but among a small group of prolific offenders and that’s the issue we need to address.”
The upswing in crime, is further compounded by mental health and addictions issues, which will also be factored in when coming up with programs to stop this cycle of criminal offending, Eby said.
Eby said options could include giving the courts the opportunity to sentence people to mental health or addiction treatment and as well as specialized prosecutors who follow particular offenders so that they don’t get missed in the system.
When asked if the province will adopt a one-size-fits all approach and implement the recommendation universally, treating Vancouver and Terrace alike, or take into consideration the needs of specific communities, Eby said that LePard and Butler have been advised to direct special attention toward places like Terrace which serves as hub cities and have been dealing with crimes.
“Terrace is one of the communities front and center certainly in my mind, and I’ve communicated that to these investigators that the needs and concerns of Terrace are a significant part of what’s been brought forward to government,” Eby said.
In March, a delegation from Terrace met with several provincial cabinet ministers to discuss how criminal activities by repeat offenders was impacting businesses and residents in the northwest region. Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc was joined by Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb in the same meeting, where Eby told them his office would look in to the matter.
“Everyone is aware that Terrace is one of the communities that is particularly hurting in this regard, and that is going to need particular attention,” Eby further said.