There was a moment in the legislature Wednesday that perfectly illustrates how hopeless it is to expect any quick progress on curbing the frightening number of vicious random stranger attacks.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth was being grilled yet again on the latest batch of atrocities, most of them by prolific repeat offenders.
The question period rundown now typically reads like a police blotter on a bad Saturday night. Here’s a partial list from just so far this week:
• Young father with his daughter alongside has difficulty with a man outside a Granville Street coffee shop on Sunday while his wife is picking up the order. Now he’s dead, stabbed to death in an instant.
• Also raised was the rapid-fire series of daytime robberies by a knife-wielding assailant in downtown Victoria last week. One person stabbed, several others robbed, assaulted, traumatized.
• A Nanaimo woman was terrorized by a prolific violent offender who grabbed her by the throat and sexually assaulted her.
• Two dozen people, including children, were randomly bear-sprayed at a Surrey theatre in recent days.
Farnworth recited the government’s rote response. Steps are being taken. Federal bail changes have been requested and are in the works. It’s happening everywhere, not just B.C.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure that laws are strengthened around issues of bail.”
But a Vancouver Police Department statement from earlier in the day makes you wonder.
It hailed a “crackdown” on violent shoplifters.
They made more than 200 arrests in three weeks. The offenders nabbed had a combined total of 4,695 previous convictions.
The police highlighted three of the most egregious cases.
A 37-time offender pulled a knife and stole from two shops in a row. Another man threatened to kill staff before stealing from the store. Another man stole $1,000 worth of goods from a hardware store and pulled a machete on store security.
But the key part is that in the three highlighted cases, and likely most of the others, each of the suspects was released from custody soon after arrest.
“The suspect has been charged with possession of a weapon and uttering threats. He has been released from custody.”
“The suspect has been released from custody.”
“Officers located and arrested the suspect, who has been charged with robbery and has been released from custody.”
One of them was actually arrested four times during the same crackdown, which makes the use of that word a joke.
The government’s line about this corrosive phenomenon is that they are on it.
But the atrocity stories keep coming.
A sidebar developed this week to the main story of these terrible attacks. It stems from some of the earlier measures taken to stop them. It’s about collecting hard data on these attacks, as opposed to the frightening anecdotes.
In January Attorney General Niki Sharma assured people her ministry is monitoring the situation and collecting data.
So opposition B.C. Liberals filed a freedom of information request to see the data. But MLA Mike de Jong told the legislature that the request was refused outright.
Asked to produce it this week, Sharma cited the long-established independence of the B.C. Prosecution Service and said it is entirely up to them to decide what to release.
That’s just not good enough.
The bare minimum step toward making some actual progress on the problem is to report on whether moves taken to date are working.
More specifically, what’s needed is a progress report on exactly what impact a rare ministerial directive to the prosecution service last November regarding bail circumstances is having on the parade of repeat offenders who shuttle through remand courts.
It was supposed to curb bail for the most dangerous repeat offenders. A request for some statistics is entirely in order.
But the government is going mute when it comes to updating people on whether more dangerous chronic repeat offenders are being kept in jail. This, together with the VPD report, suggests they aren’t.
People need a lot more than the sincere expressions of sympathy after each horror story. Being told to wait until the federal bail changes take effect at some far-off date doesn’t cut it. They’re entitled to know whether provincial moves are making a difference.
Les Leyne is an opinion writer for the Victoria Times-Colonist.