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Skeena MLA, Terrace mayor seeking action on crime wave

Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross pressed attorney-general David Eby during question period to explain why city council and downtown business owners believe provincial prosecutors are failing to lay charges against repeat offenders.
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Skeena B.C. Liberal MLA Ellis Ross at a gathering in Terrace on June 21, 2021.

Terrace’s experience with lawlessness downtown was a topic of discussion in the legislature ahead of city representatives meeting with provincial ministers.

Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross pressed attorney-general David Eby during question period on March 30 to explain why city council and downtown business owners believe provincial prosecutors are failing to lay charges against repeat offenders.

An uptick in assaults, thefts and break and enters has caused city council to send representatives to Victoria to seek solutions.

Mayor Carol Leclerc and Coun. Sean Bujtas were seated in the gallery of the Legislative Assembly in Victoria as Ross questioned Eby.

“The council, the Terrace community, the residents of Skeena, the residents of B.C., everyone wants to know why it’s not in the public interest to charge these repeat offenders?” Ross asked Eby.

He said the Terrace level of concern includes a letter from Kitsumkalum chief councillor Don Roberts.

Before reading out Crown Counsel statistics for Terrace, Eby responded by acknowledging the concerns and said he has directed Crown representatives from the north to meet with the mayor and council.

“I can advise the member that I asked our regional Crown counsel for the North, Lori Stevens, to meet with the mayor and to go over statistics from Crown counsel to reassure the mayor, the people of Terrace, the member and anyone else who’s concerned about the record of Crown counsel and what’s happening in the city of Terrace,” Eby said.

The system in B.C. is such that RCMP gather evidence and, hoping for charge approval, send it to Crown Counsel lawyers who then lay the charges.

Of 1,716 reports to Crown counsel received from police over the past two years, Eby said 1,257 were approved and sent to court. There were 339 no-charge decisions and rest were either settled by means other than the courts, returned to police for more investigation or are currently in progress.

Ross told the minister that his response offers no comfort to people who face violence everyday, especially since there are no “consequences of substance” for criminal activities.

“What will it take for the province to stop the catch-and-release program and give communities security from prolific offenders?” Ross asked.

Eby said Ross’ allegations and anecdotes were not backed up by statistics and that vast majority of reports to Crown counsel are being approved and are going to court.

However, once in court, what happens with the criminal law being applied is a matter of federal jurisdiction, Eby added, and should be directed at Taylor Bachrach, the Skeena - Bulkley Valley NDP Member of Parliament.

“…. To blame Crown counsel for the state of the federal law and Supreme Court of Canada decisions — that’s a different story,” Eby said, adding, “They’re [Crown counsel] bound by Supreme Court of Canada decisions that interpret that federal law.”

In closing,Eby who is also the provincial minister responsible for housing, said the province is working on mental health and addiction issues often involved with criminal activity.

“With our complex care housing, with supportive housing, in fact, I’m happy to say we’ve actually reduced the number of people who are street homeless in Terrace. The last count was 96; the current count was 74. So we’re seeing progress on these kinds of issues in the community.”

The delegation from the City of Terrace had a private audience with Eby Thursday and were also meeting with municipal affairs minister Nathan Cullen, public safety minister and solicitor general Mike Farnworth and mental health & addictions minister Sheila Malcolmson.