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A clear sense of danger after ‘catch and release’ in Prince George

Trespassing complaint saw an RCMP officer draw his firearm
An RCMP officer points his handgun at the occupants of a vehicle stuck in the mud on a property co-owned by Citizen owner Cameron Stolz. The SUV had been stopped two days earlier in a drug bust in Moccasin Flats.

When my business partner and I bought a foreclosed property that had once been a drug operation, we expected that we might run into some unsavoury characters who didn’t know it had changed hands. What we knew was that this was the latest in a series of unwanted visits to the 1 ½-acre property, located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, that we bought on April 2.

What we didn’t expect about the latest trespasser was to hear an RCMP officer tell me “There are things about that vehicle that you are not aware of” before drawing his handgun.

We knew it would be a lot of work. The hydro bypass for the grow ops inside the house and garage had caused an electrical fire which resulted in the house having extensive smoke damage.

It soon became clear that people who used to frequent the property would continue to do so.

As we cleaned out the 3,000-square-foot shop on the property – the reason we bought it in the first place – we had to keep boarding up the house multiple times as people kept breaking in.  As well, we kept having to clean up after those who were getting into the shop and rummaging through the rubbish inside or sleeping there and leaving a “mess” behind.

On several occasions our neighbour called, explaining that there were “questionable” people on the property. These calls would result in me popping over and telling the trespassers that there were new owners of the property and asking them to leave.

On April 30, three days after we had found a five-gallon pail of copper piping that had been hacked out of the house, our neighbour texted me.  It was 4:10 p.m. and he was giving me a heads-up that there were some sketchy people on our property, and he offered to go over and see what they were up to.   

His next text was, “They are saying that they thought it was a road (raised eyes) they are very stuck and stupid.”

About an hour later, I had a phone call from one of our staff who had stopped by the property to pick up tools he had left there on the weekend. He said that there was a Suburban parked at the side of the house with two women in it. When he told them they weren’t allowed on the property the ladies yelled at him that it was their uncle’s house.

After the phone call from our staff member, I wrapped up the meeting I was in and drove up to the property.  Pulling in off the side street, I stopped in front of our shop and walked up to the side of the house, choosing my steps carefully as the area beside the house was muddy and I wasn’t wearing boots. 

There, driven 150 feet (46m) off the road and down the side of our house, was an older model GMC Yukon XL Denali with its rear end sunk in mud up to its axle. Two women in their late 20s sat in the vehicle.  Hooked up with a tow rope to the back of the Denali was an older model GMC 2500HD pickup driven by a woman in her early 40s. Both vehicles were spinning their tires madly with mud flying everywhere.

Avoiding walking in the mud or being sprayed by it, I stopped about 20 feet from the Denali and waved at the driver who rolled down the window.  I asked her what the heck they were doing on my property.  She answered that she thought it was a road. When I asked where she thought she was going down this “road” she stumbled for an answer.

The lady in the pickup got out and started yelling at me that they weren’t doing anything wrong and that I had to leave them alone.  I pointed out that they were on my property, which meant they were doing something wrong – they were trespassing. 

I turned back to the driver of the Denali and told her that if she would take responsibility for any damage that might happen, I would go get my loader and pull her out with it. At the same time I was speaking with her, the lady in the truck became quite agitated and threatening.

In response, I called the RCMP, reported the incident, the individuals, their license plates, and then went back to my car before driving back out and around to the front of our house. 

Shortly after I pulled up to the front of the house, the driver of the pickup truck packed up her tow rope and then backed onto the road and drove away.  A bit later, a man in his early 50s drove up to the front of the house.  The passenger of the Denali got out with two backpacks and a carry bag and walked over to his car, got in, and they drove away.

Just after 6:00 p.m., I received a call from an RCMP officer.  He said there were a number of calls to the RCMP from this address and he wanted to get a better understanding before he and his partner arrived on site.

The first call was from a woman claiming a man was threatening her with bear spray.  The second was a different woman alleging a guy was holding something threatening in his pocket.  They had a third woman who had called saying a man was threatening her with a gun.  As well, he had my call about the three women trespassing.

The officer’s questions focused repeatedly on whether there were any firearms present. I said I didn’t have one and that I hadn’t seen one.

A few minutes passed and the officers arrived at the front of the house. I explained that there was just the one female left who was sitting in the vehicle, and stated that with them present, I was willing to bring my loader around and pull the vehicle out of the mud.

The officer asked me to stand behind my vehicle.  Puzzled, I asked why. This is when he told me “there are things about that vehicle that you are not aware of” and then began walking towards the rear of the vehicle, with his partner following him.

Upon reaching the rear of the vehicle, the officer drew his pistol! Coming to the front passenger door he called out to the driver and opened the door. The driver exited the vehicle and was detained while the vehicle was given a quick visual search. A butcher knife was removed from the vehicle, and the officer holstered his sidearm.

Afterward, the officer explained to me the reason he approached the vehicle the way he did was that the vehicle had been stopped and its occupants apprehended two days prior.  The person currently driving the vehicle and another female were “known to police” in Fort St. James and were apprehended selling drugs to people in Moccasin Flats. At the time of the takedown, a shotgun and multiple knives were present in the vehicle. He said the occupants were held in custody overnight and mentioned that he had just come on shift and the officers on the previous shift had been “fully engaged” with an extremely busy day.

After a brief discussion with the officer, it was apparent that there was little point in trying to charge the people in the vehicle with trespassing. (In B.C. you have to have “no trespassing” signs posted.)  Not wanting to have leave the vehicle on my property, I again offered to pull it out of the mud and back to the street. This time it was accepted, and I pulled the vehicle out.

The trespasser drove off, and the police moved on to their next call, leaving me to wonder how something like this happens.

“Catch and release” is a common criticism of our current justice system. It refers to the practice of detaining people caught in the act – drugs, theft, violence – then releasing them on their own recognizance. Too often, these people immediately return to their lives of crime.

In this case, an individual and the vehicle linked to drug sales in the city’s most problematic “neighbourhood” was back on the street a day after being detained overnight.

Two days after being arrested, an RCMP officer was again dealing with this same person and concerned enough about the danger they presented and the possibility of guns being present that he felt he had to arrive at the call with backup and draw his weapon as he approached them.

I’m sure that the frustration that our RCMP must be feeling matches what our citizens are feeling.

“Catch and release” can be linked to much of the crime and other problems in our city.

The pendulum has swung too far in favour of criminals. It’s time for it to swing back toward the people of Prince George who just want to live, work and play in our community in safety.

Cameron Stolz is the owner of the Prince George Citizen.