The Juneau Police Department is asking for community assistance as they search for suspects involved in a June break-in at Glacier Gardens. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file)

Uzelman: B.C.’s high crime rate requires provincial action

New column from Bruce Uzelman

~BW Uzelman

Metropolitan Kelowna’s crime rate, in 2021, was the highest in Canada at over 11,000, Statistics Canada data shows, almost double the rate in the other BC metropolitan cities listed – Vancouver, Abbotsford-Mission and Victoria. Kelowna’s crime severity index (CSI) was the second highest in Canada at 122.3, lower only than Lethbridge, Alberta at 128.7. Vancouver’s CSI was 81.6, Abbotsford-Mission 78.2 and Victoria 71.5. Yet, all are experiencing difficulties with repeat offenders and/or random violence.

The Urban Mayors’ Caucus, in April, sent a letter to then Attorney General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. The letter demanded the province address the “catch and release cycle” that is exacerbating the prolific offender problem and the crime in BC’s urban centers.

The letter, written by Kelowna’s Colin Basran and Victoria’s Lisa Help, offers many examples. Just a few follow. 15 offenders in Kelowna were responsible for 1039 police contacts last year. One offender in Kelowna, since 2017, “has generated 346 RCMP files and received 29 convictions for property crime and assault offences. … The offender is routinely released with conditions and subsequently re-offends.” In Kamloops, a repeat offender was released only to brandish an axe at a shelter.

Also revealed, since 2017, there has been a 118% increase in the time taken by the BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) to review files from police, a 75% increase in no-charge assessments, and a 26% decrease in the number of accused approved to go to court. The BCPS requires “full disclosure”, which takes months for police to prepare, even for serious violent crime. During the entire protracted process, the accused are often not in custody and offend again. Clearly, the province should not have allowed the performance of the BCPS to deteriorate to this point. Negative consequences were inevitable.

The Province in May asked a former Chief of Police and a Criminologist, to study the problem. The Summary Report of the “Investigation into Repeat Offending and Random Stranger Violence”, was released on September 21. To be fair, it says the Pandemic, federal legislative changes and case law contributed to custodial sentences decreasing from 15,284 in 2019 to 9165 in 2021. Thus, the only tool police and probation officers have to manage offenders in the community was “virtually eliminated”.

The Report also notes that the mental health needs of those in custody continue to be underserved, and there is a shortage of resources to care for those released with mental health and substance abuse problems. As well, stimulant drugs like methamphetamine are associated with increased risk of violence. The report notes an urgent need to fill the gaps in treatment around these needs.

It recommends: the establishment of Crisis Response and Stabilization Units to enhance divergence from police and emergency; Low Secure Units for people who put others at risk of violence; and Treatment Units for incarcerated people with serious mental health problems. The report also advises involuntary admissions (with “strict accountability mechanisms”) may be required where violence is a risk. And it says it is an open question whether the crown can and should seek sentences of “not criminally responsible” to divert people with serious mental health issues to the forensic mental health system.

Public Safety Minister, Mike Farnworth, has identified three recommendations for priority implementation. (1.) The Prolific Offender Management model, will be re-established to manage repeat offenders with support services and enforcement activities. (2.) A provincial committee will be established to service those with complex needs, by coordinating health, criminal justice and social service organizations. (3.) A pilot project will be established in Prince George for Indigenous offenders.

It remains to be seen if the full report (expected soon) and the BC Government will adequately address the mayors’ concerns. The mayors requested stricter bail conditions and stricter consequences for property offenders, a review of the BCPS’s charge assessment guidelines and full disclosure policies, and more resources for the BCPS, amongst other reforms. All are eminently reasonable, and should be implemented swiftly by the province.

Though much remains to be done, the provincial government has to date responded positively. However, the real credit belongs to the Urban Mayors’ Caucus, and particularly Mayor Basran, who has led the mayors’ efforts to relegate the catch and release cycle to history.

Bruce

Bruce W Uzelman

I grew up in Paradise Hill, a village in Northwestern Saskatchewan. I come from a large family. My parents instilled good values, but yet afforded us, my seven siblings and I, much freedom to do the things we wished to do. I spent my early years exploring the hills and forests and fields surrounding the village, a great way to come of age. My parents owned a successful general store. My siblings and I were required to help out in the business, no choices allowed there!

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I considered studying journalism at one point, but did not ultimately pursue that. However, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.

My career has consisted exclusively of small business, primarily restaurant and retail. I was originally based in Alberta, and then BC, first in Summerland, then Victoria and finally Kelowna (for over 20 years). I was married in Alberta, and we have two daughters, who have returned to Alberta as adults for career reasons, as did my now ex-wife. My daughters are successful, and now have families of their own.

I have maintained a healthy interest in politics throughout my adult years, and wish to put that and my research skills to work as a political columnist.

Contact: urbangeneral@shaw.ca

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ColumnistOkanaganShuswap

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