Longtime repeat Kelowna offender tells court he's changing for the better

Offender willing to change?

A long-time repeat offender who broke into a downtown Kelowna business this past spring is more motivated than ever to turn his life around, he told the court Wednesday.

The Kelowna RCMP first alerted the public to Justin Collins after he was released on bail back in August 2022, calling his release “a substantial concern for public safety.”

He was arrested just two days later after he was spotted downtown tampering with a vehicle.

But after serving some jail time, Collins was back out on the streets this past spring, and he once again found himself on the wrong side of the law.

On the morning of May 23, 2023, Collins stole some items from the 7-Eleven at Gordon Drive and Bernard Avenue and left on a bike. He was arrested by police a short time later, but was released from custody on conditions.

The very next day, Collins broke into the Man + Woman clothing store on Cannery Lane in downtown Kelowna, smashing the glass door, crawling inside and making off with some items.

The break and enter occurred at about 8 p.m., when it was still daylight out. Surveillance footage showed several people walking by the area, before Collins first used a rock, then his feet to smash the glass door.

Collins was arrested about a block away from the store with some of the stolen items still in his possession.

Following the arrest, the Kelowna RCMP once again put out a press release, with Cpl. Michael Gauthier calling Collins “a prime example of a repeat offender who has shown he is simply unwilling to stop committing crime and victimizing our businesses and downtown core.”

Collins has remained in custody since his May 24 arrest. While he was set to face trial Wednesday morning, he instead opted to accept the Crown's plea deal with a joint sentencing proposal of 18 months in custody for the two incidents.

Justice Andrew Tam went along with the proposal, and with enhanced credit for time served, Collins is left with 256 days to serve on his sentence.

Collins has been struggling with homelessness and addiction for many years, but Collins told Justice Tam he's been able to make some changes while he's been incarcerated over the past six months.

“I believe that I have changed for the better ... I've also gained a lot of new aspects in my life and changing my personality and stuff like that. Making it aware to myself and to others that I am a better person than I was,” Collins said.

“I know that my criminal record is lengthy, since 1995 I've had over 60 convictions ... it's actually quite embarrassing.

He's now being supervised by the new Repeat Violent Offending Intervention Initiative (ReVOII), which includes dedicated ReVOII prosecutor Dawson McKay handling his case.

“These different resources and stuff that they have to offer, which I've never been offered before, I'm using this time quite seriously as well as productively,” he said. “I'm just working on myself and trying to work with others in prison.”

His defence counsel Melissa Lowe told Justice Tam that over the years she's worked with Collins, this is the first time she's seen him express willingness to access support services.

This remains to be seen though. During an October 2022 sentencing hearing that resulted in a five-month sentence for a handful of charges, Judge Lisa Wyatt expressed her frustration with Collins.

“How do I protect the community?” Judge Wyatt asked. “He gets out and immediately breached my order. He doesn't report and within two and a half weeks, he's reoffending.

“There is no question that Mr. Collins has significant barriers to overcome ... we know very well in these courts how hard it is for someone to overcome addiction and poverty. But this alone cannot excuse Mr. Collins' behaviour which include his blatant refusal to follow his probation order and his continuing pattern of property crime, obstruction of police and assaulting people.”

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