UPDATE: 3:45 p.m.
A soon-to-be-released report investigating repeat criminal offenders and random acts of violence in B.C. contains 28 recommendations the provincial government can take to address these issues. And the province is immediately taking action on three of them.
In a press conference held Wednesday, Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth and Attorney General Murray Rankin released the 28 recommendations and executive summary from the new report authored by health researcher and criminologist Amanda Butler and former Vancouver Police Department deputy chief Doug LePard.
The report, which is expected to be released in full by the end of the month, was commissioned back in May of this year, after lobbying from the province's mayors.
In the executive summary, LePard and Butler note the COVID-19 pandemic has had “devastatingly negative impacts on British Columbians,” and has contributed to a reduction in the number of people held in custody before trial and a decrease in charges for offences and for breaching bail conditions.
“This trend, already underway due to recent changes in federal legislation and case law, has left police and probation officers frustrated that the only tools they have to manage people who offend in the community have been virtually eliminated,” they state.
In authoring the report, Butler and LePard spoke with many stakeholders around the issues, including police, mayors and city officials, health authorities, Crown Counsel, community agencies, and academics.
While overall crime rates across Canada have decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, LePard noted there are very concerning trends among violent crimes in B.C.
“Virtually everyone we interviewed – street nurses, mental health workers, staff at the downtown community courts, mayors, police officers – described what is quite obvious, which is the increasing intensity of disorder and aggressive behaviour in downtown areas across B.C., and not just in big communities,” LePard said during Wednesday's press conference.
“It's great news that crime overall is down overall across Canada ... but that doesn't change the fact that we have some very significant issues with some types of crime and disorder that are creating incredible distress in many communities. The mayors and others aren't imagining what they're seeing and we think they should be commended for advocating for action in their cities.”
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, who serves as the co-chair of the BC Urban Mayors' Caucus, attended Wednesday's press conference. He said he was happy with the report's recommendations, and noted many things the mayors have asked for have been included in the recommendations.
“It's very hard for us mayors to tell a business owner who's had their business broken into time and time again, to say, 'well it's out of our hands' ... our residents don't care whose jurisdiction it is, they just want to see action” Basran said.
“That's why today is so important, because collaboratively, we now have a path forward.”
Minister of Public Safety Farnworth said the province will be immediately taking steps on three of the 28 recommendations.
“We've identified three specific recommendations that we want to start on right away: a return of the prolific offenders management pilots that were cut by the previous government (Recommendation 21); a dedicated provincial committee structure to coordinate service planning for people with complex health needs who come into conflict with the law (Recommendation 13); and the B.C. First Nations Justice Counsel's proposed pilot program based at the Prince George Indigenous Justice Centre to address recidivism among First Nations people (Recommendation 18),” Farnworth said.
The report did not recommend compulsory treatment for offenders suffering from addiction issues – something NDP leadership hopeful David Eby recently suggested – as Butler said the research shows this does not lead to improved health outcomes. But they did recommend the provincial government create something called Low Secure Units “for people who are at serious risk of violence.”
“The Low Secure Units would be facilities that would actually be designed with the proper security, therapeutic design and staffing detail that you need for people who are presenting with extreme violent behaviour – the kinds of things we have unfortunately seen in our communities, including machete attacks and really violent instances,” Butler said, adding this could be implemented under the province's Mental Health Act without action from the federal government.
“I want to be really clear that that is very different from the conversation around compulsory treatment for people who are presenting with life-threatening substance use that does not render them a risk to other people
“There would be a compulsory treatment regiment potentially depending on what people are presenting with ... the Low Secure Units would be for people to be mandated.”
Farnworth and Rankin noted that issues around bail eligibility and sentencing fall under federal jurisdiction, but they'll be lobbying the federal governments to make changes to legislation for stiffer punishments for repeat offenders.
“Those are the kind of changes that obviously are needed. We also need to reconsider the bail approach in Canada which the Supreme Court of Canada has said involved allowing people back more quickly, that there has to be a very good reason to keep them in jail,” Rankin said.
“So we have that problem with people who are on bail who are offending and the Crown Counsel's hands are tied by Supreme Court of Canada judgments on that and by the Criminal Code amendments that took place in 2019 with Bill C-75, a federal law ... We need to make sure our federal colleagues understand what's going on in our communities.”
UPDATE : 1:35 p.m.
The B.C. Government's has released recommendations and an executive summary from a new report into prolific offending in the province.
The report, first commissioned back in May of this year, has been produced by former Vancouver Police Department deputy chief Doug LePard and health researcher and criminologist Amanda Butler.
The report includes 28 recommendations, focused on “addressing critical gaps in the continuum of care for people with mental health and substance use needs who are involved with the criminal justice system.”
In the executive summary, LePard and Butler say the report looks into “prolific offenders,” as well as “an apparent increase in violent, unprovoked stranger attacks generally believed to be committed by people with mental disorder and substance use needs.”
The report came about after lobbying from the province's mayors, including Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, co-chair of the BC Urban Mayors' Caucus.
It was initially due by Sept. 2, but a short extension was required. The full report is expected to be released later this month.
In an update last month, the province said “an overwhelming number of people have reached out to the experts to share their experiences and provide recommendations on prolific offenders, including about highly visible crime in downtown cores and unprovoked, violent stranger attacks.”
More to come.
ORIGINAL: 1:20 p.m.
B.C.'s Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth, Attorney General Murray Rankin and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran are hosting a press conference Wednesday afternoon for "an update about keeping communities safe."
Basran, the co-chair of the BC Urban Mayors' Caucus, has recently been critical of the B.C.'s justice system and the so-called "catch-and-release" bail system that sees repeat offenders released back into the community.
There are no further details about what Wednesday's announcement may entail. It is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.