B.C. public safety plan includes focus on repeat offenders, more mental health teams

Addressing public safety

UPDATE: 1 p.m.

B.C.'s newly sworn-in premier David Eby announced widespread changes to the province's criminal justice system Sunday to tackle public safety concerns and deal with repeat offenders.

Of the many things announced Sunday, one aspect that may impact Kelowna, Kamloops and other Interior cities is the expansion of virtual bail hearings.

Eby said the province is investing more than $3 million annually to allow accused people the ability to attend bail hearings through a video feed, rather than travelling to court in certain hub cities.

“By reducing the need for accused people to travel to larger centres, virtual bail hearings minimize the risk that alleged offenders will be transported hundreds of kilometres from home and get stuck, homeless, in a hub city like Terrace, Trail, Prince George, Williams Lake, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Kamloops or Campbell River,” the province says in a press release.

“Instead, they can stay in their home communities and access existing supports, family and friends.”

Eby said the province has also issued an updated bail policy directive to B.C.'s prosecutors, to “implement a clear and understandable approach to bail for repeat violent offenders within the existing federal law.”

Much of criminal justice system reform must be done at the federal level though. Eby noted that recent federal legislation and Supreme Court of Canada decisions around bail have led to a rise in repeat violent offending. He said he's already spoken to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other federal Cabinet ministers about the need for these rules to change.

The province will also be setting up “repeat violent offender response teams,” building on the province's previous Prolific Offender Management program that ran from 2008 to 2012. These teams, consisting of police officers, dedicated prosecutors, probation officers, support personnel and correction supervisors, will monitor high-risk repeat offenders and use that gathered information in their bail and sentencing hearings.

This was a recommendation stemming from the recent report on repeat offenders released last month.

Additionally, the province is establishing a $3 million fund to expand integrated mobile community crisis response teams in B.C. — teams of police and healthcare workers who respond to people experiencing mental health crises.

Currently, Interior Health has the Police and Crisis Response Team (PACT) program in Kelowna and the Car 40 program in Kamloops.

"Car programs, which team up an officer with a mental-health professional, have helped many people in crisis,” said Jay Diell, clinical co-ordinator for Car 87/88 in Vancouver.

“I'm thrilled this program is expanding to more communities across the province, so British Columbians can get the supports they need along with timely connections to appropriate services in the community."

Eby is also working to expand B.C.'s civil forfeiture regime next spring, with an “unexplained wealth order.”

“We will be seizing the assets and going after the proceeds that attract young people to organized crime and gang life – the flashy cars, homes and luxury goods. And we will remove the profit incentive for organized crime and send a strong message,” he said.

A full breakdown of all of the aspects of Eby's announcement Sunday can be found here.

ORIGINAL: 11:40 a.m.

British Columbia's premier says a new public safety plan for the province includes more mental health response teams and an increased focus on tackling repeat offenders.

David Eby shared details of the public safety strategy on Sunday, two days after being sworn in as the province's 37th premier.

Eby says the new plan will include response teams comprised of police, prosecutors and probation officers who will focus on repeat offenders, as well as an increased number of mental health response teams that can serve more BC communities.

He says the province also plans to open 10 new Indigenous justice centres to provide "culturally appropriate" support for those caught up in the system, as well as a revamped addictions care model at Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital.

Eby says the provincial plan is needed because of federal changes to the bail system, as well as the ongoing overdose crisis.

He previously promised his first days in office would see the launch of NDP government plans to tackle the province's difficult and ongoing issues of public safety and affordable housing.

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