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Before he was found guilty of his 10th random assault, and before politicians began invoking his name to criticize the way British Columbia’s courts “catch and release” repeat violent offenders, the only crime on Mohammed Majidpour’s record was a common one among people self-medicating on the streets: stealing alcohol.

When he was charged for that minor theft in 2014, the first of his 38 offences on the public record, he was homeless and using heroin in Vancouver.

Mr. Majidpour had returned to the city, his hometown, after spending a few months with his extended family in Houston, where he was reconnecting with loved ones while trying to stop using drugs. He was 26 years old, and his boyhood dream of becoming a pilot was foundering.

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Frame grab of a Facebook video of Mohammed Majidpour during a flying lesson over Metro Vancouver in 2008.
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Photo released by Vancouver police of Mohammed Majidpour in 2022 when he was wanted in an alleged attack in September on a 19-year-old woman.

Mohammed Majidpour on a flying lesson over Vancouver in 2008, and in a photo released this past September when police were looking for him in connection with an assault case.Facebook, Vancouver police

One of his hosts in Texas, a cousin who now lives in Tehran, said a well-known gangster in Vancouver was among Mr. Majidpour’s closest childhood friends.

“He was surrounded by bad friends. I never got much information about that, because after he went back up to Canada, we only heard from him once or twice a year and never got back any answers to our questions,” said the cousin, whom The Globe and Mail is not naming because he didn’t want to be associated with Mr. Majidpour’s criminality.

“He was just someone who got into drugs and, after some bad years of bad luck, went wrong and lost his mind.”

The Houston trip was a big step for Mr. Majidpour. He had remained in Vancouver while his father died of lymphoma in Tehran in 2012. He would do so again when his mother died in the Philippines in 2021.

Over the years, both sides of his family had tried to pay for him to fly to Manila, where he has a younger brother and sister, or to the Iranian capital, where his father’s family lives, but the young Canadian was struggling so much that he couldn’t get a passport, his cousin said.

Mr. Majidpour’s family’s efforts to reach him were hampered by the way he constantly created and then ditched new accounts on Facebook, where his inspirational quotes about success and photos of supercars eventually morphed into paranoid rants about strangers and entreaties for help from pop star Katy Perry and local politicians.

The now-35-year-old’s latest run-in with the law generated headlines across the province. He was arrested in November for allegedly stealing $300 worth of leggings from H&M just 148 minutes after being released from jail, where he was being held for allegedly committing a hate-motivated assault against a 19-year-old student.

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Vancouver police patrol the Downtown Eastside, one of the areas of the city that reported a rise in stranger attacks in 2022.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Mr. Majidpour’s long criminal history offers a case study in the way B.C.’s courts treat the tiny number of people who repeatedly assault strangers – often people they encounter on the street, or retail workers trying to stop them from shoplifting. These offenders – most of whom are battling homelessness, mental-health issues, addictions or all three personal crises at once – routinely spend a few weeks or months in provincial jail before being released. Often, they are arrested again within days or weeks.

In October, Kevin Falcon, the leader of the BC Liberal Party, continued a campaign to ratchet up political pressure on the province’s ruling New Democrats by rising in the legislature to recount Mr. Majidpour’s latest alleged offences. He said they were evidence that “the crisis on our streets is going from bad to worse.”

In an effort to understand how and why the stranger-assault problem persists, The Globe spoke with criminologists, politicians, former judges, former police, prosecutors, defence lawyers, Mr. Majidpour’s family and his victims. Mr. Majidpour’s lawyer declined multiple requests to speak on her client’s behalf, and Mr. Majidpour did not respond to a request for an interview made through her.

Those who spoke to The Globe described an overwhelmed justice system, where harried Crown attorneys juggle too many cases under tight, federally mandated timelines. They appear in front of judges who often lack complete information about offenders’ criminal records as they pass down punishments.

There is no reliable tally of how many people across B.C. are responsible for repeated acts of random violence. There are likely a couple hundred or more, according to former Victoria mayor Lisa Helps, who led a push last spring by 13 mayors of B.C.’s largest cities to convince the province to address the problem of so-called “prolific offenders.”

The mayors dug into police data from nine of their own communities and found that, in each of them, 10 to 50 of these people were active. Ms. Helps, who did not run again in October’s election, examined a detailed history of Mr. Majidpour’s various offences at The Globe’s request and concluded he is not unique. “The current approach clearly isn’t working,” she said.

Vancouver Police Department research estimates there were roughly three stranger assaults a day in the city in 2019. That rose to an average of four a day in the year-long period beginning in September, 2020. An analysis of a sample of 40 recent cases found that most suspects had serious mental illnesses. Many also had substance-use disorders.

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Katie Nguyen Ngo says she suffers from motion sickness and other concussion symptoms after the attack that Mr. Majidpour was charged in.Jennifer Gauthier/The Globe and Mail

Their victims, frequently, were people who were quietly going about their business on city streets. Katie Nguyen Ngo, the student Mr. Majidpour is accused of assaulting, was walking downtown during her first semester of hospitality studies at Vancouver Community College in September when he allegedly hit her over the head with a metal pole. She said in an interview that her assailant screamed at her that she should go back to China. Her parents left Vietnam as refugees.

She said she is suffering daily bouts of motion sickness. Her concussion symptoms, she added, have forced her to drop two classes and become a part-time student. This may mean she won’t graduate as planned in 2024, after which she had hoped to open a small restaurant with her fiancé. She said she is now on leave from her three jobs and burning through her savings. Employment insurance will likely fund her next tuition payment.

Ms. Nguyen Ngo said her alleged assailant deserves to be treated for his medical issues and given a chance to be released back into the community. He is currently in jail while he awaits a judge’s ruling.

“But before that, he shouldn’t be out, because he’s really unstable,” she said.

After past guilty pleas in previous assault cases, Mr. Majidpour was repeatedly handed single-day prison sentences. Once he was released, he would often be caught soon afterward violating his probation conditions by carrying needles or skipping counselling or drug treatment programs.

B.C.’s new Premier, David Eby, pledged during his first days on the job in November to put a stop to this revolving door of catch and release, which he said is eroding the public’s confidence in the courts. But to do so he will have to contend with systemic problems that are deeply entrenched.

Single-day sentences: A sample of Mohammed Majidpour's lengthy public record

June 12, 2014

Theft under $5,000 from a liquor store

The Crown stayed the proceedings a year later.

Aug. 21, 2015

Robbery and dangerous driving

Mr. Majidpour wasn't charged until Jan. 2017. He eventually served eight months in prison and upon his release was ordered to complete a counselling program that included substance abuse treatment.

Sept. 29, 2016

Theft under $5,000 from a Jack and Jones clothing store, and assault

He was sentenced to one day in prison after spending nearly a month in jail before his hearing.

July 2019

Needle attacks

He was charged with assault with a weapon near Vancouver's Waterfront Station and – three weeks later – assault on three people with a weapon in Burnaby's Metrotown Mall.

The RCMP said the latter incident involved a hypodermic needle that was capped. Mr. Majidpour was sentenced to a single day in prison, after serving six months in jail before his hearing. He was given 18 months' probation with conditions, including that he get a psychiatric assessment and attend substance abuse treatment and counselling.

May 17, 2020

Theft under $5,000 from an Urban Fare grocery store, and assault with a weapon

Mr. Majidpour was sentenced to one day in prison after serving just over two months in jail before his hearing. His probation came with seven conditions, including that he not possess any knives outside his home.

March 2021

Harassment spree

Mr. Majidpour harassed a woman, damaged a sign at the Sutton Place Hotel, broke into a room there, uttered a threat and assaulted another woman with a weapon. He was also charged for later harassing another woman, who livestreamed him stalking her.

He was sentenced to one day in prison after getting credit for 180 days served before the ruling. His one year of probation came with 15 conditions, including that he take his medication and attend a forensic psychiatric outpatient clinic. He was charged less than a month later with violating these conditions by not attending that program.

Across B.C., 475 provincial Crown prosecutors are handling a workload that has become increasingly complex over the past several years, according to Kevin Marks, president of the BC Crown Counsel Association. Whereas a simple shoplifting case used to involve typing up a two-page summary of the available evidence, it now involves analyzing extensive security camera footage and other media.

Prosecutors are “just drowning” in the amount of evidence that must be disclosed to the defence, he said, and they must do so promptly. A 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision, made in a case known as Jordan, mandates that trials begin within a year and a half of charges being laid.

Mr. Marks added that Crown prosecutors are also “stressed to our limits” because of underfunding. The government must hire more lawyers or change the existing system to improve prosecutors’ workflow, he said.

Nahanni Pollard, whose 2012 doctoral thesis at Simon Fraser University focused on the sentencing of chronic offenders, said the vast majority of those cases are charged as summary offences, nearly all of which carry a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison. This, she said, is so plea deals can be reached and trials avoided in a system where wait times are already astronomical.

Under Canadian law, the most serious offences, such as murder or sexual assault, must be treated by the Crown as indictable offences, which carry penalties of two years to life in prison. But with some “hybrid” crimes, such as common assaults, the Crown can decide to go the summary route.

Dr. Pollard, who now works for PricewaterhouseCoopers as a consultant to police, said it is over all a good thing for society that Crown prosecutors have often chosen to proceed summarily with repeat offenders.

“History has shown us that incarceration isn’t really a productive way to get people to act right,” she said.

Her research found that judges often give these offenders probation the first time they are charged, and then nearly always hand out prison time for ensuing offences. But the prison sentences generally don’t increase much in length with each successive crime. More often than not in cases such as Mr. Majidpour’s, Crown prosecutors and the suspect’s lawyer, who is usually a public defender, will meet and submit what they agree is an acceptable sentence for the judge to approve.

Leo Fumano, a Vancouver criminal lawyer and public defender who once represented Mr. Majidpour during a procedural hearing, said judges are loath to go above and beyond the prison time recommended in these joint submissions.

That reticence, he said, can in part be explained by the Supreme Court of Canada throwing out a B.C. Supreme Court judge’s 2014 decision to add six months in prison and three years of probation to an agreed-upon punishment for a chronic offender who was pleading guilty to manslaughter. The Supreme Court cautioned trial judges to avoid increasing suggested penalties “unless the proposed sentence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute or is otherwise contrary to the public interest.”

The one time the Crown proceeded by indictment with Mr. Majidpour, according to the public record of his offences, was for robbery and dangerous driving charges in January, 2017.

Around the time of those offences, Mr. Majidpour posted to one of his many Facebook accounts that he was sleeping outside a mall in Vancouver’s downtown business district while spending his days a few blocks away looking for work at the city’s central library.

After many missed court appearances and a cancelled trial, he was sentenced in December, 2018, and given his longest stint in prison: eight months.

In the three years between him committing that robbery and his prison term, he had been caught shoplifting and assaulting employees at two separate clothing stores. He had also been charged with uttering threats and possessing a weapon (a metal stick) for the purpose of committing a crime.

Every one of his charges for assaulting strangers was a summary offence. Court records compiled by The Globe show that these charges often resulted in single-day sentences after he was credited for the time he had served in jail while awaiting a judge’s ruling.

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Then-judge Thomas Gove presided over Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court when it opened in 2008.Jeff Vinnick

One of those one-day prison terms was handed out in 2017 by Thomas Gove, who began presiding over Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court when it opened in 2008. The court’s purpose is to offer chronic offenders help with their housing, mental health and addictions in exchange for guilty pleas.

Mr. Gove, who ended his three-decade career as a provincial judge in 2020, wouldn’t comment directly on his punishment of Mr. Majidpour, who in this instance had pleaded guilty to shoplifting from an Urban Outfitters store and assaulting someone. Neither would he comment on what the brief sentence may say about the systemic failings of B.C. courts.

But, in an e-mailed statement, he said chronic offenders’ cases are often adjourned to the point where the appropriate time behind bars – according to case law – has already been served once they appear for sentencing.

Many of the chronic offenders who came through the community court turned their lives around with the help of wraparound care from a team of professionals, he said.

He added that their successful release on probation often depended on whether they could be placed in appropriate residential treatment programs for their substance-use disorders.

“During my years as a judge, I have seen many repeat offenders accept help offered and turn their lives around by entering and completing a reliable residential drug treatment program,” he said. “The biggest difficulty that I had as a judge was the shortage of such programs in B.C.”

Vancouver criminal defence lawyer Georges Prat said it’s relatively easy to find case law on appropriate sentences for clients pleading guilty to their first or second offences. But he said it’s much more difficult to ascertain what may be fair for someone who enters court with a significant prior record.

Sentencing for guilty pleas in lower courts is often done in a span of 20 minutes. These judgments are rarely transcribed and reported into the country’s main legal databases.

As a result, Crown and defence lawyers – and judges – may not have easy access to all the details of an offender’s full record, Mr. Prat said. (None of Mr. Majidpour’s judgments appear on one of the largest of these online repositories: the one run by CanLII, the Canadian Legal Information Institute.)

“At that point it becomes much more of a gut exercise, and that’s not great,” Mr. Prat said.

Some of the recent public and political discussion about repeat offenders has centred on those who are caught committing new crimes shortly after they are released on bail.

Statistics Canada data show that, during the first year and a half of the pandemic, the Western provinces kept more people out on bail than in jail. B.C. and Manitoba led that group, with 28-per-cent declines in the average number of people denied bail each month.

The opposite was the case in Quebec and some Maritime provinces, which had double-digit increases. The average number of inmates denied bail in Ontario remained unchanged between March, 2020, and December, 2021, the last month included in the federal data.

Peter Juk, B.C.’s assistant deputy attorney-general in charge of the Crown, declined a request for an interview about this and other systemic issues. Instead, a spokesperson in his office directed The Globe to a statement Mr. Juk had released in September in response to public criticism.

He wrote that prosecutors with the complex task of deciding whether to let people out of jail on bail are bound by Supreme Court of Canada decisions, as well as a 2019 overhaul of federal rules that forces the Crown to lean toward releasing them.

In November, Murray Rankin, who was at the time B.C.’s attorney-general, announced a directive to Crown prosecutors requiring that they seek detention of chronic violent offenders when they are charged with additional crimes against people, or crimes committed with weapons – unless prosecutors are satisfied the risk to the public can be minimized by bail rules.

At the same time, the province ended a previous policy that advised the Crown to avoid trying to keep offenders in custody unless prosecutors expected prison terms to be appropriate upon conviction.

Mr. Rankin also said that the provincial government was transferring 21 prosecutors to new response teams aimed at monitoring and providing wraparound care to “that small number of people, repeat violent offenders, who are causing so much harm.”

Last week, the province announced it is recruiting up to 40 new Crown prosecutors in 2023, in part to fill vacancies left by the new dedicated repeat-offender prosecutors.

Creating that specialized class of Crown prosecutors was one of 28 recommendations criminal justice researcher Amanda Butler and former VPD deputy chief Doug LePard made in September, in a report to the province written in response to the complaints from the group of mayors led by Ms. Helps.

Dr. Butler, a consultant and postdoctoral researcher at McMaster University, said Mr. Majidpour’s extensive record highlights the criminal justice system’s failure to help people who continue to hurt strangers.

“There were quite a few opportunities to intervene, but you just see this cycle of adding [parole] conditions that the person is clearly not going to comply with,” Dr. Butler said.

Some police officers told her and Mr. LePard that, instead of arresting people for violent offences, including stranger attacks, they were detaining them under B.C.’s Mental Health Act and sending them to local hospitals. These people were often quickly released without any conditions to protect the public from further outbursts.

That Mr. Majidpour quickly began reoffending each time he was released from jail proves locking up mentally ill offenders does not provide a “long-term sustainable benefit to the community,” Dr. Butler said.

The report from her and Mr. LePard recommended the creation of “low secure units” – facilities for people with complex mental-health and substance-use needs, who are at high risk of harming others.

They cautioned that people should only be sent to these places after all voluntary options have been exhausted. And they said accountability mechanisms should be in place to ensure compliance with the provincial Mental Health Act.

In Britain, the researchers wrote, repeat offenders are diverted to a forensic hospital system that has been successful in treating their concurrent mental-health and substance-use problems. They recommended that B.C.’s government push the federal government to craft legislation that would allow for such care – which would be an expensive undertaking, because many more hospital beds would need to be created.

Mr. Majidpour’s latest assault and subsequent shoplifting charges are still winding their way through court. Even his family is surprised by the way he has cycled in and out of the justice system while hurting himself and others.

His brother, who lives in the Philippines, heads off awkward conversations by telling extended family and friends there that Mr. Majidpour is a happy family man in Canada.

Mr. Majidpour’s brother, whom The Globe is not identifying because he fears the media attention would damage his career, said he is crushed that the man who taught him how to cook, and who was once his role model, has been grappling with intense paranoia for years while being failed by the Canadian justice system.

“I don’t know why they don’t really have a way to help people like that,” he said in a phone interview. “What does it take for someone to put him in rehab? If they just put him back in the street, he’s going to do something stupid.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said summary offences carry maximum sentences of two years in prison. The correct maximum is six months. Editor’s note: A previous version of this story was incorrectly changed to say summary offences carry maximum sentences of six months in prison. Since 2019 the maximum sentence for almost all these offences has been two years less a day.

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