British Columbia’s new strategy to address violent, repeat offenders will include co-ordinated teams of police, prosecutors and correctional officers, as well as information sharing and new directives to prosecutors regarding bail, Premier David Eby announced Sunday.
Mr. Eby, who was sworn in as B.C.’s 37th Premier on Friday, said the Safer Communities Action Plan will follow two tracks: enforcement and intervention services. A suite of measures is intended to improve co-ordination between groups including law enforcement, community service organizations, health providers, and people living with mental-health and addiction challenges to address issues playing out in many B.C. communities.
“Simply because we understand, and we’re compassionate about addiction and mental-health issues, doesn’t mean we need to tolerate violent crime in our communities,” Mr. Eby told a news conference in Vancouver on Sunday. He was joined by supporters including the city’s mayor and police chief, and representatives from mental-health and Indigenous justice.
Last April, B.C.’s urban mayors had sent a letter to Mr. Eby, then attorney-general, saying the justice system is failing to stop a small number of repeat offenders from committing an outsized amount of crime in their communities. In Vancouver, Ken Sim’s ABC party swept to victory in October’s municipal election promising to address issues of crime, safety, drug use and mental health.
The new measures include launching new “repeat violent offender co-ordinated response teams,” comprising police officers, 21 dedicated prosecutors, 21 probation officers and nine correctional supervisors who will share information and monitor high-risk repeat offender cases through the criminal-justice system.
The province will also work in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care to create a new model of addictions care at St. Paul’s Hospital so people who arrive in the emergency department can more easily move to detox, supportive housing or other services, Mr. Eby said.
As well, the province will commit $3-million to expand mobile programs that pair police officers with health care workers to respond to mental-health calls, and create 12 peer-assisted care teams (PACT) comprising trained peers and mental-health professionals to respond to people in distress, either instead of or alongside police.
“These teams offer invaluable, trauma-informed, culturally safer care to people in their own homes and communities, freeing up police to do their jobs,” said Jonny Morris, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s B.C. division. “We expect that PACT, including within this expansion, will prevent unnecessary involvements with our already stressed emergency room system.”
Ten new Indigenous justice centres, on top of three existing in-person centres and one virtual centre, aim to address Indigenous overrepresentation in the criminal-justice system and root causes of offences.
Attorney-General Murray Rankin has also issued a new directive to the BC Prosecution Service “to implement a clear and understandable approach to bail for repeat violent offenders within the existing federal law,” according to the province.
The updated policy, which takes effect Tuesday, says that when a repeat, violent offender is charged with an offence against a person or involving a weapon, Crown counsel should consider factors including similar outstanding charges, and breaches of conditions or a weapons prohibition, and seek detention unless it is satisfied the risk to public safety can be reduced to an acceptable level by bail conditions.
By spring, the province says it will introduce “unexplained wealth order” legislation, giving the province power to seize property that appears to be beyond a person’s financial means if the owner cannot sufficiently explain the source of the wealth. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which typically comes after a conviction, and civil and administrative forfeiture, which do not require criminal charges or a conviction, unexplained wealth orders do not necessarily require even a clear link to crime.
The BC Civil Liberties Association, of which Mr. Eby was once executive director, has called unexplained wealth orders an “unnecessary expansion of government power and an unacceptable infringement of Canadians’ rights to the presumption of innocence, due process and privacy.”
Mr. Eby said Sunday that he expects the legislation, which would be a first in Canada, will be challenged in court.
“But British Columbians expect us to do a couple of things. One is to make sure that this is a province where, if you work hard and you follow the rules, that the government is in your corner,” he said.
“The second is that we don’t want our kids to be attracted to a criminal lifestyle by people with fancy cars, fancy clothes, fancy homes, that are earning their money on the misery of people who are suffering in our streets. … I have no doubt that this will be challenged in court because it is new. But I believe we will be successful.”
Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon accused Mr. Eby of opportunism, saying these measures had been prepared for months and were withheld for the new Premier to take credit.
“What was announced today could have been done at any point over the past 5½-years while David Eby was Attorney-General, but instead he stood by and did nothing while the problem exploded out of control,” Mr. Falcon said in a statement.