A wave of gang-related shootings in Surrey has prompted the city's mayor to propose changing the rules for criminal prosecution to get more accused gunmen before the courts.
Linda Hepner's suggestion Thursday came amidst a wave of drug-related shootings in British Columbia's second-largest city – more than 30 for 2016 – that have alarmed the public. At least nine people have been injured in the shootings and one killed, according to media reports.
"We have become so overburdened with process requirements," Ms. Hepner said in an interview.
"Lessening that charge-approval process in terms of how many i's need to be dotted and t's need to be crossed is, in fact, going to he helpful. It allows us to get people before the court sooner."
In British Columbia, the Crown makes the decision about whether to lay charges. Elsewhere in Canada, the police do.
Ms. Hepner noted that charge approval in British Columbia calls for a substantial likelihood of conviction as opposed to a probability of conviction – "a nuance of language that creates a heavier burden" for prosecutors.
Instead, she proposed "probability of conviction" as the standard under which Crowns attorneys would operate in British Columbia.
When deciding whether to lay charges, Crowns attorneys in British Columbia are obligated, under the Crown Counsel Act, to consider whether there is a substantial likelihood of conviction and, if so, whether prosecution is required in the public interest. The act says a substantial likelihood of conviction exists when the Crown "is satisfied there is a strong, solid case of substance to present to the Court."
But Solicitor-General Mike Morris ruled out changes to the charge-approval process, saying in an interview Thursday that the charge-approval process is up to the Crown and not politicians or police.
"The terms of reference and the policy under which Crown works is broad enough that they have some discretion based on public-safety issues that they can take into consideration," he said at the legislature.
The minister said, without elaborating, that the government is looking at providing extra resources for the Crown as soon as possible.
"I'm trying to make B.C. as safe as possible. If we've got street-level gangsters out there, I'm trying to do everything that we can to put them behind bars."
NDP MLA Bruce Ralston, who represents a Surrey riding, said Thursday he doubted a change in prosecution protocols would help.
He said the issue is less about charge approvals than a policing trend that is more reactive than pro-active.
In the legislature, Mr. Ralston asked Mr. Morris about the gang situation in Surrey, and the Solicitor-General said he could not say much without compromising ongoing overt and covert police activities.
He said he was eager to brief any members from Surrey on the situation.
"This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue where all members of the House need to get together to alleviate the fears in Surrey," he said.
Ms. Hepner said various measures are being taken to deal with the criminal activity in Surrey, including the deployment of new Mounties.
While the recent incidents of gang-related violence have involved targeted shootings, she said she is concerned about the risk of harm to bystanders.
Mr. Morris was scheduled, on Friday, to make an announcement on gun violence in Surrey with Ms. Hepner.