British Columbians hoping for an end to street violence and prolific criminals are going to have to wait a long time, pony up a lot of taxpayer money, and sit through a frustrating amount of political gamesmanship before the situation gets any better.
That’s the takeaway following the BC government’s release of an independent report on the issue Wednesday. Two expert authors tabled 28 recommendations to tackle the severe addictions, mental health issues, and shortcomings in the justice system that underpin the worsening problem of random violence and crimes being perpetrated by a small group of repeat offenders.
Mayors were right
The report validated BC’s urban mayors, who have for the past year been begging the BC NDP government to do something about the issue. At times, under attack, the government fell back on insisting the situation wasn’t quite as bad as the critics were making it out to be because the overall crime rate was dropping.
Still, there has been no escaping the stories of people in full-blown crisis on the streets; screaming, vandalizing stores, stealing and assaulting citizens while in the grips of drug-induced psychosis, or due to a mental health injury.
“It’s great news that crime overall is generally down in Canada,” said report co-author Doug LePard, a former Metro Vancouver Transit Police chief.
“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.”
Could take years
The summary of the report (the full version won’t be released until the end of the month) paints a damning picture of the justice and healthcare systems in BC.
The mental health system is full of gaps. Police aren’t equipped to respond to growing mental health and addiction calls. Courts aren’t able to keep repeat offenders behind bars due to federal rules, even if they are addicted or ill. Prosecutors are getting fewer convictions, and taking longer to do it. Housing is scarce and expensive. Street drugs are toxic and fuelling psychosis. And whatever social safety net the public might think exists to help these people is failing on almost all fronts. Changing all of this could take years.
Then there’s the elephant in the room that nobody but NDP leadership candidate David Eby wants to talk about: involuntary treatment. Basically, taking prolific criminals who are out of control on drugs, or with an untreated illness, and forcing them into care to break the cycle.
It’s an idea that has split addiction experts, and is opposed by both civil liberties groups and First Nations leaders.
The expert report said BC could create “low secure units” where people at risk of violence, with untreated issues, repeatedly caught up by the courts, could be held with 24/7 healthcare and access to other housing and social supports.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the government will analyze the idea. But that’s just to buy time until Eby becomes the next premier and pushes it ahead himself.
Expensive to do right
The rest of the report outlines the coordination, funding, and resources that need to be pumped into police, civilian-led mental health crisis teams, courts, prosecutors, mental health, addiction, and hospital systems.
“This is going to be expensive to do right,” said Attorney General Murray Rankin, who stopped short of providing a figure. “There’ll be budgetary consequences as a result of this.”
How politics will play a role
The NDP government also made it clear in the rollout Wednesday that it intends to insert partisan politics into the decision-making on solutions.
Instead of tackling some of the 28 recommendations labelled “urgent” by the report’s authors — such as emergency resources in the prison and addictions systems — the NDP cherry-picked a lesser pilot project on a prolific offender case management system as one of three “important” items to immediately restore.
Did that have anything to do with the fact the pilot program was cancelled by the previous Liberal government in 2012?
Farnworth bristled when asked.
“This isn’t about embarrassing previous governments,” said Farnworth. “Their record speaks for itself.”
Apparently not though — because at the same time the minister was talking, the BC NDP’s partisan attack wing issued a press release pinning the entire prolific offender issue on this one 10-year-old pilot program, while blaming BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon.
The icing on the cake? Farnworth was quoted in the partisan attack he claimed wasn’t occurring.
“It is deeply troubling that because the BC Liberals did not want to spend $120,000 a year to continue a program that was keeping our streets safer, we are now facing a decade of catchup on this important issue,” read the Farnworth statement.
“When Kevin Falcon is looking for the reasons why we are dealing with that issue today, he should look in the mirror.”
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It’s not clear who the BC NDP thinks is dumb enough to fall for its poorly conceived, and even more poorly executed, spin on prolific offenders.
To do so, you’d have to believe a four-year pilot project on a case “management” system that brought government ministries together for monthly meetings would miraculously solve the deep-rooted addictions, mental health, and crime issues identified by the independent authors — all for the low, low price of $120,000 a year.
New Democrats couldn’t seem to help themselves from turning an independent report written by apolitical experts into a weapon to score political points.
In that, the takeaway is clear: even if this government finds the money and time to execute the complicated overhaul that’s needed — its true motivation is cheap political gain, not improving public safety on the streets.
Rob is Daily Hive’s Political Columnist, tackling the biggest political stories in BC. You can catch him on CHEK News as their on-air Political Correspondent.