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Province launches investigation into 'stranger attacks' and repeat offenders

Former Vancouver police deputy chief Doug LePard and Amanda Butler, a health researcher and criminologist, will conduct the probe into repeat offenders and the recent rise in violent attacks.
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Attorney General David Eby makes an announcement about keeping communities safe at the B.C. legislature in Victoria on Thursday, May 5, 2022. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

B.C. has launched an investigation into prolific criminals and the escalation of attacks on strangers, amid calls for action from community and business leaders.

Attorney General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the government has heard the concerns and is taking action.

“Any time that someone is a victim of crime, whether it’s a property crime or a violent crime, they, along with their families and sometimes entire communities are affected,” Eby said. Untreated mental health conditions and addictions are some of the underlying issues, he said, and are major factors in some of the repeated property crimes.

Although overall crime rates have declined, said Farnworth, there is a small group of prolific offenders who have repeatedly victimized British Columbians, accounting for a disproportionate number of crimes, “including unprovoked random attacks, violence, graffiti, shoplifting, or property damage.”

“We know the shift in crime patterns is having an impact on people’s feelings of safety,” he said, noting the solutions will be multifaceted and include mental health supports, prosecution efforts, and policing.

“That’s why our government is partnering with B.C. mayors to launch an investigation — to identify steps we can take to stop the scourge of prolific offenders and protect people and communities.”

A report is due back in 120 days.

To conduct the probe, the province hired Doug LePard, a former Vancouver police deputy chief, and Amanda Butler, a health researcher and criminologist who specializes in mental health and substance use disorders.

“Failing to address this issue is not an option,” Eby said.

B.C. Liberal house leader Todd Stone said failing to take action, however, is exactly what the NDP government is doing. “The best the NDP can do is commission a report … that they may or may not act upon,” said Stone. “That’s simply not good enough.”

The report is unlikely to identify anything that prosecutors, law enforcement, mayors and British Columbians haven’t already put forward “for years,” said Stone. “Everybody is asking, urging, pleading with the government to step up and take action today.”

Four random assaults occur in Vancouver every day, said Stone. There are a range of levers the attorney general could pull today, he said. “And the fact he’s not simply reflects an attorney general that’s soft on crime and unwilling to take the bold action that’s required to keep people safe in their communities today.”

B.C. Green Party’s Adam Olsen, a member on the special committee on reforming the Police Act, said it’s important the government clearly identify the issues and the reasons why prolific offenders are being quickly released to the streets.

“So it’s important that we take time and space to understand the problem but then get on with implementing recommendations and measures to deal with this,” said Olsen. “This is not a new issue.”

The investigation is being launched in co-operation with the Urban Mayors’ Caucus, a group of mayors from 13 cities representing just over 55 per cent of the province’s population.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, co-chairs of the caucus, were alongside the ministers Thursday when they made their announcement.

The mayors asked for action in December and wrote to Eby April 5, citing a Victoria offender who generated 248 police incidents and 55 charges in two years, and similar cases elsewhere. In Vancouver, 40 “super chronic offenders” have an average of 54 convictions per offender.

Helps said as part of the mayors’ review of repeat offenders, it was revealed that 200 people had 11,000 police interactions.

“This is obviously a significant issue,” she said.

Property owners in downtown Victoria are tired after two years of the pandemic and want to see changes downtown, she said. “And people whose family members are those 200 or so prolific offenders, they want help, they want help for their family members.”

The mayors recommended stricter bail conditions and consequences for repeat property offenders, and more investment in B.C. Prosecution Service resources such as dedicated prosecutors for prolific offenders.

Helps applauded the government’s swift action on the mayors’ call for help.

Announcement of the report comes on the heels of a random violent attack Wednesday in which a James Bay woman was pushed from behind face-first into the corner of a wall causing a gash to her face and head injuries.

Opposition critic Karin Kirkpatrick cited the attack in question period Thursday, saying: “Despite denials by the attorney general, random assaults in our communities have increased dramatically; when will the attorney general end his catch and release and get prolific offenders off our streets?”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com