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Les Leyne: Eby eyes 'profound' crime intervention

Left hanging in the air is the point that he was minister responsible for it over five full years.
Premier-designate David Eby, in Vancouver on Oct. 20, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Premier-designate David Eby is getting buried in free advice now that he’s officially the leader of the NDP and soon to be sworn in as premier.

Here’s yet another tip: Stop wasting time objecting to “catch and release” when critics use it to describe the bail system.

Premier John Horgan and his government got tired of the tag during the months that concern mounted about prolific ­offenders and random stranger attacks on downtown streets.

Although Horgan ­recognized the obvious problems, he ­dismissed the phrase as a “bumper sticker” slogan that the Opposition was using just for effect.

But it’s a perfectly apt description that is essentially confirmed by the prosecution service itself. Eby showed signs of recognizing as much at a Friday news conference, which would be one step toward doing something about it.

He recalled being a lawyer on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and seeing people get sentenced to a couple of weeks in jail.

“They would come out and they weren’t better. Often times they were in a worse state. And they would repeat the cycle again and again and again.”

The difference between his days as a street lawyer and now is that the cycle is even shorter. Federal law, Supreme Court of Canada decisions and stresses in the provincially run justice system mean many offenders skip the jail part, sometimes even the charging part, and just get arrested and released.

That was confirmed in the independent report that Eby commissioned before stepping down from the attorney general post to run for leader.

On Friday he acknowledged the scope of the problem. ­“British Columbians have seen … an issue where our criminal justice system is not responding in the way that it needs to, to ensure public safety.” Left ­hanging in the air is the point that he was minister responsible for it over five full years.

The solution to stopping the merry-go-round is “profound intervention.”

“We can’t address it by ­playing political games about it,” he said, suggesting there is still some resentment about the catch and release phrase.

Parts of what he billed as a “100-day action plan” are some unspecified moves on public safety.

“The commitment I’m making today … you will see action from our government, but what you will see is action that actually addresses the issue that causes so much chaos. … The issues of mental health, addiction and homelessness and the need to intervene and break the cycle.”

When Eby was handed responsibility for ICBC he swung for the fences and accomplished the biggest overhaul of that system ever, beyond what most thought possible.

It will take another grand slam to follow through on the public safety crisis.

Although specific moves to toughen up the justice mill are not ruled out, Eby said there are limits. “We can’t direct Crown c­ounsel to violate federal law,” he said.

It looks like he’s aiming at the root causes that lie behind the constant parade of offenders shuttling through the courts and back on the streets. That could be more effective, but it would take longer to make a ­difference.

Just So You Know: There’s a leftover issue in the wake of the leadership race that was cancelled this week with the NDP’s decision to disqualify Anjali Appadurai and award the job to Eby.

During the party’s last ­desperate effort to sort out the scandal arising from her raid on the B.C. Green Party for ­members, the NDP made a ludicrous appeal to the Greens: Hand over your membership list to an independent third-party, so we can cross-check names.

The B.C. Greens rejected the concept immediately, on ­obvious privacy grounds. The NDP responded with this: “If a ­significant portion of the Green membership is attempting a ­hostile takeover of the NDP … we would wonder whether it puts its status as a registered political party in jeopardy.”

That’s the party holding power and running the government, threatening to get a minority party with two seats defrocked because it wouldn’t help them out of a jam.

B.C. Green Leader Sonia Fursteneau said this week: “All of us should be alarmed when a governing party with that much power and that much size makes a threat like that. They are not the arbiters, that’s Elections B.C.

“These are very worrying kinds of comments.”

It’s just one more thing on Eby’s to-do list — tone down the bullying attitude.

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