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Les Leyne: Quietly-released crime report is alarming

The operative tone seems to be: “Issue raised, problems identified, action underway, let’s move on.”
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Suspicions arose on the weekend when the full report on two high-profile crime problems — prolific offenders and random stranger violence — was unobtrusively posted by the NDP government.

An executive summary and 28 recommendations were made public in mid-September in more conventional fashion. But the full 140-page report was posted Saturday morning. It came with a brief recap of the report’s origins, an assurance the NDP government is working on three recommendations, and no opportunity for questions.

The operative tone seems to be: “Issue raised, problems identified, action underway, let’s move on.”

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said it was just a matter of timing. The full report was promised by the end of the month, but releasing it on Truth and Reconciliation Day would have been out of line. Releasing it as the legislature resumed sitting Monday could have looked like hiding it, he said.

But the off-handed release in the middle of what was a long weekend for some still looks like downplaying the situation.

After reading the full report it’s easy to understand why.

The executive summary was a grim read, but the full report is much, much worse. It accentuates the strong impressions that prolific offenders are running something close to rampant in many B.C. communities. It double-checks and reconfirms that unprovoked random stranger attacks are on the upswing.

The real alarm, though, is the pervasive feeling that there are limited options when it comes to doing much of anything about those problems.

Farnworth said the government has adopted three of the 28 recommendations and is studying the rest. But the full report acknowledges that there is a long history of governments ordering similar reports, getting similar recommendations and then either shelving them or starting programs that later wither away.

One of three items getting priority, for instance, is to resurrect a prolific offender management program that foundered after four years, 10 years ago because of in-fighting between departments.

Another is to form a “dedicated provincial committee” to coordinate supports for offenders in the system. The third is to back a pilot project to support Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

Is anyone filled with hope at the prospect of another committee being formed?

Quick action is promised on other changes, but it’s an entirely empty promise. It would require budget increases by several orders of magnitude in several areas to accomplish that. So the assurance that “many of the recommendations align with work underway” sounds like the beginning of a cop out.

The report explicitly warns everyone that despite the 28 recommendations, there is no fix on the imminent horizon.

“There is no magic bullet, or quick solution to either of these “wicked problems” say consulting authors Doug LePard and Amanda Butler.

Easing the corrosive fear that public safety is failing needs a range of complementary strategies and active engagement by all governments across the board, they wrote.

The twin crime crises are the “downstream” effects of “upstream” social problems that will need enormous sustained new resources to tackle.

Vancouver and Victoria get the most attention, but there’s one anecdote that illustrates how pervasive the crises are. The report states that in little Oak Bay, the 23-member police department gets a call about once a month to pick up an individual on a mental health warrant. He’s a cop hater who goes off his meds, becomes paranoid and carries a machete.

Apprehending him is a big issue that can require days of surveillance to execute safely. They get him to hospital, “then we repeat a month later,” police told the authors. “That has a huge impact on our resources.”

LePard and Butler also did a focus group with an assortment of retailers who were unanimous that, regardless of what crime statistics say, the theft and violence picture in B.C. is the worst it has ever been.

One chain used to have 22 uniformed guards in western Canada. It now has 322, half of them in B.C. Another chain is seeing the number of attacks on staff jump considerably.

While fentanyl gets a lot of public attention, methamphetamine use is “skyrocketing” and is a big contributor to the horrifying random stranger attacks.

Anyone headed upstream to fix these problems has to start out with a huge budget and a willingness to wait well past the usual election cycle to see results.

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