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Province launching new community safety action plan

By Richmond Sentinel

Published 10:35 PST, Mon November 21, 2022

The province is making changes to help keep British Columbians safe, launching a new Safer Communities Action Plan with immediate steps that will strengthen enforcement to keep those who commit repeat violent offences off B.C. streets, and strengthen services to build safe, healthy communities for everyone.

The new measures respond to a rise in repeat violent offending linked to unintended impacts of federal law changes and subsequent Supreme Court decisions, and increased mental-health and addiction challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the toxic drug crisis.

"Being compassionate, concerned, and taking action on mental-health and addiction issues does not mean that we have to accept repeated criminal behaviour or violence," said Premier David Eby. "Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community. We are making changes to bring key groups together to keep people and communities safe—ensuring those who commit violent acts face consequences, and creating as many opportunities as possible for them to address mental-health and addiction issues to break the cycle of a life in and out of jail."

The Safer Communities Action Plan lays out concrete steps at the provincial level to make communities safer under two tracks: enforcement and intervention services. Each initiative is structured to improve co-ordination between law enforcement, community service organizations, justice system actors, health providers, and people who are recovering from addiction and mental-health challenges in a collaborative, co-ordinated approach to address the issues people are seeing in their communities.

New measures announced include:

• Launching new repeat violent offender co-ordinated response teams, made up of police and dedicated prosecutors and probation officers

• Expanding mental-health crisis response teams into more communities so police can focus on crime, and so people in crisis are met early on by health-care workers and community members

• Taking the next steps in creating a new model of addictions care at St. Paul's Hospital so people can seamlessly move from crisis response in the emergency room, to detox, to treatment services, in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care, with plans to expand this model in the future

• Opening 10 new Indigenous Justice Centres to provide culturally appropriate support for Indigenous Peoples involved in the justice system to address the root causes of their involvement in the system and help them break the cycle

• Going after the houses, cars, and luxury goods of high-level organized criminals who profit on misery by introducing "unexplained wealth order" legislation in spring 2023

• Building public confidence in the prosecution system with new direction from the attorney general to prosecutors to implement a clear and understandable approach to bail for repeat violent offenders within the existing federal law; the new policy will take effect on Nov. 22

"B.C.'s communities have seen a steady growth in random violence and unchecked vandalism in downtown cores due to repeat offenders,” said Jen Ford, president of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and a Whistler councillor. “Local governments have been responding to this complex issue and we are pleased to see a provincial commitment to address it through improved enforcement measures and increased complex care resources. The new action plan promises to advance efforts in both areas, and UBCM welcomes its implementation."

The plan includes other co-ordination measures, such as better support for people with acquired brain injuries through overdose or other injury—with a focus on those involved in the criminal justice system—through increased funding for the Brain Injury Alliance, more integrated information sharing between justice and community partners to strengthen case management and expanding the use of technology to guide police in gathering, and sharing information with doctors and nurses during mental-health crisis situations.

These actions align with recommendations from a number of reports on community safety, including the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, the First Nations Justice Strategy, and the Investigation into Repeat Offending and Random Stranger Violence.

The Safer Communities Action Plan complements the B.C.-led action with other provinces and territories to pressure the federal government to address the consequences of changes to the federal bail system that have made it more difficult to hold people who commit repeat, violent offences in custody while they are waiting for trial.

The action plan also builds on work already underway by the provincial government to help break the cycle of repeat offending and build safe and healthy communities, including complex-care housing, new and expanded community transition teams to better support people who are leaving correctional facilities, and funding to support work by the BC First Nations Justice Council to develop better, culturally appropriate supports for Indigenous people in the legal system.

"The BC First Nations Justice Council is very grateful to our new premier, David Eby, who has committed to advance Strategy 4 of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, and has committed funding to establish 10 new Indigenous Justice Centres in B.C.,” said Kory Wilson, director of the First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC). “The Indigenous justice centres are a cornerstone of the Justice Strategy and the solution to many public-safety issues our province and our communities are experiencing. Lifting up Indigenous people to lead this work for ourselves is the right approach: it aligns with B.C.'s commitment to implement the UN Declaration and has the potential to reverse decades of appalling statistics that speak to the growing overrepresentation of our people in the justice and child welfare systems. BCFNJC remains steadfast in our commitment to reforming colonial justice and child welfare systems, and (this) announcement is an enormous step in the right direction."

Since 2017, the government has taken steps to make B.C. communities safer by taking action to stop the money laundering and organized crime that fuels the toxic drug crisis, providing resources to police, reversing cuts to sexual assault centres, increasing crime prevention and victim support services funding, and record investments in housing, mental health, and poverty reduction.

The LePard-Butler investigation into repeat offending and violent stranger attacks' 28 recommendations were released on Sept. 21, and the full report was made public on Oct. 1. The recommendations cover several areas, including:
• Improving the system of care for people in the criminal justice system with mental-health and substance-use challenges

• Creating more opportunities to divert people from the criminal justice system

• Improving services for Indigenous Peoples

• Improving collaboration between partners, including community services, law enforcement, and all levels of government

• Addressing repeat offending and improving public confidence in the justice system

To read more about the Safer Communities Action Plan, visit strongerbc.gov.bc.ca/safer-communities.

To read the full repeat offender investigation report, as well as the BC First Nations Justice Council's submission to the investigation panel, visit news.gov.bc.ca/files/Prolific_Offender_Report_BCFNJC_submission.pdf.

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