The City of Terrace wants the province to crack down on prolific offenders in the criminal justice system, and a least a few of the City of Duncan’s council members agree.
The City sent a letter to each member of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, including the Municipality of North Cowichan and the City of Duncan, asking that they support an initiative urging the BC Prosecution Service to get tougher with its prosecutions of prolific offenders.
The BCPS, also called Crown Counsel, is the agency that has the responsibility to approve and conduct all prosecutions of offences in the province.
The City of Terrace is expected to present a resolution for consideration calling for tougher laws at the 2022 North Central Local Government Association at its AGM in May, and if the resolution is endorsed by the NCLGA, it will be forwarded to Union of B.C. Municipalities for consideration by all of the delegates at this year’s conference in September.
Many businesses and property owners in the Cowichan Valley, particularly those in the troubled highway corridor area, have often alleged that the police and courts have a “catch-and release” program in that many people who are arrested for property and other crimes often end up being released from custody on the same day and often immediately continue with their criminal activities. The letter, written by Terrace’s CAO Alisa Thompson on behalf of council, said that in B.C., it has been the practice of Crown Counsel to release offenders of crimes without charges or conditions, citing charges are not in the public interest. Thompson said, as a result, repeat offenders are free to recommit crimes without consequences.
“A disproportionate amount of crime, particularly property crime, is committed by a minority of habitual offenders,” she said.
“Unfortunately, communities, local business owners and workers, the economy, as well as the public feel the impacts of repeat offenders who commit property crimes and thefts repeatedly and without consequence.”
Thompson said that, for example, in Terrace in 2021, there were 423 instances of failure-to-appear in court warrants, but only two people were charged.
She said two individuals in Terrace failed to appear in court 26 and 21 times each from February 2021 to February 2022, and neither have been charged with failure to appear.
“There was an average of six failure-to-appear warrants each week, which is a burden on the RCMP to administer and ultimately is fruitless as there are no consequences for not appearing in court,” Thompson said.
“The revolving door of crime, apprehension by the authorities, and then the subsequent release of these habitual offenders erodes public confidence in our legal system. Police and law enforcement agencies as well as victim services are also burdened by repeat calls and reports of crime.”
At the City of Duncan’s council meeting on April 4, Coun. Tom Duncan said he wanted the letter on council’s agenda for the meeting because, during the past two years of the pandemic, the City has noted that the legal system has been unable to keep some offenders incarcerated, even if they were prolific offenders.
“So this is something council should take a look at and be prepared to perhaps vote for the resolution when it comes up at the UCBM convention in September,” Duncan said.
Mayor Michelle Staples also said she was pleased to see the letter from Terrace on the meeting’s agenda after all the conversations the City has had over the issue before and during the pandemic with the local business community.
“I’m happy to see Terrace move forward with this,” she said.
“This will be a big topic of discussion at the [UCBM conference] given the things I’ve been hearing from other places as well.”