Penticton’s mayor and top police officer are cautiously optimistic – but awaiting more details – about planned justice reforms announced by B.C.’s new premier.
David Eby on Sunday sketched out the rough details of a six-point Safer Communities Action Plan in direct response to growing public concern about issues arising from addictions, mental illness and homelessness.
Highlights of the plan include two measures to deal with violent repeat offenders: new co-ordinated response teams, made up of police, and dedicated prosecutors and probation officers; and direction to the BC Prosecution Service to tighten up bail procedures for violent repeat offenders.
Other moves include expansion of mental-health crisis response teams into more communities to assist police, a new model of addictions care that will be trialled at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, 10 new Indigenous Justice Centres and legislation to more easily seize assets from members of organized crime groups.
“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 Eby in a press release issued on what was just his second full day in office.
“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 government’s release contains no details about the timelines for the new measures or the communities where new resources will be added, leaving local officials hedging their bets for now.
“It goes without saying that any action in relation to holding our prolific offenders to account will be welcomed by the police and our community,” said Penticton RCMP Supt. Brian Hunter in an email Monday.
“Adding mental health and addictions experts/supports to our policing strategies in regards to managing our most vulnerable clients who are suffering from mental-health and addictions issues will go a long way to making our communities a safer and healthier place to live.
“I will wait and see what the finer details of the premier’s announcement (Sunday) actually entails in relation to policing, prior to making any comment about the policing aspect.”
Mayor Julius Bloomfield was of a similar mind but noted the plan seems to respond to the city’s oft-repeated concerns about public disorder, “especially dealing with prolific offenders and ending the catch-and-release system.”
“But the proof’s in the pudding, really,” continued Bloomfield. “And we need to see a response from the province and Interior Health on the root cause of the issue, and that is the drugs that are being consumed today are very different from the drugs of yesteryear or the last century.”
Meanwhile, B.C.’s new premier kept the announcements rolling with Monday’s unveiling of legislation designed to increase the supply of housing.
The new law would end strata prohibitions on rentals, end age restrictions in stratas except those catering to the 55-plus set, and work with municipalities to speed up the housing approval process by setting targets and implementing incentives and penalties to keep local governments on track.
Bloomfield believes Penticton is pulling its weight already but welcomes more help.
“I think in the last four years we’ve had 600 rental units built and the latest numbers I saw there were 500 residential units under construction. There’s just over 1,000 residential units approved and I know we’ve got another 650 in the development application process and then we’ve got more coming after that,” said Bloomfield, who noted council has also sought to ensure new housing offers a good quality of life.
“Market conditions are a little bit different now, some of those applications may not come to fruition, but I think overall Penticton has been a willing participant in increasing the housing supply.”