LETTER – Changes needed to address criminal activity in community

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

The following is a letter sent this week by the North Shore Business Association to federal and provincial politicians:

The Honourable David Lametti, PC, QC, MP Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
The Honourable David Eby Q.C., Attorney General of British Columbia
The Hourable Patty Hajdu Minister of Health, Canada
The Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, B.C.

Regarding: Changes to Criminal Accountability, Complex Care systems and Legislative Inefficiencies

The Kamloops North Shore Business Improvement Area Association (NSBIA) represents the interests of approximately 423 business and property owners on Kamloops’ North Shore. Over the past few weeks, we have been expressing our desire to see positive community changes occur, in our community, across our province, and ultimately in the benefit of Canada as a whole.

A couple of months ago, we began an advocacy campaign with one serious concern: Our business community is under siege from willful repeat criminal activity which appears to be unchecked by our enforcement services (RCMP). We expressed this concern to our Mayor and our RCMP superintendent (please see additional package of letters and responses attached). The Mayor responded with a letter expressing his shared perception that catch and release policing is being practiced, and that this style of enforcement is a negative influence on our community safety, security and prosperity. Our RCMP Superintendent, while not responding to our concerns directly, did make a presentation to our council, at which time he noted that property crimes are up 13% over the same period in 2019. He further went on to discuss how he feels that charge provisions and the impact of the Gladue decision are hampering his officer’s ability to move forward with charges. In essence, his final words to council were, it’s going to get worse before it gets any better. This is a statement he has made to our community numerous times before.

The NSBIA are actively lobbying our leaders to take bold action to refine, change or align our legislative and practical practices to create positive outcomes of a safe, secure and healthy community. We are intimately aware that the current health crisis (Opioids, COVID, etc.) is not helpful. However, this crisis has served us all by illuminating the fundamental flaws in the linkages (or lack thereof) between our Criminal Justice and Health Care systems.

We feel that it is time to act to restore a strong accountability for willful, repetitive, criminal activity through our criminal justice system, while also reviewing our Health Care spectrum to ensure the complex care systems are in place which supports alternate provisions, prior to the implementation of alternate Court systems. This means a move from Crisis (Opioid Housing) to a Complex Care system including laddered housing and healing programs, robust detox and sobering supports, wraparound care for housing and healing programs, and ultimately a roadmap to health for our most vulnerable and displaced populations in support of healthy community outcomes for all our citizens.

The NSBIA are seeking the following outcomes on behalf of our membership and tangentially, our community. While we are mandated to represent the best interests of our business community, key outcomes of; safe and secure communities, accountability for willful criminal activity, clear sentencing guidelines for repeat criminal offenders, as well as a robust and predictive healthy community outcome metric are key to achieving the goals of achieving a vibrant and healthy community. These requests are made with the intent and understanding that these outcomes benefit both the business and residential community equally.

1) Clarify and Enhance B.C.’s Charge Assessment Standards

The current approach to charge assessments appears to not meet the test as laid out within the Public Interest Test, therefore we request a review of the application of the Public Interest Test and ask that assurances or language within the BC Provincial Charge Assessment Guidelines are clarified to ensure public interest is considered with appropriate weight.

  1. Example: A serial arsonist has been loose within Kamloops and has lit or attempted to light multiple fires. This individual has been detained and released multiple times, due to mental illness. The response from an attending RCMP Officer at one of these fire locations (which was subject to arson three times) was that no major damage occurred and no one was injured, indicating that until major structural damage or potential injury or death occurred the perpetrator’s actions did not warrant detention and potential charges.
  2. An arsonist approached a security vehicle while a security guard was nearby on patrol. The arsonist poured a liquid on the hood of the security vehicle in full site of a security camera, which he appeared to look at during the action. Within a few seconds the car hood was ablaze. The security officer rushed over and extinguished the blaze and called RCMP. A few days later RCMP responded when Video evidence was forwarded. The officer’s initial response was: “there is no proof he actually lit the match”. This despite the fact the arsonist was on camera and was the only individual in proximity to the vehicle at the time the fire “mysteriously” started.

While mental health issues often play into these situations, it should not be the primary consideration at the cost of public interest. It appears that Mental health is often utilized as a justification for not pursuing charges. Instead, sufficient mental health supports should be in place within all BC jurisdictions to provide appropriate alternate care and detention supports:

“If reasonable alternatives are available, they should be pursued.

“the public interest has been or can be served without a prosecution by the BC Prosecution Service, including through restorative justice methods, alternative measures, Indigenous community justice practices, administrative or civil processes, or a prosecution by another prosecuting authority”

We believe that appropriate complex care mechanisms which support the accountability indicated within the Charge Standards do not exist within our community. (Please see Suggestion 3 later in this document).

We feel “the need to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice” is not being fulfilled within the current environment by B.C.’s Crown Counsel. We are concerned the lack of consideration of “public interest” is being further compounded by a lack of motivation to investigate or to pursue and act on criminal activities within our community by our RCMP detachment. We believe this is due to police force demotivation and disaffection regarding responding officer’s ability to detain offenders and prepare charge packages which are then consistently refused by Crown Counsel.

This lack of ability to detain and hold accountable individuals within our community who are repeat criminal offenders has resulted in an environment our mayor has termed “catch and release” policing, and which our RCMP Superintendent has agreed is not only of significant concern to his forces now, “it is likely to get worse.

Our position is that unaccountable petty criminality is creating the net negative effect of eroding public confidence in policing, stimulating potential vigilante activities, increasing stigmatization of our homeless and addicted populations, and eroding public trust in our elected leaders.

The fact that these sentiments have erupted in recent weeks, and that vigilante actions are openly discussed on social media platforms indicates that the public perceive that either crown has become completely disconnected from the current reality within our community, or it may indicate they have intentionally chosen to disregard the Public Interest Test which figures prominently in the Charge Assessment Guidelines.

2) Provide Appropriate Health Support Mechanisms and the Supporting Changes to the BC Mental Health Act and Criminal Code of Canada

Under the current health environment, responses to both the Opioid and resulting Mental Health crisis has been to consider housing first as a dominant strategy. This is one of the Four Pillars approach to community health. This strategy has had a mixed impact on our communities and those within housing programs. Currently housing is largely mixed with multiple levels of wellness and illness located immediately adjacent to each other. We term this “warehousing” meaning that while individuals are off the streets, under roofs and have access to some forms of Opioid support mechanisms, they are often equally exposed to the negative factors which led them to where they are, within their own homes or housing buildings.

These housing sites must shift from emergency response to healthy outcome or tiered supports.

  1. a) Example: Bill and John live beside each other in low barrier housing. Both have the benefit of access to alternate use options. Bill wants to be clean and is working hard to climb out of addiction. However, John is happy in active use, at this time. Bill will thrive much more, if he is in an environment which is not surrounded by triggering actions of his neighbour, but this option is extremely limited within the current housing environment. If Bill were able to access a non-triggering housing option (dry housing), which is also based on healthy community outcomes, life skills and supportive programing, he will be able to regain more dignity, and slowly lift himself from the cycle of use and poverty.

We believe that Health and Housing programming at the Provincial level needs to shift from response to healing, from reactive to proactive and future focused. Within these changes, the province may also wish to review the Metal health Act, which stipulates the conditions under which a person can be detained for mental health disorder:

 “PERSON WITH A MENTAL DISORDER” means a person who has a disorder of the mind that requires treatment and seriously impairs the person’s ability a) to react appropriately to the person’s environment, or b) to associate with others7.”

When taken in concert with our concerns over mental disorders being used as a mechanism to not pursue charges for willful criminal activity, and with consideration of a limited number of mental health in-patient care options, we believe that sections of the Mental Health Act are erroneously being interpreted to excuse criminal activity due to a lack of capacity within the system to provide both patient housing and programing appropriate to the needs of the individual.

“Despite anything in this Act, a director or person who has authority to admit persons to a Provincial mental health facility must not admit a person to a Provincial mental health facility if:
(a) suitable accommodation is not available within the Provincial mental health facility for the care, treatment and maintenance of the patient, or

(b) in the opinion of the director or person who has authority to admit persons to the Provincial mental health facility, the person is not a person with a mental disorder or is a person who, because of the nature of his or her mental disorder, could not be cared for or treated appropriately in the facility8.”

We also believe that under section 22, the release of an individual within one month, may be counter to community interests, where that individual may exhibit apparent wellness, but continuation of treatment may be difficult due to conditions such as lack of housing, exposure to triggering influences, or inability to maintain treatment due to other factors. We suggest a review of involuntary and temporary detention options would be prudent in light of the lack of capacity within the treatment realm9 in Kamloops and across British Columbia as noted by the BC Urban Mayor’s Caucus.

When this issue is paired with the lack of RCMP response to community concerns, it appears that there may be linkages between the Criminal Code of Canada, the Mental Health Act of BC and other legislation which need to be reviewed in parallel to ensure that the “cracks” that are so often being referred to, are considered and resolved in our efforts to increase both individual health and community safety.

3) New Continuum for Care

We have designed an initial Community Health Outcomes matrix, which we have attached for information. Under this matrix, all alignments of a healthy community are entwined to create a robust treatment and response model which achieves the outcomes of individual health, community safety, and responsive community safety mechanism.

It is important to note that while, for example, an alternate court system is considered a key option for non-criminal accountability, (and is linked to individual health outcomes), no support system exists on the complex care level to support such programming. We believe a reconsideration of long-term goals, system design, capacity requirements and linkages between governmental agencies is key to achieving a robust response spectrum.

We understand that these asks are significant in regard to the commitment required to make them reality. However, the question which needs to be asked is:

What do we want our legacy to be 30 years from today?
A cobbled together system of ineffective and disconnected programs; or a system which supports individual health, community confidence and builds a compassionate, connected and safer tomorrow for all.

Sincerely Yours

JEREMY HEIGHTON, Executive Director
North Shore Business Improvement Assocation

About Mel Rothenburger (9125 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on LETTER – Changes needed to address criminal activity in community

  1. Robert A Bruce // July 20, 2021 at 5:01 PM // Reply

    Thanks for this Mel, Brice and Jeremy. Very well thought out and written.

  2. Anne Evans // July 10, 2021 at 4:22 PM // Reply

    Amen! I have a son with a drug reliance issue and he is trying hard to dry out but the only programs he can access are ones like mentioned above. Dry housing is a great solution. Most of our present programs bring the addict in constant contact with other addicts who don’t want to get clean. My son was recommended to a ” program” out of town but after countless reports from folks who had been there, only because they were ordered to by the courts, it isn’t as dry as they would like to believe it is, he refused to go. Instead he lives in my basement, tries to keep to himself, does online counselling and fights his demons on his own. Warehousing opioid users is the stupidest way we can deal with this issue. Sweeping crimes under the rug and using drug use or ethnicity as an excuse it just feeding the “beast”. Accountability is part of recovery. Lack of accountability is part of why some of these folks are in the mess they are in.

  3. The only thought I have after reading this letter is, don’t we have enough elected officials in our area, MP, MLAs, TNRD and Kamloops City’s councillors and mayor to carry on duties important to community well-being? It is not that this problem appeared suddenly. They have or should have the power (especially with such strong public support behind them) to seriously influence even higher levels of government. For sure, these issues cannot any longer receive only lip service.

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