Island officials cautiously optimistic about B.C.’s new public safety measures

Island officials cautiously optimistic about B.C.'s new public safety measures

In many communities up and down Vancouver Island, the problems are obvious.

On Sunday, Premier David Eby announced the government’s plan to monitor high-risk repeat offender cases through the criminal justice system and crime prevention, saying it has two key tracks.

“One around enforcement, recognizing that we have zero tolerance for violence in our communities, making sure that people are protected,” Eby told a news conference in Vancouver.

“The second track (is) around intervening. Helping people break the cycle of life in and out of jail, preventing crime before it happens (through) intervention services that recognize the root causes of crime.”

The province intends to deploy response teams comprised of police, prosecutors and probation officers who will focus on repeat offenders. It will also be adding 12 mental health response teams in communities across the province, some of which will be Indigenous-led.

“These peer-assisted teams intervene when people are in mental health crisis in our streets, freeing up police to focus on crime rather than social service,” Eby said.

The province plans to open 10 new Indigenous justice centres to provide “culturally appropriate” support for those caught up in the system.

In Nanaimo, homelessness and crime in the downtown are growing concerns.

“This is a real issue here. It’s just as serious in my view,” said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog. “It may not look as ugly and big as the Downtown Eastside, but it is real, and it is harmful.”

Krog says the province’s plan will help, but falls short.

“We need secure facilities for the most difficult population,” he said. “Those are the people who are in and out of the justice system. Those are the people who don’t get prosecuted. Those are the people committing crime between appearances in court.”

Outreach groups on Vancouver Island, such as SOLID Outreach Society in Victoria, are concerned the people at risk on the street will be unfairly targeted.

“That’ll be interesting to see how it plays out,” said Fred Cameron, manager at SOLID Society.

“The majority of it on paper is difficult to disagree with. It’s the timing of it that’s concerning. As a drug user group, as we approach decriminalization, is this going to target street-level and low-level drug users or dealers?”

READ ALSO: Victoria homeless population growing as more move from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Victoria’s Police Chief Del Manak says the Safer Communities Action Plan is a positive step to the rise in violent crime in the city.

“It really shows, and acknowledges, that government is listening,” Manak said.

“For a number of years, our men and women on the frontlines have been talking about the level of violence that we’re seeing in our communities. The level of assaults against our officers. And the people that have severe mental illness that are suffering on our streets with really no recourse.”

Eby says the new model of care for people with untreated mental illness to move from emergency rooms to detox to treatment and eventually supportive housing.

With files from The Canadian Press

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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