November 27, 2022 – Premier David Eby presented a range of new measures aimed at boosting public safety in communities across B.C. Sunday, one of his first major policy announcements since taking office.
Dubbed the “Safer Communities Action Plan”, one of the more significant promises is to expand emergency mental health response teams to more communities.
The public safety measures come after a summer of heightened concern about alleged “repeat offenders” in B.C.’s cities, and what the government has described as an increase in addiction and mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic and the toxic drug crisis.
Eby also plans to launch “repeat violent offender response teams”, made up of police and dedicated prosecutors, to deal with what opponents have called a “catch-and-release” model for alleged repeat offenders.
“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,” Eby said in a statement.
The premier said the new measures follow an investigative report released by the province in October, which called for an expansion of mental health supports.
Eby says there will also be a revamp of the way information is shared between prosecutors and police, designed to help courts make clearer bail decisions and eliminate confusion, according to the premier. Some policies related to bail hearings are expected to go through as early as Tuesday.
The premier says the province will expand virtual bail hearings, so alleged offenders in smaller communities will not have to travel to larger “hub towns”, where they have little supports, to attend court.
Ten new Indigenous justice centres are set to open across the province, according to Eby, who says he wants to offer more access to culturally appropriate legal services for Indigenous people.
It’s unclear where the new centres will open — the province’s statement only mentions “metropolitan areas” — but it says five are set to open next year.
“The reality is in our criminal justice system … Indigenous people are over represented at significant amounts,” said Kory Wilson, director of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council.
“[The new policies are] going to help,” said Wilson, adding that she doesn’t know how quickly the changes will take place. “I’d like to snap my fingers and make it happen immediately — but we know there’ll be trials and errors.”