British Columbia’s justice system is letting thieves and other property criminals avoid punishment because of a lack of resources, Abbotsford’s mayor said Monday.
In extended remarks at Abbotsford council, Mayor Henry Braun decried a “revolving door” in the courts that doesn’t deter criminals – including five local prolific offenders who have together amassed more than 250 criminal convictions.
Braun read from a letter by Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr in which he said 61 people are responsible for a “disproportionate” amount of crime in the city. The letter, in which an APD sergeant likens the pursuit of property criminals to “pushing a rope uphill,” declares that action is needed to stop offenders who consistently disregard laws.
“Our community is frustrated with property crime and they are asking for answers,” Serr writes.
Braun, though, said Abbotsford’s pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
“It’s a revolving door. [Police] are frustrated, I’m frustrated, the Police Board is frustrated. I think council is frustrated at various times; I know residents are.”
Last fall, Braun met with B.C. Attorney General David Eby to discuss the need for the provincial and federal government to address court delays and other criminal justice issues. That meeting came after the Union of British Columbia Municipalities endorsed at their fall conference Abbotsford’s resolution calling on the governments to take more action. In particular, the resolution called on the province to reconsider “B.C.’s restrictive charge approval standards.”
In B.C., police investigate crimes and can recommend charges, but it’s up to Crown counsel to decide whether charges are actually laid. Braun previously said Crown counsel often doesn’t pursue charges on low-level property crimes.
Some experts say that allowing police to lay – rather than recommend – charges leads to clogged courthouses and inefficient and no-more effective justice systems. In provinces where police can lay charges, those systems see many more charges eventually stayed or withdrawn.
The province recently sent Abbotsford a letter outlining what it says has been done to address crime concerns in B.C.
That letter notes that previous reviews have endorsed the current two-part process Crown counsel goes through when deciding to lay charges. First they judge whether there is a “substantial likelihood” of conviction; then they determine whether prosecution is in the public interest. The letter also states that most matters are proceeding to trial within five to eight months – within time frames required by the courts.
On Monday, Braun called the response “bureaucratic” and said it didn’t address the specific concerns raised by the city.
Braun quoted from Serr’s letter, which suggested 61 people in the city commit a disproportionate amount of crime.
“We are frustrated when they are released and immediately return to their previous criminal activities. Steps need to be taken to keep the small amount of offenders who show a complete disregard of our laws in custody. Our community is frustrated with property crime and they are asking for answers.”
Braun said he agrees with the sentiment that the criminal justice system needs fixing.
But, he added: “I’m not picking a fight with crown counsel or judges, because I also don’t think they have enough funding.”
He used a funnel metaphor to suggest that the amount of work exceeds the resources available to deal with that.
“There is a lot of stuff coming into the funnel and they can only process so much. And while many of them may not admit to it, they can’t process everything that comes into that funnel. So guess what? In my opinion, they have to pick and choose which ones have greater success than others. And that is part of the reason it’s a revolving door.”
Coun. Ross Siemens agreed, saying federal politicians need to address the matter and break down “silos.”
“Our friends in Crown counsel, I think, are burnt out or close to it. I think they’re just as frustrated with the system.”
Braun said he is a supporter of restorative justice initiatives and admitted that now isn’t an “opportune” time to address the matter. He said he also wants “to be sensitive” to discussions about the release of people from prison because of COVID-19. But Braun said he was raising the issue because the letter from the province was on the agenda, as correspondence regularly is.
He said the response from the province showed the need for residents to directly contact their federal and provincial representatives.
“I’ve done everything I can do, and they expect me to complain as a mayor about this.”
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