New federal bail legislation is being greeted as a step forward and with a large dose of skepticism from some B.C. anti-crime advocates.
The new provisions expand what’s known as the “reverse onus,” requiring accused criminals to prove why they shouldn’t be kept behind bars.
“The goal is the justice system will have better tools to hold them, to increase public safety and make sure that British Columbians can feel safer,” B.C. Attorney General Nikki Sharma said.
“If someone has used a weapon repeatedly, if there’s a risk to public safety, if that person has shown intimate partner violence is a factor in their violence, then what that does is put the onus on holding them.”
But critics say the legislation doesn’t go far enough. Notably, it only applies to repeat violent offenders and not those accused of repeat property crime or other offences.
“At a very fundamental level, the public has very significant and legitimate concerns about the ability of our judicial system and law enforcement to protect the public — so it is a start, but we need to keep going,” said Collen Middleton, founding director of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association.
Middleton has helped spearhead a movement in the Nanaimo area pressing government to address what they say is a spike in crime, open drug use and public disorder in the area, including several large rallies.
He said neighbours are frustrated with repeated promises and announcements from politicians, with little to show for it on the ground.
“We need the public to really understand better just how bad it’s gotten in the province and in our country when it comes to a lack of consequences for criminal behaviour, and a lack of accountability for the announcements and promises that are being made by our elected officials and public institutions,” he said.
“All you have to do is look at the number of people who are out on the streets committing crime, after crime, after crime … Thefts, burglaries, robberies, there are an awful lot of people that are real and present danger to public safety that are at-large right now.”
Jeff Ross, who owns Gold Silver Guy businesses in Nanaimo, Qualicum and Duncan, said he doesn’t have much faith things will change any time soon.
Ross’ businesses have been broken into at least 20 times, often with thieves costing him more in damage than in stolen product.
“If I didn’t love what I did for work then I would close up. Because if you beat over the head so many times, you say enough is enough,” he said.
“Because of the quantity of break ins I can’t get insurance on the building, not even glass breakage — the landlord has to get that.”
Ross said police do their best to respond, but that their “hands are tied” by the current legal system.
He believes offenders should be forced to pay out of pocket for theft and damage, and that the province’s approach to drug users needs to change.
“Make more beds available, make more counsellors available, get more help that way. Supervision. But not to give them the drugs,” he said.
Sharma said that bail reform is only one part of the puzzle when it comes to addressing public safety in the province, and that her government is working on other initiatives, including more resources for police.
Earlier this year, the province launched 12 new hubs for its Repeat Violent Offending Intervention Initiative, including one in Nanaimo.
Each hub will see a dedicated team of police, prosecutors and probation officers pool their expertise and resources in an attempt to achieve better outcomes when repeat, violent offenders present themselves.
The federal bail legislation will still need to be passed in the Senate before receiving royal assent.
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