Prosecutors and officers unite in BC to protect strangers from repeat offenders

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BC Attorney General Niki Sharma is congratulated by Premier David Eby after being sworn in during a ceremony at Government House in Victoria on December 7, 2022. CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

British Columbia’s Attorney General says new teams of prosecutors, police officers and probation officers will make better sentences to ensure repeat offenders pose less of a risk to foreigners, while also helping those people get much needed mental health and drug treatment.

Niki Sharma, who was sworn in to Prime Minister David Eby’s cabinet last month, acknowledged that a recent Globe and Mail inquiry had uncovered systemic loopholes that affect a small number of people – most of them live with mental homelessness. nothing – they allow three personal crises at once – to keep attacking strangers in the streets of the city.

The Globe highlighted the long criminal history of Mohammed Majidpour, who was repeatedly convicted of shoplifting and indiscriminate assault, as a case study of how BC’s overcrowded justice system often lets off violent offenders after short prison sentences, even in cases where they make bail or Can’t – or can’t – meet parole conditions. A series of incidents over the past year have shocked the public and turned the issue into a political issue in the province.

Ms Sharma said in an interview that earlier in his life Mr Majidpour seems to have needed more government intervention to help him improve his mental health. “It’s tragic, not only for the victims, for his family and for himself – in terms of what he went through and what his family went through trying to help him with his challenges,” she added.

British Columbia prosecutors have complained that they are so inundated with these cases that they often make deals with repeat offenders that result in one-day jail terms. Ms. Sharma, a lawyer and former Vancouver Park Board commissioner, said 21 prosecutors are in the process of moving to a new provincial unit that will focus solely on this troublesome minority. The formation of the group was announced in September.

She said that the dedicated unit will work with the police and probation officers to better personalize the sentences and treatment ordered by the court for each offender, some of whom she admitted are having extreme difficulty in meeting the conditions of bail.

Ms. Sharma noted the success of a similar provincial program that ran on a trial basis from 2008-2012. The creation of this new program was recommended last year in an expert report commissioned by the BC government. The strategy is to closely monitor the behavior of the perpetrators, including in monthly team meetings with the officials involved.

The report also recommended that the province establish so-called “low security units” where offenders with mental health and substance abuse problems, who are at high risk of harming others, would be forced to seek treatment. Ms. Sharma declined to say whether she supports the policy. In a separate conversation Mike Farnworth, the provincial attorney general and his boss on the repeat offenders file, has not made his position clear either.

BC’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction later confirmed in a statement that the province is studying the possibility of establishing these facilities.

Mr. Farnworth and Ms. Sharma said they and their counterparts in other provinces are in talks with the federal government about changing Canada’s bail laws to ensure that offenders do not come released if they still pose a danger to foreigners. Mr. Farnworth said his counterpart in Ottawa is aware that “they need to address some of the unintended consequences that we’re seeing on the bail side.”

Ms. Sharma said BC and other provinces have recently formally asked Ottawa to reverse the burden in cases where a suspect is caught with a prohibited or restricted loaded weapon. If the change were to take effect, those offenders would have to tell the courts why they should not be jailed.

In November, Ms. Sharma’s predecessor When Attorney General Murray Rankin announced a directive to Crown prosecutors that they should seek the incarceration of chronic violent offenders if they are charged with other crimes against people or crimes committed with weapons – unless prosecutors are satisfied that the risk to the public can be minimized by bail rules.

Ms. Sharma told The Globe it was too early to provide any meaningful data on whether the postponement changed incarceration rates.

There are no reliable figures on how many people across BC are responsible for repeated acts of indiscriminate violence. A group of mayors who urged the province to address the problem last year estimated there could be 200 or more.

Mike Morris, a former Mountie who led the RCMP in the province’s north and is now the BC Liberal Party’s public safety critic, said more than 20 repeat offenders are active in his hometown of Prince George .

Mr. Morris, who served as Attorney General under the previous BC Liberal government, welcomed the new team of prosecutors but said more Crown attorneys were needed to make a meaningful difference. His town alone, he said, needed four or five.

“It’s a small step in the right direction,” he said.

Right now, he said, prosecutors are simply understaffed and under-resourced to properly deal with chronic offenders like Mr. Majidpour. He added that prosecutors don’t bring charges often enough when people break bail conditions.

Mr Majidpour’s public records show he breached his bail conditions a year after a report was lodged about the theft in 2014, but the Crown has asked for his bail to be revoked rather than charge him with the offence. the new Mr Morris said revoking bail means the person’s harm essentially disappears from the judge’s perspective the next time he appears in court on an unrelated charge.

“Judges should be aware of this. Let the judges decide,” he said.


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