Andre Blanleil has owned businesses across B.C. for decades and has seen countless changes, both good and bad.
However, he says, nothing has been as adverse as the escalation of petty crime in the last six to eight months.
“It keeps getting worse and worse,” Blanleil, the owner of a number of Andre’s Electronics stores across B.C. and a former Kelowna city councillor, said.
It’s all over B.C., he said, but Kelowna has been particularly bad as of late. Within six weeks, he’s dealt with seven incidents, including thefts, break-ins, defecation outside his doorstep, and threats to employees. That has cost him between $10,000 to $15,000.
“We’ve had an influx of crime,” he said. “We have a large group of street criminals and the RCMP have little power over them.”
Offering a personal example, Blanleil said he found the person who stole a phone from his shop, and when the RCMP was told, little could be done. Charges aren’t going ahead, Blanleil said.
“Crown counsel won’t approve charges. But just turning a blind eye is not right either,” he said. “It’s extremely frustrating.”
Blanleil thinks the issue has to do with the drug-entrenched street population, adding the caveat that not all homeless people are the problem.
Treatment facilities, both long and short term, he said, are needed as soon as possible.
“I just can’t believe there’s nothing we can do,” he said. “I know the long play is housing, but with (thousands of people) hooked on fentanyl in B.C. we need to think about something else to do, too. I don’t blame the City of Kelowna, they’ve tried to do their part; provincially, we need to focus on treatment.”
RCMP Supt. Kara Triance recently held a press conference about an unrelated crime but said the RCMP is indeed in a catch and release pattern with a number of repeat offenders.
“The police are left between the health-care system, which is burdened by the constraints that it has, and the justice system, where there are a lot of restrictions and increasingly closed doors of remand centres that are full of policies and directives that I believe are important, and modernizing our justice system, but leaving individuals at large in their community,” Triance said.
The City of Kelowna’s Journey Home Strategy is its five-year plan to address homelessness with a focus on ensuring everyone has a place to call home. It does list advocating for more treatment beds, particularly for youth, as one of its top priorities.
And the province is actually bolstering its treatment supports but when and if the effects of that will be felt may be some time in the distance. It announced in October that there would be a $132-million investment over the next three years for treatment and recovery services. It is part of Budget 2021’s half-billion-dollar investment to continue building a comprehensive system of mental health and addiction care from the ground up.
The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions is working with health authorities on implementation planning for the full suite of enhancements over the next three years.
When contacted, they weren’t able to say what specifically would be designated for this area with the new funding or what its perceived effect on crime would be.
This summer, Statistics Canada released its national crime severity index for 2020, which states Kelowna is ranked third overall, up from fourth in 2019.
The crime severity index measures the severity of police-reported violations, including traffic offences, with serious crimes given more weight.
According to Statistics Canada, the national average for 2020 was 73.44.
Kelowna’s rating, which includes Peachland, West Kelowna and Lake Country, was 111.9.