A high-ranking B.C. RCMP officer says the legal “landscape has changed” in recent years, affecting officers’ abilities to deal with repeat and chronic offenders.
Supt. Syd Lecky made the comments in an interview with CFCJ as he ends four years as the officer in charge of the Kamloops RCMP to take a position as chief superintendent in the Northwest Territories.
“There’s limitations to the authorities that police have now,” he said.
“You’re going to see a lot of complaints from the public saying why aren’t you doing more? Well, we often can’t do a lot more than we are doing.”
Lecky cited recent Supreme Court of Canada precedents R vs. Jordan and R vs. Zora, along with changes to the Criminal Code enacted with Bill C-75, and moves to legalize cannabis and decriminalize other drugs as affecting officers’ ability to do crime prevention or address repeat offenders.
“Now the onus is on police and the justice system to release people with the least amount of conditions on them as possible. Well, if that’s the case, it becomes a little more challenging to hold some people accountable.”
“If you are released and waiting for court — and we are arresting people four, five, six times now on warrants — if that’s happening people are often times continuing to offend.
“They didn’t go to court, they haven’t been showing up for court, and often times you combine that with addiction or whatever the other issues are, that will continue to impact, especially property crime rates.”
Bill C-75, enacted in 2019, made numerous changes to the Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Those include legislating “a ‘principle of restraint’ for police and courts to ensure that release at the earliest opportunity is favoured over detention, that bail conditions are reasonable, relevant to the offence and necessary to ensure public safety,” and streamlining the justice system by “increasing the types of conditions police can impose on accused so as to divert unnecessary matters from the courts and reduce the need for a bail hearing when one is not warranted,” according to the Justice Department.
In the Jordan case, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that accused persons must be tried within 18 months in provincial courts and within 30 months in superior courts, while the Zora case set the precedent that the right to bail can only be infringed where holding someone in custody is the last possible resort ahead of a trial, Vancouver criminal lawyer Kyla Lee explained.
Lee said some people believe the Jordan case has complicated criminal prosecutions by pushing more cases before the court, while others have argued the Zora decision has allowed suspects to reoffend while on bail.
However she said it was “disappointing” to hear a senior law enforcement officer take “such a poor view” of the constitutional right to reasonable bail.
“The charter guarantees that you are to be released on bail unless it’s absolutely necessary to keep you in custody pending the outcome of your case,” she said.
The fact that a large proportion of criminal offences appear to be perpetrated by a fairly small group of repeat offenders, she added, shows a failure of leadership rather than a failure of the justice system.
“We’ve failed to do what’s necessary to keep people from having repeat conduct contact with the justice system, and that doesn’t mean holding them in a cell while they’re presumed innocent until we can determine what to do with them,” she said.
“It means intervening before they get involved in repeat criminal behavior, providing better mental health supports, providing better drug and alcohol addiction treatment, ensuring that people have respectful relationships, counselling so they know how to behave appropriately in relationships and don’t commit assaults.”
In a written statement, a spokesperson for the federal Justice Department said pre-trial detention can occur if just cause exists, and conditions of bail release must be reasonable under the circumstances.
“However, the law is also clear that accused persons should be detained where there is just cause,” wrote Geneviève Groulx.
The statutory criteria for what amounts to “just cause,” she added, includes the prevention of flight, the protection of the public, and the maintenance of confidence in the administration of justice.
“Canada’s laws surrounding bail provide the necessary framework to ensure public safety,” she said. “The federal government will continue to monitor the law of bail and the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code to ensure they are achieving their intended objectives.”
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In May, the B.C. government pledged a “creative” plan to address repeat offenders after a group of 13 urban mayors wrote the province with concerns about crime threatening downtown areas.
The mayors cited statistics showing that just 200 chronic offenders were responsible for more than 11,600 police files across the province, while in Vancouver 40 “super-chronic” offenders have an average of 54 convictions each.
The group also released statistics showing a 75 per cent increase in no-charge assessments by crown and a 26 per cent increase in stays of proceedings, along with a 20 per cent decrease in guilty judgements.
The province hired health researcher and criminologist Amanda Butler, and former Vancouver deputy police chief Doug LePard to probe the issue, and gave them four months to produce a report.
Interim Attorney General Murray Rankin was not available for an interview, but in a statement the ministry said the review was “underway and includes extensive engagement to investigate criminal trends and identify solutions.
“A written report with recommendations will be prepared as part of the investigation and released publicly in early fall,” it said.
“This investigation will help us better understand the challenges some communities are facing and provide recommendations on how to address them.”