Nanaimo initiative takes aim at repeat violent criminals

A dedicated team of police, prosecutors and probation officers will target repeat violent offenders in Nanaimo and 11 other B.C. communities.
David Eby at a previous press announcement. He recently announced a provincial initiative to target repeat offenders.
Premier David Eby announced his action plan to tackle prolific offenders at a press event in Nanaimo. Photo provided by Province of British Columbia

Premier David Eby addressed some of the community’s most pressing concerns about public safety on April 12th during a press conference on the lawn of Nanaimo City Hall.

Accompanied by provincial representatives, including Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and Attorney General Niki Sharma, Eby announced a new initiative to combat violent prolific offenders within the community.

Starting next month, Nanaimo will join the Repeat Violent Offending Intervention Initiative as one of 12 regional provincial hubs where a dedicated enforcement team will specifically target criminals who have a long history of repeat violent offences. 

Supported by the new Special Investigation and Targeted Enforcement (SITE) program, the province will invest $16 million into the initiative over three years.

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During the press conference, a CTV reporter asked Eby about courts frequently releasing repeat offenders after their arrest, an issue also highlighted in the province’s investigation into prolific offenders and violent, unprovoked stranger attacks released last October.

“One of the challenges we’ve been running into is, somebody gets arrested, overnight they get brought in, the prosecutor doesn’t have access — for whatever reason — to all of the information about what’s been happening in the community,” said Eby.

These files will now be flagged “so that the prosecution team will know that this is an identified individual [who] is committing multiple offences and deserves additional attention” so the judge and court have the full record to make their decision, he added.

The federal government also needs to be at the table and “fix the bail laws,” he said, referencing Farnworth and Sharma’s recent trip to Ottawa. There, they argued that repeat offences and violent stranger attacks are “unintended consequences” of federal amendments to Bill C-75, which changed bail provision and other aspects of the Criminal Code in 2019. 

Supreme Court decisions that have made it harder to keep repeat violent offenders in custody when they’re waiting for trial were also cited as having negative repercussions in B.C.

In cases of repeat offences involving violence, ministers are seeking an expansion of the use of “reverse onus,” in which accused persons will be detained unless prosecutors can demonstrate why they should remain at large, rather than the opposite. Eby said the province has received a commitment from the federal government to address this issue.

In addition to seeking “serious consequences” for those who repeatedly commit crimes, these new regional hubs will coordinate responses across the justice system and make “targeted services available to those who are ready for them,” said Eby. Having a dedicated team will help “break the cycle” of addiction, mental health issues and brain injuries that repeat offenders often suffer from, he added.

The press conference comes on the heels of a recent increase in violent crime in the city, especially homicides, that Nanaimo RCMP spokesperson Gary O’Brien said is “unprecedented in the history of Nanaimo.”

For example, O’Brien says that from 2009 to 2021, there were 12 homicides in Nanaimo, but over the last two years, there were 13 homicides.

“That is significant. In two years we’ve almost had exactly what we had in 12 years,” he said. 

Related: Reporter’s Notebook: Breaking down the crime severity index

It’s important to note that those who commit homicides or violent crimes and prolific offenders are often not one and the same thing, said O’Brien.

“Repeat offenders are generally people involved in property-related offences,” he said, though some cases involve both, like that of Aiden Tye, a prolific offender who threw a brick at a pregnant woman in downtown Nanaimo last summer.

Craig Edward Truckle, who has a lengthy criminal history going back over two decades, is currently out on bail after he was arrested in March on a firearms charge related to the shooting of Nanaimo resident Clint Smith, while he was allegedly trying to retrieve stolen property from a local encampment.

Though he wasn’t directly told why Nanaimo was picked to host the premier’s press conference, Mayor Leonard Krog believes it is “because we have been raising our voice about the serious level of crime and street disorder.”

”Frankly, the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he said, citing citizen demonstrations as another reason Nanaimo is in the spotlight.

Public safety rallies have been held in Nanaimo asking the province to take action on violent offenders after a number of stabbings and shootings in the community.

“There’s been advocacy from every level — at the political level, at the street level, with organizations and neighbourhood associations — and I think that advocacy paid off,” added Krog.

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