Nanaimo city council voted in support of penning a letter to the province asking for a public inquiry into the justice system in B.C. and why the courts release prolific chronic offenders back into communities. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo city council voted in support of penning a letter to the province asking for a public inquiry into the justice system in B.C. and why the courts release prolific chronic offenders back into communities. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo city council supports call for tougher penalties, criminal justice reforms

Council concerned that repeat offenders keep being released, votes to send letter to B.C. government

Nanaimo city council is calling on the provincial government to ask for stiffer penalties for prolific chronic offenders who are being released back into the community by the courts.

A motion made by Coun. Sheryl Armstrong passed unanimously at Monday’s council meeting.

A letter sent to the province will support one sent by Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb to the B.C. government earlier this year. All councillors supported sending a letter, but some questioned whether the request made in the letter falls within the purview of municipal government.

“The independence of the judicial system is ground into our constitution … this couldn’t be farther out of our lane unless we were discussing the U.S. constitution, but I’m going to support it because I believe that the city, our city, should have a view on this,” said Coun. Don Bonner.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said the issue is about wanting greater protection and safety for Nanaimo’s citizens and a letter was a place to start.

“It’s out of our hands, except through advocacy, and if we want changes to be made we’ve got to start somewhere,” Thorpe said.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he saw the motion as a cry that he was prepared to support.

“Voting against this will not be understood by the general public as anything other than a get-out-of-jail-free card for criminal behaviour, so we’re stuck with voting with it…” Krog said. “It’s frustrating that we’re having to do this, but there ain’t no choice, folks.”

Coun. Tyler Brown said he understood the seriousness of the issue, but said reforms around releasing chronic offenders also need to be comprehensive.

“I actually don’t even think a public inquiry needs to happen. I just think someone needs to get to the reforming part…” Brown said. “Solutions, I think, need to be comprehensive and more than just ineffective deterrence –because there is some research that shows that’s not too effective – but I think at the heart of this is an intention to reform to get a handle on prolific offenders that, frustratingly, do get re-released.”

Armstrong reiterated tougher measures are meant to target chronic offenders, citing an example of a man who allegedly committed a stabbing in Port Alberni, was arrested in Nanaimo, had several outstanding charges against him when he was arrested and was still released back into the community after being charged for the stabbing.

“I do think it’s in our lane for the simple fact that we pay 90 per cent of the police budget and when they’re dealing with chronic offenders that means they’re not dealing with other things. They keep dealing with that revolving court. They’re not out doing foot patrols, which a lot of the public would like to see,” Armstrong said. “So I do believe it is in our lane because we are responsible for the safety, even under the community charter, for our community.”
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