Several mayors in British Columbia are calling for tougher action on chronic violent offenders across the province, an issue highlighted by a recent assault on an Abbotsford bus.
Last Sunday, footage from one of the passengers on the 66 Fraser Valley Express bus shows David Allen Lucas attacking passengers, leaving four with minor injuries.
It's not his first brush with the law: Lucas has had an extensive criminal record dating back to 1999, court records show.
But after being arrested and charged for the bus incident, Abbotsford police say Lucas was released from custody on a series of court-ordered conditions — something Tristan L'Esperance, one of the victims of the assault, says is troubling.
"I'm worried that this situation might happen again," L'Esperance said.
"That was my immediate thought when we found out he was released on bail … he's going to seriously, seriously injure someone."
B.C. mayors have recently been calling on the province to address the issue.
A call to crack down
In March, the City of Terrace, in northwestern B.C., passed a resolution calling on the B.C. Prosecution Service to stop releasing repeat offenders without imposing meaningful conditions.
In April, Walt Cobb, mayor of Williams Lake in the Central Interior, visited Victoria to meet with cabinet ministers to make a similar request.
That same month, the B.C. Urban Mayors' Caucus, which consists of mayors from 13 municipalities representing more than half of the province's population, also wrote a letter to Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Attorney General David Eby demanding action on the issue.
In the letter, they said police data shows most offences in B.C. are committed by a small number of highly active offenders.
As an example, they said, of the 81 prolific offenders — each with more than 10 convictions — monitored by Abbotsford police, 50 have more than 30 convictions. In Vancouver, they said 40 "super-chronic" offenders have an average of 54 convictions per offender.
They also proposed several solutions, including stricter bail conditions and consequences for repeat offenders, and the implementation of Community Courts, which provide a more meaningful response in helping and sentencing offenders though a combination of justice, social and health-care services.
The letter was shared by the B.C. Liberal Party on April 26, as Leader Shirley Bond called for action from the B.C. NDP government during question period.
In response, Attorney General David Eby said the government has been taking the concerns seriously, and is in conversation with local leaders about how to address the problems raised.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, co-chair of the caucus, said the group did not intend to have the letter go public, though he is pleased so far with how receptive the B.C. NDP government has been to their concerns.
But he also said it was important for government to take action, a sentiment echoed by caucus co-chair, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
"There's a serious concern with repeat and prolific offenders who seem to just keep cycling through the justice system ... from the streets, to the courts, to prison and back again," she said.
Perception vs. reality
Basran said the B.C. Urban Mayors' Caucus received the statistics shared in the letter from city staff working in conjunction with local police, and he was "confident" it was accurate.
But Simon Fraser University criminologist Martin Andresen pointed out police have a motivation to amplify statistics, to make it look as if crime is a bigger problem than it actually is.
Andresen was responding to a statement from Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer last month, who said that the city was experiencing a surge in violent crime — a statement which helped restore $5.7M in funding to his budget.
Andresen said while police statistics show some increases in criminal activity in individual Vancouver neighbourhoods, there was nothing indicating an overall "surge."
However, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said even if B.C.'s crime statistics are low compared to other North American jurisdictions, "if you are a victim of crime, it doesn't feel that way."
"Stats are good context, but I think we have to listen to the folks that don't feel safe in the city and see what else we can do to help," he said.
Addressing social problems
Andresen suggested resources might be better directed to provide social supports and addictions treatment to chronic offenders, as many struggle with mental illness or substance use.
Fellow criminology professor Neil Boyd agrees.
"Locking these people up in jails as a solution to the revolving-door syndrome ignores the reality that these are people with mental health issues, with substance abuse issues … prison just tends to make those things worse," Boyd said.
According to Attorney General David Eby, mayors in B.C. have observed that the recent spate of crime has been concentrated in highly visible, downtown areas and often associated with mental health and addiction issues.
Overall crime rates in the province, he said on CBC's Daybreak South, have declined except in certain categories, such as uttering threats and minor assault.
"[The mayors] are really at their wits end about what they're seeing," Eby said.
Eby floated several measures the province could take, including assigning the same Crown prosecutors to repeat offenders every time they are arrested, to help provide the full context of their crimes to judges deciding on how they will be punished.
He also said the province is opening complex care services to help address mental health and substance abuse issues, and suggested involuntary care could be warranted under certain circumstances.
"It's going to take some work with experts in the area and work with the mayors to be creative about how we get people into this treatment."