B.C. public safety plan includes focus on repeat offenders, more mental health teams

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's premier says a new public safety plan for the province includes more mental health response teams and an increased focus on tackling repeat offenders.

David Eby, who launched the plan just two days after being sworn in as British Columbia's 37th premier, said it has two key tracks.

“One around enforcement, recognizing that we have zero tolerance for violence in our communities, making sure that people are protected,” he told a news conference Sunday.

“The second track (is) around intervening. Helping people break the cycle of life in and out of jail, preventing crime before it happens (through) intervention services that recognize the root causes of crime.”

The province intends to deploy response teams comprised of police, prosecutors and probation officers who will focus on repeat offenders. It will also be adding 12 mental health response teams in communities across the province, some of which will be Indigenous-led.

"These peer assisted teams intervene when people are in mental health crisis in our streets, freeing up police to focus on crime rather than social service," Eby said.

The province plans to open 10 new Indigenous justice centres to provide "culturally appropriate" support for those caught up in the system.

It plans to revamp the addictions care model at Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital that "moves people seamlessly from crisis response in our emergency rooms and our streets to detox, to treatment and to supportive housing." Eby said it will be used as a model for the rest of the province.

The government will also introduce new legislation next spring targetting "unexplained wealth and organized crime," Eby said.

Though the provincial government will be the lead agency for public safety, he said coordination is the best solution to the crisis.

"No one agency, prosecutors and police, nonprofit organizations, cities of the province or the federal government can solve this problem. Everybody's got to be working together and collaboration is key."

"Today's safer communities action plan is an important step forward, with more to come. Everybody in our province deserves to feel safe in our communities. As your new premier, as your government, that is what we are focused on."

Eby said the provincial plan is needed because of the ongoing overdose crisis and because federal changes to the bail system that have made it more difficult to hold people who commit repeat, violent offences in custody until they've stood trial.

He previously promised his first days in office would see the launch of NDP government plans to tackle the province's difficult and ongoing issues of public safety and affordable housing. He is scheduled to announce legislation to improve housing Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2022.

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press