Tourists, population growth behind Kelowna's high crime rate, says Kelowna RCMP chief

Kelowna recorded the highest crime rate among B.C.'s four metropolitan areas cited in Statistics Canada's 2021 crime data, released Tuesday. (Winston Szeto/CBC - image credit)
Kelowna recorded the highest crime rate among B.C.'s four metropolitan areas cited in Statistics Canada's 2021 crime data, released Tuesday. (Winston Szeto/CBC - image credit)

Rapid population growth and the large influx of tourists are behind the increase in Kelowna's crime rate, says the city's top cop, after Statistics Canada reported a huge jump in the city's crime rate over the past year.

"There are all sorts of tourists that arrive in our Central Okanagan area to experience this incredible place — you see a drive in police-related incidents corresponding with those tourism numbers and those daily population numbers," said Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance.

According to Statistics Canada data released Tuesday, the Central Okanagan city — one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, home to more than 222,000 people — recorded one of the highest crime rates in Canada in 2021, at almost 12,000 cases per 100,000 people.

It's seven per cent higher than Kelowna's crime rate last year, and the highest among the four B.C. metropolitan areas — including Vancouver, Victoria and Mission-Abbotsford — highlighted in Statistics Canada's data, each of which recorded more than 6,000 crime incidents per 100,000 residents.

According to the federal agency, Kelowna — along with Lethbridge, Alta. — also had the highest rates of opioid-related crimes, including the possession, trafficking and production of the substance.

"The drug trade or organized crime — these are things that will affect our safety and our city," she said.

However, Triance adds that she believes other measures are needed to help fight crimes.

"I don't believe that this is solely a policing response that is going to solve this problem," Triance said on CBC's Daybreak South.

"It is generally substance use, mental health and complex addiction issues … housing [and] homelessness can be factors in that as well."

Comparisons to Whistler, Niagara Falls

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says he understands the frustration over the growing crime rate, but that the city needs to hire more police officers as its population increases.

The City of Kelowna says its spending on RCMP has grown 84 per cent over the past six years, from $28 million in 2016 to an estimated $51 million in 2022. During this period, 49 new Mounties where hired.

"It's going to need continual investment and continual conversation," said Basran.

He added that he, along with other mayors across the province, are discussing with the provincial government whether increasing the number of police would help address the issue of prolific offenders.

But local businessman Tom Dyas, who is running for mayor of Kelowna in the October municipal elections, says simply hiring more police officers won't fix the city's high crime rate.

He disagrees with the idea that tourists are driving up the city's crime rate.

"If that were the case, there would be communities like Whistler and Vancouver and Niagara Falls that would also be in that position — but they're not," Dyas said.

"You need to come up with additional new ideas, and you can't sit back and wait for somebody else to address those situations on your behalf, because it's our community that's being affected."