Rural residents from the McLeese Lake area aired their frustrations with the justice system during a protest outside the Williams Lake courthouse on Wednesday, Aug. 26.
Armed with victim impact statements, protest signs and politicians, about a few dozen residents gathered in the parking lot — the same day a man appeared before a judge on charges relating to a theft in the area.
McLeese Lake resident Ian Hicks said thousands of dollars worth of property was taken from his shop and recovered along with other items on a property along Lagerquist Road, back in 2019.
Patrick Power, then 25, was arrested in connection with the stolen property and released on conditions. Since his arrest, he has racked up multiple breach charges, according to court records.
“He just keeps getting released and released and released,” Hicks said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Hicks said rural residents feel their sense of security and the right to live peacefully has been compromised due to what RCMP say is an increase in property offences attributable to a handful of repeat offenders.
Fellow organizer Dan Harrison said taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for a system that isn’t working.
“The same old catch and release aren’t working,” Harrison told the Tribune. “Enough is enough.”
Young mother Shelby Cayen, who moved to McLeese Lake last year, was on hand for the protest with her baby.
“We are fighting for a safer place for our daughter,” Cayen said, adding personal safety is in the back of everyone’s mind right now.
Another protester, who was too afraid to give her name, was emotional when she told Black Press Media their cabin north of Williams Lake has been broken into repeatedly and she doesn’t even feel safe there anymore after finding windows smashed and an axe in the door.
The family and several neighbours have been the victims of multiple break-ins and thefts in recent months, including back-to-back break-ins.
RCMP Insp. Jeff Pelley confirmed police are investigating a number of cabin break-ins that occurred at Blue Lake where personal property was stolen.
“Specialists with our forensic identification are still processing potential evidence to move these investigations forward,” he said.
A man arriving at the courthouse while organizers and politicians were speaking to the crowd was quickly booed and heckled as he entered the building for his court date.
Protesters shouted “get out of our community,” and “bye, bye” as he quickly made his way past sheriffs, who were restricting access to the building due to COVID-19.
Power appeared in Williams Lake court, on Wednesday, for several items, including break-and-enter, possession of stolen property over $5,000, possession of stolen property under $5,000 and six breaches of conditions relating to his bail. He was found guilty on the two counts of possession of stolen property.
He also attended court for driving while prohibited or licence suspended and was found guilty of a lesser charge. A judge also stayed proceedings against Power for uttering threats stemming from a November 2019 incident.
Following Power’s court appearance, Hicks said he was upset to learn the offender received a $100 fine and 18 months probation for the theft-related charge, however, added he is awaiting learning the conditions of the order before he makes further comment.
Details of the sentencing, including the conditions of the probation order, were not readily available to Black Media Press due to COVID-19 court access restrictions.
Politicians on hand at the protest, such as Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb, Coun. Scott Nelson, CRD Area D director Steve Forseth and Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett told the crowd they had their support in holding repeat offenders accountable.
More to come.