Leaders in the Cariboo-Chilcotin are responding with both skepticism and encouragement following the B.C. government’s announcement last week that it has appointed two experts to investigate the issue of prolific offenders.
The province, in co-operation with the British Columbia’s Urban Mayors’ Caucus, has hired experts Doug LePard and Amanda Butler to investigate and report on prolific offenders and random violent attacks, and the necessary actions.
For the past several years, Williams Lake city council has been leading the charge to get the province to change how prolific offenders are dealt with by the courts, advocating for harsher sentences and GPS tracking systems when offenders are released into the community.
Tŝilhqot’in National Government (TNG) tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse has also been vocal about the issue of prolific offenders. He opposes how leaders in Williams Lake view the problem, and instead has advocated for the need for the government to deal directly with Indigenous communities such as his, to come up with creative, multifaceted solutions.
Alphonse said the TNG is demanding a leadership role to address prolific offenders in its own communities.
“It is unacceptable that there was not one mention of Indigenous groups and partners being involved in this plan,” said Alphonse, noting his community of Tl’etinqox has the majority of prolific offenders in the Cariboo Chilcotin region.
“We are the ones who are closest to the social issues and addiction and substance abuse. We see the impacts in our communities every day.”
Skeptical, Alphonse suggested the motive of the investigation is not about reducing crime but rather giving in to political pressure.
“If they don’t include us in these studies, it is a complete waste of financial resources.”
Williams Lake city council has been raising the issue of prolific offenders for the last five years, said Coun. Scott Nelson during the regular meeting Tuesday, May 10, noting the community, RCMP and community policing have been very active on the file.
Nelson made a motion that staff provide council and the Attorney General Minister David Eby with all the background work done in Williams Lake to date and the impact that prolific offenders have on the community.
Mayor Walt Cobb, appearing by video for the meeting, said two letters have be sent so far about the issue.
Recently the mayor was part of a delegation with the mayor Terrace who with Eby, Minister Nathan Cullen and Minister Mike Farnworth in Victoria to discuss the disruption of crime and prolific offenders.
Cobb said at the meeting Eby indicated there are ways to put more pressure on if he is made aware of specific cases and that Williams Lake will be forwarding all their information to the new committee “so they know exactly what everyone is dealing with,” he said, adding larger cities across the province have also been calling for action.
Alphonse said a new approach is needed, which includes more funding and support for Tŝilhqot’in communities to deal with the underlying issues, as well as supporting tribal police initiatives.
“It is far too costly to continue the failed policies and processes of the government; our people are suffering and the lack of progress is leading to criminal ramifications.”
The pandemic has amplified the issue of drug and alcohol addiction in First Nations communities and prompt and transformed action, which includes Indigenous-led solutions, is needed to address the root cause of what is leading to these prolific offences, Alphonse said.