Minister of Public Safety & Solicitor General Mike Farnworth states the government's case over their handling of repetitive criminals. (Hansard image)

Quesnel MLA Oakes calls government soft on crime

Catch-and-release is opposition view of criminal policy

Government policy is weak on crime and downtown businesses in Quesnel are forced to suffer, said Coralee Oakes in the Legislature.

This past week the local MLA was one of several opposition members who lined up in Question Period to push the sitting government on the state of street-level violence.

“Small businesses in Quesnel are hanging on by a thread as a direct result of this premier’s soft-on-crime policies and total failure to provide the proper supports for people with mental health and addiction issues in our community,” said Oakes during her exchange. “Willis Harper, Mama C’s, Circle S, and the list goes on and on, are all reporting increased violence, shoplifting and attacks on staff. This week I received a letter from the Quesnel Downtown Association: ‘Criminals are no longer hiding in the shadows. They operate in plain sight as there is little or no consequences for their actions.’ The letter goes on: ‘The added cost of theft, vandalism, security and loss of production is both crippling our ability and will to survive.’

“To the Premier: when is the premier going to give these businesses financial support to offset their losses from his soft-on-crime policies?”

As is almost always the case, the premier did not respond, but was answered by the Honourable Mike Farnworth, the minister of public safety and solicitor general.

“I thank the member for the question,” Farnworth said. “I just want to, first off, reject the premise of soft on crime. The initiatives that I’ve outlined in this House over the last number of weeks have demonstrated beyond a doubt that this government is committed to keeping our communities safe wherever they are in B.C.

“We’ve done a range of initiatives based on what police and policing agencies have asked for us to put in place, whether it is changing the Criminal Code, whether it is putting in place peer-assisted care teams to deal with those mental health calls, whether it is the expansion of the CAR program, for example. All of those things are designed to help the police keep our communities safe. We will continue to do that work because we know that is what is going to succeed.

“Couple that with the programs on mental health and addictions and housing. It is a multi-pronged approach to deal with the situation that communities such as yours are facing. We’ve been doing a lot of work. There’s a lot more to do, but we’re committed to doing it.”

The opposition BC United/Liberal orchestrated a themed conversation, during this Apr. 6 session of Question Period. Farnworth and the Honorable Ravi Kahlon handled the responses for the governing NDP.

In addition to Oakes, similar questions were asked by party leader Kevin Falcon, Elenore Sturko, Ben Stewart, Bruce Banman, and also Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau. Neighbouring MLA Shirley Bond from Prince George-Valemount was most passionate. The speaker of the House had to settle both parties.

Shaking with anger, Bond, the former solicitor general, told the House that “The Minister of Housing should feel ashamed of himself. He stands up in this House failing to look at the fear, the anxiety, the chaos and the violence that exists every single day in this province. What does he talk about? Success, and how proud he is. Shame on that minister for not paying attention.”

She characterized the problem by describing a frequently arrested violent criminal she knew of who had been released time after time, despite his violence and brazen robbing.

Farnworth retorted that “this province led the way to get changes done at the Criminal Code, to keep those kinds of people off the street,” and added “whether it’s keeping criminals off the streets or supporting victims, this government has a record that we will not back down from in terms of trying to keep our communities safe.”

To see the exchange in real time, CLICK HERE to watch the April 6 morning session videop of the B.C. Legislature’s Question Period.

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