A First Nations leader in Northern BC is criticizing the province’s plan to deal with prolific offenders, saying it’s destined to fail if it does not involve Indigenous leadership.
On Thursday, General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth Attorney announced what they called a “creative” solution to respond to concerns raised about the impact of repeat offenders in communities that were raised by the British Columbia’s Urban Mayors’ Caucus. The first step was to commission a study investigating the causes of chronic crime, which will also provide the province with recommendations on how to confront the issue.
Farnworth said it will take efforts from local police, the provincial government, prosecutors, and mental health workers to address this shift in crime, which began during the pandemic.
Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse is the Tribal Chair of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government, which represents six communities near Williams Lake. He says he watched the announcement and was immediately struck by what was not mentioned.
“Not once did they mention Indigenous involvement, and yet they talk about that they’re going to ‘get creative,'” Alphonse told CTV News.
“To me, it seems like the same old stuff that they’ve been rolling out over and over again, the cowboy approach to dealing with justice. Over and over again they get the same results, and yet they continue to keep thinking that’s the answer. … To get creative, they need to involve Indigenous leadership all throughout BC”
The study will be led by Doug LePard – former Vancouver Police Department chief deputy and former Metro Vancouver Transit police chief – and Amanda Butler, a criminologist and health researcher with a focus on mental health, substance-use disorders, criminal justice systems and prison health , according to the province.
The study will take 120 days, though the province says it will accept recommendations before the end of the study period if the investigators find there’s steps that can be taken immediately.
In his own community, Alphonse says he has “had to deal with more prolific offenders than most probation workers,” adding he has done that without any dedicated funding from any municipal, provincial or federal government.
“We continue to work with them and they continue to be a part of our community,” he said.
One of Alphonse’s main concerns is that recommendations will include more funding for police and stricter penalties for offenders.
“The RCMP themselves still have a lot of work to do, there’s still a lot of systemic racism. Until they deal with that, then providing more funding for them isn’t going to solve anything,” Alphonse said.
Given the rate at which Indigenous people are incarcerated in Canada’s federal prisons and otherwise involved with the criminal justice system, Alphonse says he worries about solutions that are not community-based or culturally appropriate.
“There’s nothing creative in their approach at all. Period,” he said.
In 2021, Canada’s correctional contempt Dr. Ivan Zinger described the over-representation of Indigenous people in the country’s prisons as “one of Canada’s most pressing human rights issues.”