East Kootenay politicos called on senior levels of government to do more to respond to rising crime and thefts during a meeting at the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
Tanya Finley, a Nelson-based business owner, served as the keynote speaker, while politicians at all levels of government also addressed the crowd of business owners and representatives sympathizing with those frustrated by increased petty theft who also acknowledged there are no simple solutions.
Finley, representing Neighbourhood Network, a grassroots group that opposed a safe inhalation site in Nelson, invited attendees to write a 250-word statement on how they’ve been affected by rising crime, and to sign a petition limiting potential locations of safe consumption sites away from schools or seniors facilities.
Both the petition and statements will be forwarded on to various provincial and federal government ministries.
“We do not need to feel shamed for speaking up, or for protecting our homes, our community, our children, our seniors and our own personal safety,” Finley said. “Enough is enough.”
Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka and Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison also spoke about the challenges of offering solutions, as both serve in opposition capacities in the B.C. Legislature and the House of Commons, respectively.
On crime and a perception of a “catch and release” system for prolific offenders, criticism was levied against Bill C-75, federal legislation passed in 2018 that relaxed bail conditions in part due to rulings and precedent from the Supreme Court of Canada.
In May the federal government announced Bill C-48, which seeks further changes to the Criminal Code’s bail regime. The changes include repeat violent offenders with weapons charges having to shoulder the burden of proof for bail release and requiring courts to consider an accused person’s history of convictions for violence when considering a bail decision, among other proposed initiatives.
Cranbrook Mayor Wayne Price and Cranbrook RCMP detachment commander S/Sgt. Barry Graham also spoke to the impacts most keenly felt at the local level.
Price noted the importance of advocating to the province and federal levels for funding and legislative changes.
“If we’re going to deal with these issues, we have to deal with the root cause, and those root causes are mainly legislation and funding,” said Price. “Now, saying that, not to pass the buck, but local government — our role, again, if we can lessen the impact through programs or initiatives locally, we’re trying to do that, but we’re here to advocate and to put pressure on the senior levels of government, but we’re trying to do that in a non-partisan fashion.”
Price also added there is a trickle-down effect in Cranbrook, which serves as the East Kootenay region’s central hub for support services and resources.
“We’ve stressed to the senior levels of government, politicians who we’re speaking with, that this is a regional problem, not a Cranbrook problem,” Price said. “Cranbrook has the problem for the region, and they need to focus on supporting Cranbrook, because they’re supporting the region.”
While the gathering was ostensibly focused on rising crime faced by business and property owners, there remains a complex undercurrent to the social challenges that are visible in the community.
Shypitka made that very point, while speaking about the nuances and intersection between crime, homelessness and addictions, and the varied resources that are needed to respond to those challenges.
He cited a recent meeting he had at the Travelodge, where a significant percentage are unhoused seniors struggling with the high cost of rent, while others are living with a major physical or mental health issue.
“This is what we’ve really got to think about when we start branding a certain group of people all as one. There are several elements,” Shypitka said.