[Be forewarned: this very lengthy analysis is intended only for long readers.]
We’ve all seen the videos.
An average of four a day in B.C.’s largest city, according to the Vancouver Police Department’s 12-month study that ended nearly a year ago.
All relayed for our horror in grisly images of bloody or covered, lifeless bodies.
All imparting one frightening message: nowhere is safe. Not in B.C.
It’s a message B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon has been trying to reinforce for partisan advantage, citing Statistics Canada’s latest crime stats.
All capped with a singular spurious political assault on his new arch-nemesis: it’s all happening because of the crime-aggravating NDP and its presumed premier-select, former attorney general David Eby.
Why, 15 years ago the Liberals remind us, he even wrote the book on how to sue the police and “penned other radical activist materials critical of law enforcement”.
So there. Case closed. He’s really maybe an ally of some B.C. lawbreakers.
Psst, Kevin Falcon.
I’m here to remind you that B.C. crime rates were much worse when we were in power, working side-by-side in the Campbell government. More about that later.
For now, Falcon wants you to know that he’s tough on crime.
Tough as nails, this yesterday’s man who would be king.
Not a do-nothing wimp like the guy he hopes to define as B.C.’s crime-enabler-in-chief: David “catch and release” Eby.
Otherwise known as the NDP’s tomorrow man who will be king.
Tough to swallow is more like it, considering Falcon’s own 12-year record in government, as I’ll try to put in perspective.
But there he is on Twitter, to spread his false gospel.
B.C.’s crime rates are going to hell in a handbasket, he claims, “as the direct result of David Eby and the NDP’s catch-and-release program that sees criminals, especially prolific offenders, being released back into the community often on the same day they are arrested”.
It’s a big problem, no doubt, and one that makes most people’s blood boil. Mine included.
But as Les Leyne so artfully reminded us, it’s hardly a problem that Falcon can credibly lay at Eby’s feet.
Truth is, successive governments, including Falcons’, failed to do much more than repeatedly study how to address the serious problem of repeat offenders.
Which in any case mostly falls within the federal government’s Criminal Code bailiwick and within the independent purview of Crown prosecutors and the courts.
Be that as it may, there are some measures that the provincial government can take.
Sadly, they’ll have to wait a little longer as Eby deferred them to yet another study now due in early September, following an April 5 letter appealing for action from the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus (BCUMC).
For a truly illuminating and more nuanced and apolitical discussion on that problem than anything Falcon has articulated, check out Fran Yanor’s excellent recent interview with Eby, posted on Northern Beat.
Read that and I’ll bet you’ll come away feeling much more encouraged by his intimate grasp of that vexing issue. And also by some of the measures he’s contemplating to address that specific challenge of prolific offenders.
It’s a problem that Falcon’s B.C. Liberals never addressed in any meaningful way.
In fact, in my experience, that problem was so far off the cabinet radar you’d need a James Webb Space Telescope to find any evidence that anyone in that star chamber really took it seriously.
Still, I can attest to the fact that Falcon always talked the talk on fighting crime.
Walking the walk was another story.
Need I remind you, he was part of that government that closed down courthouses, slashed legal aid, initially cut funding for prosecution services, and generally starved police services, corrections, justice services, and prosecution services.
I don’t recall him ever banging the budget drum for any of those crime-fighting efforts while I was there. Although to be fair, he did provide some modest funding lifts after I left government in his 2012 budget as finance minister.
Justice, prosecution, and court and legal aid services all got a small boost under Falcon’s budget, as did corrections and policing. He froze funding for victim services and crime prevention that fiscal year.
Sometimes being truly tough on crime requires leadership that isn’t always politically popular.
A case in point: far as I can recall, Falcon was as content as the rest of his cabinet colleagues to ignore former solicitor general Kash Heed’s very public pleas for regional policing.
Long before he was B.C.’s attorney general, back in 1994, then-Justice Wally Oppal’s Commission of Inquiry into Policing in British Columbia recommended seriously examining that reform as one possible way to fight crime more efficiently and effectively.
Falcon’s Liberals, like the NDP governments before and since, basically turned a blind eye to that reform that would have done so much to counter crime and catch criminals.
Years later, as the missing-women inquiry commissioner in 2012, Oppal also embraced that regional policing model for Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria.
He determined that “It is clear from the evidence that a regional police force stood a good chance of apprehending Robert Pickton much earlier”.
“In light of the clear findings of this inquiry, this situation of a stalemate cannot be allowed to prevail,” Oppal said. “It is time for the province of British Columbia to commit to the creation of a unified [regional] police force.”
To her credit, premier Christy Clark took some small baby steps toward that end that the Horgan government subsequently stopped in their tracks.
Even now, I haven’t heard Falcon chomping on that bit as he criticizes Eby for doing nothing to stop crime and criminals from running amok.
That, despite the evidence that cities like Victoria are bearing a terribly disproportionate regional brunt of severe crimes, as its police chief, Del Manak, recently explained:
“The disparity in the crime severity index and the fact that the city of Victoria continues to face the highest crime severity index of any community in B.C. with a municipal force, goes to show that a small police agency of our size can’t continue in the way that it is without having a regional approach and a regional lens,” he said.
Nor am I aware if Falcon has formally embraced the recommendations from the recent all-party legislative committee report, Transforming Policing and Community Safety in British Columbia.
Including its recommendations for a provincial police force and for amalgamating police services on a regional basis. Such as with the four municipal police departments and three RCMP detachments in the Capital Region’s 13 municipalities that the NDP hasn’t dared amalgamate.
Now, Falcon’s former cabinet colleague and expert media go-to on policing Wally Oppal supports both of those reforms. I’m no fan of replacing the RCMP with a much more costly new provincial police force, but regional policing has long been a no-brainer.
What say you, Kevin?
Are you politically tough enough to take on that challenge that the NDP has run from like the plague? Wouldn’t bet on it.
And much as Falcon has now found religion on improving mental-health supports, he was also part of the government that finished the decades-long closure of Riverview Hospital.
All while simultaneously cutting mental health and other critical social services, and doing little to combat and treat drug and alcohol abuse, even as Campbell had initially appointed B.C.’s first minister of state for mental health—a portfolio he later eliminated.
Many of those former Riverview patients wound up homeless and afflicted with drug and/or alcohol addictions. More than a few turned to crime.
Now Falcon would have all British Columbians believe that the ever-deteriorating state of community safety in downtown Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is all because of the NDP.
Here I thought the city’s politicians and police department would bear most of that responsibility, though their problems were also greatly compounded by the failures of successive provincial governments. Particularly in regard to mental health and housing.
To that extent, at least, Falcon bears some responsibility for that sad state.
In large measure it’s a testament to senior governments’ reckless regard for socially disruptive gentrification, fuelled by public investments in other priorities.
Like the 2010 Winter Olympics and its multibillion-dollar capital expenditures to build new entertainment edifices that Falcon and our entire government deemed to be so much more worthy of scarce public resources.
Needed investments in mental-health services, addictions treatment, and affordable housing be damned.
In recent years, long after Falcon left government, at least the Clark and Horgan administrations did act to provide some much-needed mental[health supports.
Such as the new Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addiction—a key part of the NDP’s 2021 new mandate for the redevelopment of the former Riverview site is.
Horgan also created B.C.’s first stand-alone Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, supported by significant budgetary boosts as his government also has done more than any other in Canada to counter the opioid crisis.
That unprecedented crisis, too, has also posed new pressures on crime stats, as has COVID-19.
Anyway, Falcon knows full well that municipalities are primarily responsible for their own community safety and for protecting their residents with adequate investments in policing and progressive policies to help combat crime.
Exhibit A: Last May, Victoria police Chief Del Manak said this about the spate of youth violence that has rocked B.C.’s capital city in recent years:
“I regretted cancelling the school liaison program at the time I cancelled it,” he said. “I regretted shutting down our crime reduction unit, which was targeting prolific property offenders. But I had no choice. We needed officers on our front lines. The department has been dealing with an ongoing staff shortage.”
Like most major B.C. cities, Victoria’s police department is mightily struggling to cope with budgetary restraints imposed by its elected council, which is in turn hard-pressed to live within its limited means.
It’s a situation that has been aggravated by provincial offloading and also by those local governments’ political choices, often at the expense of adequately funding policing and a whole range of community safety imperatives.
I doubt that priority has been helped by the so-called “defund the police” movement, or the myriad stories of police abuse on both sides of the 49th Parallel that have done little to endear many police departments to some communities.
Anyway, Vancouver’s elected councillors are the last ones who should be pointing fingers at the Horgan government for their own budgetary decisions, as Falcon would be the first to say if he were ever to win the job that Eby will most likely soon hold.
Only seven months ago Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart was bragging that Vancouver “remains one of the safest cities in the world,” thanks to his leadership.
After last weekend’s horrific machete attacks on Granville Street, he’s now blaming the NDP for “an under-resourced mental health and justice system that endangers the safety of the community, first responders and law enforcement.”
True enough. And as Eby’s above-referenced interview in Northern Beat clearly suggests, he’s inching forward on those reforms specifically targeting prolific offenders in ways that Falcon’s Liberals never did, albeit too slowly and anything but surely.
But no one in their right mind watching what’s been going in the Downtown Eastside and vis-a-vis the insane escalation in random assaults, especially in Vancouver, would reasonably conclude that Stewart is doing a good job on community safety.
He’s been a disaster, I’ll bet most people living in Metro Vancouver would agree.
Tough on crime, Falcon? Not so much 10 to 20 years ago.
His unbridled enthusiasm for fiscal restraint in the first decade of the 2000s clearly didn’t do much to combat crime. Quite the opposite, in fact.
He was a key player in that government that variously slashed funding for child and family services, failed to properly protect vulnerable children, cut income assistance supports, turned its back on homelessness, and froze the minimum wage for a decade.
Somehow ,the B.C. Liberal governments never quite got the connection between those services and supports, and the levels of incidents and severity of crime, including domestic violence.
I know I sure didn’t. And I don’t think Falcon ever really did either.
The Liberals’ dramatic expansion of gambling during Falcon’s years in government also probably didn’t help counter B.C.’s crime rates and subsequent problems with money laundering.
At least Eby acted to address that problem via his public inquiry, which should pay dividends in years to come in reducing white-collar crime and perhaps some forms of related violent crime.
Happily, however, I can report that Falcon never once lectured any of premier Campbell’s attorneys general on their refusal to inappropriately interfere with the decisions of independent Crown counsels and the courts.
And yet now, implicitly at least, he seems to suggest Eby should do just that.
I mean, how else is one to interpret his charge that the NDP and Eby’s “catch and release program” is directly responsible for hid highly selective examples of surges in B.C. crime rates?
Politically, it certainly plays well to the far right, “red meat” crowd that might otherwise view even Falcon as being too “liberal” for their tastes.
Indeed, most British Columbians are rightly frustrated and even furious at the appalling stories of violent crimes that seem to be worse than ever and endemic to almost every community.
Largely, I suggest, because we all see so much more evidence of violent crime in the still relatively recent social media age and because police are more often now publicly releasing images and videos plastered on broadcast news to help them catch the criminals responsible.
Those changes are helping law enforcement to better do its job. But they are also reinforcing our beliefs and fears that violent crime everywhere is on the rise. And when it comes to random assaults, it surely is.
Many British Columbians do think their local and provincial politicians are not doing anywhere near what they should to improve public safety. To say nothing of the inept responses from our judicial system.
I couldn’t agree more with that assessment.
In fact, if I were in Falcon’s shoes, I’d also be targeting public perceptions about runaway violent crime as a politically promising wedge issue in making the case for new leadership in government.
But I’d do that with a mixture of legitimate criticism and widely embraced proposals for positive change that previous politicians have been too timid to embrace or too reluctant to support with desperately needed public investments.
The NDP might have done likewise during Falcon’s time in office, back when the streets were even more violently ablaze with gangland shootings.
Bad as things are today, they seemed even worse then, at least in my memory of those lethal gang wars involving the Bacon Brothers, Red Scorpions, United Nations, Hells Angels, Dhak-Duhre, Independent Soldiers and their ilk.
Although as I’ll relay in a bit, gang-related homicides suggest a different story.
The more pertinent question is what, exactly, does Falcon propose to do about violent crime?
What are his big ideas for institutional and Criminal Code reforms, needed public investments, policing, prosecution, judicial renewal, and the like?
I can’t wait to hear even one solid suggestion.
Perhaps he’s saving his “bold” ideas on that file as with every other for the next election campaign.
But as he well knows, any attorney general has at best a very limited ability to direct Crown counsel, let alone influence the courts in how to discharge their duties.
In his own clumsy way, Acting Attorney General Murray Rankin tried to make that point on Twitter in response to one horrific incident, before deleting his insensitively worded tweet in the face of public backlash.
Fact is, neither Eby nor his NDP government can be fairly blamed for their independent Crown prosecutors’ and the courts’ supposed “catch and release program”.
Not that fairness has anything to do with Falcon’s political frame-games.
For the record, here’s how the B.C. Prosecution Service explains its role:
“In British Columbia, prosecutors, known as Crown Counsel, are responsible for deciding whether to lay criminal charges and for prosecuting criminal cases. They do so as agents for the Attorney General, who is the chief law officer for the Crown. However, prosecutors make their decisions independently, which means that they conduct each prosecution free from political or other external influence.
“The independence of prosecutors is constitutionally protected. A decision by Crown Counsel on whether a prosecution should be brought, continued or ceased and what the prosecution should be for is generally protected from review by the courts and other arms of government except in cases of bad faith. It is understood that prosecutors are in the best position to assess the strength of a particular case and the public interest in a prosecution.
“Provincial legislation called the Act describes the relationship between the Attorney General, the Assistant Deputy Attorney General, who administers the BC Prosecution Service, and Crown Counsel. While the Attorney General superintends the administration of justice, Crown Counsel has a broad area of unfettered discretion in their prosecution cases.
“To protect the independence of Crown Counsel from political influence, the Crown Counsel Act mandates that when the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General wishes to intervene in a prosecution decision, they must do so in writing and the intervention must be published in the B.C. Gazette, the official public legal record of notices by government.”
It begs the question: what, specifically, would Falcon do if he were premier that’s so different?
How, specifically, would he purport to make his quasi-independent attorney general do his bidding?
Would he somehow direct him to in turn direct the deputy AG and B.C.’s constitutionally protected independent Crown counsel to kill their supposed “catch and release” program?
Is that what he’s really suggesting Eby should do, in addition to perhaps also trying to lean on the courts and judges, or maybe push for unspecified changes to the Criminal Code?
I doubt Falcon’s even really thought it all through. And I don’t hold out much hope that the legislative press gallery will press him on that critical point any time soon.
In the meantime, he might want to take a refresher course on the crime stats when we were in power.
After all, if he now says that those crime stats are effectively proof of the NDP’s soft-on-crime failures, how would he explain the hard facts I’ll now share in excruciating statistical detail. All available here on the StatsCan website.
[Feel free to click away at this point if you’re not into numbers.]
Let’s start with the Crime Severity Index (CSI), which StatsCan explains in this video.
Unlike the police-reported crime rate per 100,000 population that weights all types of crime equally, regardless of severity, the CSI reflects the weighted severity and volume of crimes, tracked over time.
Falcon asserts that “Statistics Canada now confirms that violent crime severity has gone up 30 percent in B.C. since the NDP took power.” Violent crime severity is one subset of the CSI.
Actually, it went up by 0.9 percent in 2018 and up by 22.04 percent in 2019, then down by 0.57 percent in 2020 and again up by 4.32 percent last year.
Still sounds pretty bad, no doubt.
StatsCan reports in a footnote to its figures that “Part of the overall increase in police-reported crime in British Columbia and some of its census metropolitan areas in 2019 may be attributed to the implementation of new reporting standards for classifying incidents.”
Keep that in mind as you read all of the CSI figures above and below. I gather Falcon overlooked that fact when laying the blame on the NDP for higher CSI numbers that partly reflect that reporting change.
But even with those increases, the violent crime severity index stood at 95.16 in 2021.
By comparison, when Falcon and I were in government, that index ranged up and down from a high of 121.23 in 2002 to a low of 95.98 in 2011.
Higher, in other words, than it is now.
The overall Crime Severity Index paints an even more dramatic picture.
It stood at 92.86 last year, down from 97.35 in 2020 and down from 104.28 in 2019, but slightly up from the 88.84 CSI in 2018.
That represents a drop of 4.61 percent last year from 2020, following a previous drop of 6.61 percent in 2019, after increases of 17.38 percent in 2019 and 1.95 percent in 2018.
Yet it’s a far cry from the CSI rates from 2001-2011, during Falcon’s heyday in government.
Then the CSI went from 146.64 in 2001, to 148.10 in 2002, to 154.69 in 2003, to 146.31 in 2004, to 139.79 in 2005, to 132.42 in 2007, to 121.81 in 2008, to 111.85 in 2009.
All higher crime severity rates than at any time under the NDP and so-called “catch and release” Eby.
Then the CSI dropped to 104.13 in 2010 and to 96.70 in 2011—close to today’s levels. A trend mirrored in most other provinces.
What I found interesting about those numbers was that they represented a significant bump in the B.C. Liberals’ toughest restraint years, from 2001 to 2004.
During that time when most Canadians still politically rewarded balanced budgets, most governments in Canada were also struggling with fiscal restraints that really started with former federal finance minister Paul Martin’s “hell or high water” era.
Conversely, those CSI figures in B.C. indicated successive drops as the Liberals invested more in most subsequent years in many of the same crucial social services they initially cut.
Coincidence? You tell me.
Still, the comparison is striking: the 2003 CSI of 154.69 was almost 67 percent higher under Falcon’s Liberals than last year’s 92.86 rate under the NDP.
But here’s the thing: as noted, across Canada that general up/down/up trend in the CSI over the last 20 years was pretty much consistent in all provinces, as you can see for yourself here in the StatsCan Data table for Chart 1.
If you want to know how your community has fared over time, just click on this link, and easily customize your search from the drop-down menus.
In his video, Falcon hammers the NDP and Eby for the latest increase in the violent crime severity index in Kelowna.
True, it went from 69.23 in 2017, down to 52.71 in the NDP’s first full year, all the way up to 124.25 last year.
But when Falcon was in office, it also stood at 147.78 in 2004, at 133.89 in 2005, then dropped to around 117 in following years, before rising again to 130.82 in 2009.
As with most B.C. communities, Kelowna’s violent CSI rate bounced around over that first decade in the 2000s. But it was almost always far higher then than it is now.
It might also surprise you to learn that Vancouver’s eight percent drop in the CSI last year was second best of all major urban areas in Canada.
Vancouver’s CSI has dropped under the NDP from 109.63 in 2017 to 90.11 last year.
That’s a lot lower than it was during Falcon’s and my time in government, when it ranged from 205.82 in 2001, to 196.35 in 2004, before then dropping each year to 110.28 in 2011.
Again, even though the numbers got better over the Campbell government years, the comparison doesn’t look good on Falcon, if we are to believe the CSI rates are somehow mostly directly attributable to provincial politicians’ overall response to crime.
Would you believe that the number of homicides in Vancouver also actually fell from 52 in 2017, to 44 in 2018, to 41 in 2019, before rising slightly to 46 in 2020?
Seems counterintuitive given all of the grim images and stories on gangland homicides we see on the news and in social media.
Overall provincewide gang-related homicides fell from 119 in 2017 in the Clark government’s last half-year, to 90 in each of the following two years, to 100 in 2020, before soaring to 125 last year.
What explains that last jump? Beats me.
But by contrast, gang-related homicides went from 85 in 2001 at the start of Campbell’s reign, to 126 in 2002, to 94 in 2003, to 113 in 2004, to 101 in 2005, to 110 in 2006, to 88 in 2007, to 118 in 2008, and to 117 in 2009, before dropping to 83 in his last year in office.
Again, for most of that time, those homicide numbers were much higher during most of Falcon’s time in office than over the last five years under the NDP.
The number of “homicide victims for which the status of the link between the homicide and organized crime or a street gang was known” paints a similar picture, as one would expect.
It reflects new wording that was introduced by StatsCan in 2005 to further distinguish those gang-related homicide links that were actually known versus only suspected.
That revised gang-related homicide metric went from 119 in the NDP’s first half-year in power, down to 90 in both 2018 and 2019, before rising to 100 in 2020 and 125 in 2021. Unchanged from the previous stats I just cited.
During Falcon’s time in government, that revised subset of gang-related homicide figure went from 83 in the Liberals first partial year in power, to 115 in 2002, and then 80, 103, 87, 102, 77, 114, 110, 81, 84 in the following nine years, ending in 2011.
Not much different, in other words, than the annual gang-related homicide numbers we have experienced of late, albeit with a million more B.C. residents.
B.C.’s five percent drop in the CSI in 2021 was, in fact, also second best of all provinces in Canada, notwithstanding the large increases in sexual assaults and hate crimes that afflicted our country.
What about the overall numbers of crimes committed in B.C., regardless of their severity?
The total number for all incident-based crimes in B.C. went from 413, 412 in 2018, up to 487,404 the following year, down to 449,341 in 2020 and again down to 433,788 last year.
By contrast, during Falcon’s time in government, those numbers rose from 510,252 in 2001, to 518,022 in 2002, to 550,855 in 2003, and to 557,574 in 2004.
Then they dropped in each subsequent year to a low of 391,767 in 2013, before rising again in all but one of the Clark government’s final years.
Bear in mind, all of those statistical comparisons between the B.C. Liberals’ time in government versus the NDP’s current tenure were in the context of a B.C. population that had over a million fewer people in 2001 than it does today.
Think of that.
A million fewer people then, with much worse crime stats when Falcon’s party ruled the roost than exist today.
And yet he has the temerity to criticize the NDP for “failing not only society's most vulnerable, but also every person who deserves to feel safe in B.C. communities”.
Falcon really ought to be more strategically mindful in flinging about his cherry-picked crime stats. Because even on his own chosen referenced metrics his B.C. Liberals fared much worse.
Eby need not make any apologies for a system that was typically charging anywhere from about 71,000 to nearly 78,000 adults with criminal offences all through the Campbell-Falcon years.
Figures that were roughly 50 percent higher then with a million less British Columbians than the absolute number of adults who were criminally charged in B.C. last year.
It should be up to the independent B.C. Prosecution Service, not Eby, to account for the drop in that charge count that really began in 2011.
It continued to plummet in most subsequent years, with only 59,277 adults charged in 2020 as COVID first struck, down to 52,075 adults charged in 2021.
Progress or permissiveness? You tell me. But either way, the numbers look better.
Indeed, the rate of total persons charged per 100,000 population aged 12 years and over consistently declined over the last 20 years, from 2,353.58 in 2001 to only 1,158.35 last year.
That rate went down each and every year, save two, in the last decade.
Meanwhile, the drop in the rate of youth charged per 100,000 population aged 12 to 17 years over that period was even more pronounced.
It fell from a rate of 3,820.20 per 100,000 youth in that age bracket in 2001, to 1,074.20 in 2016 during Clark’s last full year in office, to only 589.93 last year.
That’s almost an 85 percent decrease in that youth charge rate over the last 20 years.
Is that a good sign of less youth crime? Hopefully, though it seems very unlikely.
Or is it perhaps also an indication of a historic trend by Crown prosecutors to resist charging youth offenders for less severe crimes?
Again, I’m in the dark like the rest of you on that trend, which Rankin might try to explain.
All of which is not meant to in any way minimize the seriousness of the truly brutal crime problems now plaguing our communities.
They beg for more effective responses from all levels of government and from all those responsible for protecting all citizens.
Nor is this exhaustive trip down B.C.’s political and statistical memory lane even meant to defend the NDP’s record on public safety, as such, which is surely far from perfect.
It’s just meant to point out the obvious: that when you kick about crime as a political football, as Falcon is doing to score cheap political points, it’s too easy to slip on your own slime and become the butt of your own spectacle.
As such, Falcon is mostly courting ridicule that is hardly on-brand as the serious leader he hopes to convey while also holding Eby and the NDP to account.
I get that he sees crime as big political winner for his party, but really, he is not doing either himself or it any favours by inflaming and overly simplifying such a serious public concern.
Least of all without offering any workable, hard solutions.
Kevin Falcon agrees that closing down Riverview without adequate supports for mental health and addictions was a mistake.