What does Kevin Falcon's "catch and release" soundbite about David Eby really mean?

It raises a legitimate question whether the B.C. Liberal leader is planning to copy hardball Republican tactics to smear his rival

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      In a recent Global B.C. News interview with Paul Haysom, NDP leadership candidate David Eby was asked to respond to a quote from the leader of the B.C. Liberals.

      Kevin Falcon took aim at Eby's handling of crime as the attorney general for five years.

      In particular, Falcon cited a letter from urban mayors to Eby and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth about "serious repeat offenders posing ongoing risk to public safety, walking freely in our communities while awaiting charge approvals".

      "If you look at crime, for example, his catch-and-release program, you know, he's been running as attorney general since day one has been a disaster," Falcon declared.

      The B.C. Liberal leader reiterated this message today (July 21) on The Early Edition on CBC Radio One.

      Again, he used the phrase "catch-and-release" to describe Eby's record as attorney general.

      It raises questions whether the B.C. Liberals are going to make crime and safety their cornerstone issue in the 2024 election.

      It's worth noting that the Criminal Code of Canada is overseen by the Parliament of Canada, not the B.C. legislature. The federal government appoints all superior court justices.

      Moreover, as attorney general, Eby was not supposed to interfere in the administration of criminal justice.

      The head of the B.C. Prosecution Service, assistant deputy attorney general Peter Juk, acts independently of political influence.

      Juk was a B.C. Liberal government appointee, rising to this position in 2016.

      So if Falcon has a problem with the administration of justice, perhaps he should be pointing the finger at former B.C. Liberal attorney general Suzanne Anton. After all, she was heading the ministry when Juk was promoted.

      Once in a while an AG, including Eby, will get in front of the cameras and say that the Crown is appealing a judgement or sentence that appalls many voters. But criminal justice is not supposed to be a political football.

      Yet this is precisely what the B.C. Liberal leader appears to be trying to turn it into with his "catch-and-release" mantra.

      When Kevin Falcon attacks David Eby on criminal-justice matters, he neglects to mention that the B.C. Liberals appointed the head of the B.C. Prosecution Service.
      John Lehmann

      What's the real agenda?

      If Falcon thinks that an attorney general should be meddling in criminal-justice matters and intruding on prosecutorial discretion, he should come right out and say this. Then voters can decide at election time whether he's even fit to be premier.

      But it raises larger questions in my mind.

      Falcon has already lined up one popular police officer, Eleanore Sturko, as the B.C. Liberal candidate in Surrey South.

      He might find other current and former cops to run for office, which is his right to do as leader.

      In fact, he would be wise to try to recruit someone like International Development Minister and former VPD officer Harjit Sajjan or KidsPlay Foundation CEO and VPD detective Kal Dosanjh on his team.

      But where it gets dicey is if Falcon decides to go Lee Atwater on Eby.

      Atwater was a notoriously hardball Republican operative who managed George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign in 1988.

      At that time, Atwater approved the notorious revolving-door ad, which pandered to American voters' fear of crime.

      Video: Watch the revolving-door ad that focused on a Democratic presidential candidate's record as governor.

      In addition, Atwater made a Black child murderer, Willie Horton, the centrepiece of Republican efforts to smear Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.

      The Republicans could do this because Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts when Horton was given a weekend furlough.

      While out of prison, Horton kidnapped a Maryland couple, torturing the man and raping the woman.

      An actual Willie Horton ad was produced by an independent group, Americans for Bush, which was separate from the Bush campaign managed by Atwater.

      It was some of the dirtiest politics in modern presidential-election history, exploiting Americans' racial prejudice to enable Bush to stage a come-from-behind victory.

      Video: Here's a segment on the Willie Horton campaign from the film Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.

      Is Falcon now looking for a B.C. version of Willie Horton to spring on voters during the next provincial election campaign?

      Are B.C. Liberal researchers, with the help of friendly police officers, trying to find some video of a heinous criminal who did something horrible in B.C. while awaiting trial?

      Is this what Falcon's talk of "catch-and-release" is all about?

      These are legitimate questions, given the parallels between Atwater's attacks on Dukakis and Falcon's riffing on catch-and-release.

      If this turns out to be the case, the media will need to call him out on this immediately rather than playing along with this nonsense.

      I have no problem with Falcon attacking Eby for misleading the public in opposition and government about the real causes of high housing prices.

      Falcon could also accuse Eby of whipping up yellow-peril fears through his role in a small but well-publicized 2015 study focusing on real estate purchases by people with non-anglicized Chinese names.

      But to try to suggest that Eby is creating crime in downtown cores is beyond the pale. Especially given that it's a B.C. Liberal appointee who's responsible for the administration of criminal justice and the fact that the feds write the Criminal Code and appoint judges who deal with the most serious crimes.

      We don't need Lee Atwater campaign tactics in B.C., thank you very much.

      The sooner Falcon understands this, the better.