Premier David Eby said his government stands behind individuals rallying for public safety across British Columbia today.
“I agree with those folks who are out there,” Eby said Thursday (April 27). “They deserve safety communities and our government is on their side. We have got their backs and we are going to deliver for them.”
Eby made these comments in Delta just hours before the start of rallies in Victoria (outside the provincial legislature), Surrey (Holland Park), Nanaimo (Diana Krall Plaza), Kamloops (City Hall), Prince George (Walkway Along Hwy 16 Between Treasure Cove Casino and SD 57), Dawson Creek (Northern Alberta Railway Park), and Penticton (Riverside Drive). All rallies take place at noon with the exception of the rallies in Dawson Creek (4 p.m.) and Surrey (6 p.m.)
These ‘Enough is Enough’ rallies are being organized by the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, whose president Collen Middleton has called for an immediate declaration of a public safety emergency by senior governments.
Middleton said on social media that the people behind the rallies represent a moderate, grassroots movement. They want to see elected officials of all political stripes address what he called “overlapping social crises” faced by British Columbia.
“Despite the talk and commitments by our senior governments, the converging social crises facing the province continue to escalate,” Middleton said. “We now have a housing and affordability crisis, a mental health and addictions crisis, and a judicial system crisis which have combined to result in a public safety emergency.”
He also stressed that the rallies are for public safety, not against people dealing with drug issues or homelessness.
“We must make sure that our frustration and resentment is directed where it belongs: at our (provincial and federal governments).”
High-profile incidents like the stabbing death of 17-year-old Ethan Bespflug on a Surrey bus have sparked emotional, often loud debates in the provincial legislature, as it was the case Thursday again.
Eby said Thursday public safety has been a key priority of his government and pointed to additional measures coming forward, including the pending introduction of 12 regional hubs targeting violent repeat offenders. These are slated for Nanaimo, Victoria, Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster, Abbotsford, Kamloops, Kelowna, Cranbrook, Prince George, Williams Lake and Terrace, and each will also serve surrounding communities.
“These new regional hubs will help prosecutors, police and corrections officials focus on addressing specific repeat prolific offenders to keep communities safe,” Eby said at the time of their announcement. “This will deliver serious consequences for those who repeatedly break the law, while also making sure targeted services are available to those who are ready for them.”
Eby also pointed to the provincial budget which invests $1 billion toward improving mental health and addiction services and repeated long-standing demands for federal bail reform. With seven weeks left in the spring session of the federal parliament, Ottawa needs to deliver changes in legislation, he said.
Previous federal changes have made things worse, he said.
“People feel less safe,” he said. “People who have committed violent offences have been released back into the community. In fact, in less than half of the cases, where BC prosecutors are asking for people to be held in custody… that person is actually kept in jail. So obviously there is a problem here.”
Official Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon of BC United does not buy it in speaking to the rallies.
“People are frustrated,” he said. “You saw that tensions in the legislature were high today, because we find it very, very frustrating to listen to the government … six years of very conscious government decisions have resulted in what we are seeing today and interestingly, the author behind these policies decisions is one and only David Eby,” Falcon said, pointing to Eby’s previous roles as housing minister and attorney-general.
—with files from Monique Tamminga