'Crisis point': B.C. activists call for anti-crime strategy to deal with escalating violence, theft

Members of Save Our Streets argued that there is a crime wave sweeping B.C., with thefts increasing and staff having to wear stab-proof vests

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A group of business leaders and citizen advocates in British Columbia are calling on governments of all levels to tackle crime and disorder on the province’s streets, arguing increased rates of crime are keeping people afraid and putting a strain on businesses.

At a press conference Monday morning in Vancouver, members of Save Our Streets argued that there is a crime wave sweeping the western province, and that thefts are increasing the cost of living, staff are having to wear stab-proof vests, and citizens are living in fear because of the opioid epidemic, increased homelessness and crime.

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Clint Mahlman, the president and chief operating officer of London Drugs, said he was having to authorize stab-proof vests for his staff, showing the extent to which businesses must go to keep workers safe.

“The escalating violence, vandalism, theft on our streets in communities throughout British Columbia is at a crisis point,’ Mahlman said.

Tanya Finley, a bar owner in the town of Nelson, nestled in the Kootenay Region, who has also run as a candidate for the B.C. Liberal party (now B.C. United), said that government officials are not face-to-face with the crisis and are not working to fix it.

“You’re not being defecated on, ransacked or robbed,” Finley said.

While there have been a number of high-profile instances of shocking crime in B.C. in the past year, Statistics Canada data that collect reported violations from police forces suggest, broadly, crime rates in B.C. are among the lowest they’ve been in 25 years.

In 2022, there were 7,366 criminal code violations per 100,000 people in the western province. Of the last 25 years, 2022’s crime rate was the third lowest, after 2013 and 2017. The violent crime rate is the lowest it has been since 2019 — albeit higher than 2011 through 2018 — and the property crime rate is the lowest it has been in the past 25 years.

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That said, another StatCan metric, the crime severity index, does show an increase in the severity of crimes committed in B.C. over the past few years.

While lower than in 2019, the crime severity index has climbed a few points above the lows during the pandemic and remains higher than 10 of the last 25 years. Still, it varies by locality: Vancouver, in 2022, had the lowest crime severity index the city’s had on record, while Nelson has the highest crime severity index it’s had since 2013 and Dawson Creek has the highest since 2005.

Still, there’s the widespread perception that streets are unsafe and crime rates are at epidemic proportions. (Additionally, StatCan data lags and is not in real-time, so there is no published data from the national statistical agency on crime rates or crime severity in 2023).

Mahlman argued that prices are increasing for all Canadians because of increased security costs at retail outlets, losses from theft and damage caused by vandalism. He called on governments to establish a set of statistical measures that would show whether streets are getting safer or not.

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“We hear from government representatives and political officials all the time that they share our concerns. But we’re well past the point that words don’t mean much. We want to see measurable results that are shared with British Columbians,” Mahlman said.

Karen Kuwicka, who lives in Nanaimo, said “people can no longer presume that they are safe as they go about their daily life.” She called on governments to rebuild social policy and “restore civil society.”

“Anything can happen and being constantly aware comes at a cost, both psychologically and financially,” she said.

Mahlman concluded the press conference by saying that individual policies, such as drug decriminalization, or tackling homelessness or affordability will not work.

“A comprehensive approach by all levels of government is encouraged and required,” he said.

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Originally posted 2023-10-30 20:37:57.