'Nothing creative at all': B.C. Indigenous leader slams province's plan for repeat offenders

A First Nations leader in Northern B.C. is criticizing the province's plan to deal with prolific offenders, saying it’s destined to fail if it does not involve Indigenous leadership.

On Thursday, Attorney General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced what they called a "creative" solution to respond to concerns raised about the impact of repeat offenders in communities that were raised by the British Columbia’s Urban Mayors’ Caucus. The first step was to commission a study investigating the causes of chronic crime, which will also provide the province with recommendations on how to confront the issue.

Farnworth said it will take efforts from local police, the provincial government, prosecutors, and mental health workers to address this shift in crime, which began during the pandemic.

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Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse is the Tribal Chair of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government, which represents six communities near Williams Lake. He says he watched the announcement and was immediately struck by what was not mentioned.

"Not once did they mention Indigenous involvement, and yet they talk about that they're going to 'get creative,'" Alphonse told CTV News.

"To me, it seems like the same old stuff that they've been rolling out over and over again, the cowboy approach to dealing with justice. Over and over again they get the same results, and yet they continue to keep thinking that's the answer. … To get creative, they need to involve Indigenous leadership all throughout B.C."

The study will be led by Doug LePard – former Vancouver Police Department deputy chief and former Metro Vancouver Transit police chief – and Amanda Butler, a criminologist and health researcher with a focus on mental health, substance-use disorders, criminal justice systems and prison health, according to the province.

The study will take 120 days, though the province says it will accept recommendations before the end of the study period if the investigators find there's steps that can be taken immediately.

In his own community, Alphonse says he has "had to deal with more prolific offenders than most probation workers," adding he has done that without any dedicated funding from any municipal, provincial or federal government.

"We continue to work with them and they continue to be a part of our community," he said.

One of Alphonse's main concerns is that recommendations will include more funding for police and stricter penalties for offenders.

"The RCMP themselves still have a lot of work to do, there's still a lot of systemic racism. Until they deal with that, then providing more funding for them isn't going to solve anything,' Alphonse said.

Given the rate at which Indigenous people are incarcerated in Canada's federal prisons and otherwise involved with the criminal justice system, Alphonse says he worries about solutions that are not community-based or culturally appropriate.

"There's nothing creative in their approach at all. Period," he said.

In 2021, Canada's correctional investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger described the over-representation of Indigenous people in the country's prisons as "one of Canada’s most pressing human rights issues."

He reported that 32 per cent of all federally sentenced inmates were Indigenous, with rates nearing 50 per cent for Indigenous women. This "historic high" came at a time when the overall number of people incarcerated in federal institutions was declining,

"On this trajectory, Canada will reach historic and unconscionable levels of Indigenous concentration in federal penitentiaries," Zinger wrote, adding he recommended resources be reallocated to Indigenous communities and groups for the "care, custody and supervision of Indigenous people."

Provincially, the statistics are similar.

"Indigenous people are 5.9 per cent of B.C.’s adult population, yet they are 35 per cent of the individuals in our care in custody and 27 per cent in the community," according to BC Corrections.

Alphonse noted these grim numbers, citing them as one reason he is so concerned that a plan to address crime that does not involve Indigenous leadership could harm Indigenous people.

He also said his community has been grappling with some of the same issues that the mayors' council was raising the alarm about, specifically around mental health and substance use.

"Crime and stuff like that has really gone up, maybe as a direct result of addiction issues and people having no contact with anyone. People with heavy addictions are obviously going to try to maintain their lifestyle and quite often, that means they have to go out and commit crimes to facilitate," he said.

"That's the sad truth of what's going on out there."

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Mary Cranston and CTV News Vancouver Island