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Tough-on-crime bill tough on cops too: WV police chief
With public safety minister Vic Toews visiting Metro Vancouver this week, West Vancouver police chief Peter Lepine is in Ottawa raising alarm about new federal crime and policing measures he says could leave the public less safe.
As president of the B.C. Association of Police Chiefs, Lepine voiced his concerns to The Outlook about two particular pieces of legislation — one already passed and one forthcoming. Namely, the Conservative government’s tough-on-crime legislation, Bill C-10, which passed in the House of Commons last Monday, and the government’s 2012 budget to be introduced in the House on March 29.
At a recent meeting of B.C. police chiefs, the province’s chief federal prosecutor Robert Prior explained the likely effects the new crime bill would have on policing in the province.
Foremost among the B.C. chiefs’ concerns, Lepine said, were the new mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes like marijuana cultivation.
“The bottom line is that by introducing minimum sentences you eliminate the opportunity to create alternative solutions to dealing with crimes,” Lepine told a recent meeting of the West Vancouver police board. “For example, potentially someone can go to jail for a year for being in possession of six marijuana plants. Whereas we may have had opportunities to take this stuff and plead it down to a lesser sentence in order to get a guilty plea so we can get things out of court.”
That will mean more cops spending more time in B.C.’s already backlogged courts instead of out in the community protecting the public.
“We’re going to be inclined to take all cases to trial now,” Lepine said. “We’ll have more of our officers spending more time in courtrooms testifying at hearings, which will have financial implications too.”
Lepine told The Outlook that in 2010, 46 per cent of West Vancouver’s impaired driving charges were plea-bargained down to driving without due care and attention in order to get a guilty plea without using the resources needed for a trial.
“With mandatory minimums, those options actually disappear,” he said.
Lepine went on to say the added costs of mandatory minimums aren’t just taxing on cops and courts, but on the prison system too.
“You have to ask to how practical is it to put people in jail for a minimum of one year for possessing x-number of plants and what the cost to the penal system will be and all of those issues,” he said. “So there are larger social issues that are associated with it other than just police costs.”
Both the B.C. and the Ottawa offices of the chief federal prosecutor declined to comment on the effects of Bill C-10 on policing or the justice system. But John Weston, Conservative MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country told The Outlook he believes the crime bill strikes a balance that will please most Canadians.
“Sometimes there will be more cops in courts but I think sometimes there will be fewer because of the deterrent effect it will have,” Weston said Tuesday on the phone from Washington, D.C. where he was meeting with US drug enforcement officials.
“With reluctance, it was necessary to bring in this law,” Weston said. “I reluctantly concede that because of increasing drug offences, child pornography, sexual assault and other areas addressed by the bill, the bill had to bring in mandatory sentences, not in all areas but in those areas where the spike in crime has caused Canadians some concern.”
Despite what Chief Lepine estimated would be a greater strain put on municipal police because of the new crime bill, he also warned next week’s federal budget would cut funding to the RCMP’s National Police Services, a fundamental support to more than 500 law enforcement departments across the country, including North Vancouver and West Vancouver.
“There are already funding challenges with it,” Lepine said. “We don’t even need to wait for new cuts to come.”
The National Police Services is responsible for things like forensic identification and criminal intelligence databases, missing and exploited children services, the firearms registry, the Canadian Police College and CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre database which is the first resource police use when running the name of a suspected criminal or missing person.
“Whether you’re talking about independent police departments such as ourselves [West Vancouver] or the RCMP on contract like North Van, the services that are provided by the National Police Services are still going to be needed — we can’t do without them. So we’ll have to find the money from someplace else,” Lepine said. “And unlike the RCMP, West Vancouver doesn’t have any direct subsidies provided to us by the federal government or by the RCMP, we’re fully funded by our tax base so any increase comes directly to our municipal taxpayers. That’s the potential impact is those services would be at increased cost.”