A Nanaimo city councillor plans to bring forward a motion demanding stronger measures to protect communities from repeat and prolific offenders released into communities. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo councillor wants tougher measures for prolific offenders

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong plans to bring forward motion asking province for justice-system reforms

A Nanaimo city councillor wants a discussion about stiffer penalties and electronic monitoring for repeat offenders with serious charges who are released into communities while awaiting trial.

The notice of motion, made by Coun. Sheryl Armstrong at last week’s council meeting, comes on the heels of a letter sent by Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb to B.C. Premier John Horgan last month that calls for stronger sentencing for prolific and repeat offenders and accuses the judiciary of failing to consider the threat to public safety from releasing those offenders back into the community.

“I’m not saying they should go to jail, but, like [Cobb] said, why can’t we put those people while they’re awaiting trial or charges on electronic monitoring, so we know where they’re at, so there’s safety for the public?” Armstrong asked. “I’ll give you an example … we had a woman stabbed in her own house and a guy gets released on an undertaking.”

The stabbing happened in April 2020 and the suspect was released the same day on a promise to appear in court in late July of that year. More recent examples Armstrong cited included the arson of a workshop and garage last month in Harewood, and an incident last weekend in which a suspect allegedly drove directly toward RCMP officers on a logging road near Nanaimo Lakes Road.

“How many prolific offenders with serious charges keep getting released into the communities with ineffective deterrents to re-offend?” asked Armstrong, a retired RCMP sergeant. “I know that the MPs and MLAs up in William Lake are taking that on because it’s constant. We see guys out with 50-plus charges. We see people out who have failed to attend [court].”

Armstrong suggests using electronic tracking of suspects of serious crimes as one way to give communities some level of protection.

“If you use electronic monitoring devices it still gives them reasonably limited freedoms and it does not compromise public safety to the same degree as releasing them with nothing,” she said.

READ ALSO: Province to fund Nanaimo’s ‘situation table’ to try to help repeat offenders

The letter from the City of Williams Lake said that municipality has repeatedly called for stronger sentencing for prolific and repeat offenders and that the judiciary has failed to adequately ensure community safety. That motion suggested local government representatives petition the provincial and federal governments to “enact legislative and regulatory changes to the criminal just system to apply stricter measures penalties and ensure adequate incarceration of prolific criminals, including consistent use of electronic monitoring when released on conditions.”

Armstrong said she is inundated with e-mails from the public asking what can be done to lower crime in Nanaimo and worries that people will take matters into their own hands.

“We don’t have a justice system. It’s a legal system…” Armstrong said. “We need to find a better balance where the rights of the accused are protected, but so are society’s rights.”

She also advocates for mental health treatment facilities for people with mental health conditions.

“In fairness to some of them, it’s not their fault,” Armstrong said. “A lot of these people are controlled by their demons and they’re not getting the support that they require … some of these people do need to have in-patient care until they can get regulated. I know some people that shouldn’t even be on the streets because they have such severe mental health consequences.”

Armstrong said she plans to bring the motion forward at the April 19 council meeting.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo mayor wants B.C. to institutionalize severely mental ill people who are homeless

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