North Saanich last month joined the City of Victoria in expressing concern about the release of violent or repeat offenders into the community while awaiting disposition of their charges, but comments from local police raise questions about whether the community is actually experiencing the problems described in the letter.
North Saanich councillors passed a resolution Sept. 20 in support of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who has called on the provincial government to revise legislation concerning bail conditions. (The provincial government responded to Victoria by pointing out that the federal government sets bail conditions for criminal offences.)
“The District of North Saanich shares the concern that in response to COVID-19 physical distancing requirements some individuals charged with violent offences and/or with past criminal convictions are being released into the community on a promise to appear or given restrictive behaviour conditions rather than being held in custody while awaiting charge disposition,” it reads.
“While COVID-19 continues to be a public health concern, we agree that this practice may create an increased risk to local communities and overall public safety, as well as overextending our police resources. We fully support the request of Mayor Helps and ask the Province to provide assistance with this important matter.”
Cpl. Andres Flores Sanchez of Sidney/North Saanich RCMP said Staff-Sgt. Wayne Conley saw the letter from North Saanich after the fact, not being asked by the municipality whether the issues raised in the letter actually apply in North Saanich.
“I don’t believe that these issues are directly applicable to Sidney-North Saanich as we have not deviated from the release procedures which were present pre-COVID,” said Sanchez. “I know it was a concern raised within our detachment at the height of the lockdowns as the courts had been temporarily shut down at that time.”
Sidney/North Saanich RCMP weigh at least seven factors when considering the release of an accused on an undertaking, including the severity of the offence, the criminal history of the accused and the safety of the community at large.
“If an assessment is made that the likelihood of the above factors cannot be met or that the release of an accused puts a member of the public at risk then the police officer will hold the accused for a Crown-led bail hearing,” said Sanchez. “At this point the individual is brought before a justice and release or further detention is determined.”
When individuals are released with conditions, it is up to police to manage them, he said. “The Sidney/North Saanich RCMP have an offender management program in place where individuals released within the jurisdiction are checked by police for compliance with conditions such as curfews.”
Ultimately, Sanchez said if there is a large group of offenders in the community, more police resources are required to manage them, which may detract from police work such as traffic enforcement among other measures.
“In this instance the continued strain on resources during the COVID-19 pandemic is being felt across all levels of government,” he said. “I appreciate that the mayor of North Saanich is supportive of our police officers and understands the continued complexities placed upon them during these unprecedented times.”
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