B.C. launched its repeat violent offender teams on Tuesday, in a bid to quell public unrest over crime in urban centres.
It couldn’t come a moment too soon for the government. Even NDP supporters have had enough.
Longtime New Democrat Leonard Krog added his voice to the growing chorus of unhappy citizens, after a businessman was shot and injured in Nanaimo while trying to retrieve stolen property at a nearby homeless encampment.
Krog, the city’s mayor, has been outspoken at the lack of provincial and federal action on prolific offenders who repeatedly commit thefts, crime and property damage only to be let back out on the street to reoffend.
“This was bound to happen,” Krog told media. “I say that with regret and sadness, but it was inevitable.... It's a crisis. It's a crisis for those in the streets. It's a crisis for those who are being victimized by it.
“Frankly, the government, and by that I mean the provincial and the federal government, to a certain extent, need to accept this. This is the topic on everyone’s lips.”
Krog was a former NDP MLA in the 1990s government, served through the party’s 16 opposition years, and then quit in 2018 after being elected mayor. He is a loyal soldier. For him to be so sharply critical of the NDP government is a wakeup call for New Democrats, from a New Democrat.
“People are frustrated, and they're scared,” Krog told the Times Colonist this week.
The government has responded in several ways, though nobody is quite sure yet if any of them will produce actual on-the-ground improvements in cities like Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver, which have been epicentres of street violence and crime the past year.
B.C.’s new $25 million police-prosecutor-probation officer teams became operational Tuesday, with the goal to intervene in the worst violent repeat offender cases to give Crown prosecutors (who are under government directives to crack down on bail where possible) the information needed to argue the case for incarceration in front of a judge.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and Attorney General Niki Sharma were also in Ottawa recently to argue for federal changes to bail law. Federal officials agreed to take action, though the details of what Ottawa is proposing are not yet public.
If the moves result in action, Krog will likely be one of the first to praise his former New Democrat colleagues at the B.C. legislature.
But recently, he’s expressed frustration at six years of ineffective action by the province.
Nanaimo has found much of the crime, drug use and violence centered around either homeless camps, or modular housing facilities the province has created to provide shelter spaces to the unhoused. It is often linked to people suffering addictions and mental health crises.
Krog has implored the NDP government to do more for security and support at the modular site. It opened near the city’s downtown core in 2019 to house 76 people.
“There certainly were significant problems at both sites, including chop shops, drug dealing, incredible vandalism in the community and in the nearby neighbourhoods and that continued for quite a while,” Krog told the media in December.
“The mix of people – if you have folks in active addiction, as opposed to those who are clean or trying to stay clean or sober – it is a bit of a recipe for disaster.”
In February, a downtown cafe that had been giving out soup to the unhoused in exchange for tokens bought by donors had to stop after a man put a pair of bloody knives on a table. There were also repeated instances of people falling asleep at tables and locking themselves in the bathroom.
Krog again appealed for the government to act.
“As a mayor, I emphasize my call again to wake up provincial government, wake up federal government,” he said. “What we have right now is not working. It is not improving and indeed, it is arguably worse.”
Then there was the peer-supervised consumption site called NANDU, which neighbours had been calling to be shut down due to complaints of open drug use, harassment and fighting that scared parents and children. Neighbours described it as a “literal nightmare.”
Nanaimo considered declaring the property a nuisance, and threw its support behind a nearby Island Health-funded Canadian Mental Health Association supervised consumption site instead.
“The crime, the street disorder, the behaviours that accompany the NANDU site are just not acceptable,” Krog said at the time, in response to complaints.
“You cannot in a 21st century democracy allow this kind of what I will call lawlessness and disregard for convention and community.”
Conspicuous by her absence and silence on all of this has been Nanaimo’s NDP MLA, Sheila Malcolmson, who found herself presiding over the disorder as the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions following her 2019 provincial byelection win.
Malcolmson’s tenure as the “minister of air” inside a ministry with almost no budget and power was ineffective, at best, especially to the residents suffering in her own constituency. Premier David Eby replaced her with Jennifer Whiteside last year, who is presiding over a more ambitious plan for expended addictions treatment.
Nanaimo’s other MLA, Doug Routley, has also been quietly ineffective – though nobody expects much of him anyway.
Krog has repeatedly called on Eby to follow through on his promise for involuntary care and treatment for those repeatedly overdosing and causing harm to themselves and the community. But even has backed away from that plan in the wake of criticism by some groups, including Indigenous leaders, saying he’d prefer a panel of experts research the idea to determine if it is feasible.
Krog reiterated that call after the shooting this week.
“I'm obviously very upset by it,” he said.
“I'm just not surprised. Saddened, disappointed, frustrated, but not surprised.
“I'm hopeful that continued incidents of this nature will encourage (Eby) that we need secure, involuntary care,” he added.
“This has got to stop.”
New Democrats would be wise not to dismiss Krog’s complaints as that of another sabre-rattling mayor. His repeated expressions of frustration at the lack of provincial action are wakeup calls from the NDP base to the NDP brass. The voices will only get louder, until real world results improve.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.
Editor's note: This column originally stated Leonard Krog left provincial politics in 2008. He left in 2018. We regret this error.