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Turning crime into political capital

Posted in BC Votes 2009 Reality Check Posted by CBC News on May 5, 2009 05:26 PM |

During the only televised leader’s debate this election, along with themes like the economy and leadership, the would-be (and current) Premiers had to answer some questions about crime. You can watch it here.

One of the questions (which were asked by “average” British Columbians from around the province via pre-recorded video) was directed at B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell: “Will the leaders commit to provincial funding for 900 more police officers in the Lower Mainland?”

Gordon Campbell answered this way: “You know and I know we were left with a significant deficit with regard to the number of police officers in the province when we were first elected. That's why we've hired over 1100 additional police officers since we were elected in 2001.”

That’s almost true: while it may have seemed to the viewer Mr. Campbell was saying 1100 additional police officers have been hired in the Lower Mainland- that’s not what the numbers say.

According to Statistics Canada, between 2002-2008, the number of officers in B.C. increased by 1176; in the Lower Mainland, only 499 were hired during that period.

Campbell and Carole James have both pledged to add 168 officers to go directly after gangs. They also both took a moment in the debate to thank police for the work they are doing, and Campbell pointed out their success twice.

First, he said, “over a dozen gang leaders have been put behind bars in the last few weeks alone.” And later, “our police officers in the integrated crime task force and gang task force have been able to arrest 10 major gang leaders in British Columbia.”

Whether it’s a dozen or ten, neither is correct. We called the Integrated Gang Task Force, and he said only one real “gang leader” has been arrested lately, Udham Singh Sanghera, but that was back in March.

A Task Force spokesman, Shinder Kirk, said Campbell should have said ten to twelve gang members or associates have recently been arrested.

But what about Carole James? She claimed Campbell was acting tough on crime while cutting the budget for courts.

“Your budget is very clear, the documents are there, it says that 10 million dollars is being cut from crown prosecutors and courts.”

That’s generally true: according to budget documents, the budgets for prosecutor services will be cut by $1.3 Million, and court services by $8.9 Million by 2012.

The Liberal’s point out the budget for courts has increased this year and the government is in the process of hiring ten new Crown Prosecutors.

James has a plan for those prosecutors, she pledged that she would, “fight those bail sentences so we don't see people cycling through the justice system.”

While James might be able to lobby, or publicly call for tougher bail conditions, she can't change federal laws governing bail.

Also, according to the Crown Counsel Act, provincial politicians should have limited influence over prosecutors: “crown have a broad and generous area of unfettered discretion in criminal prosecutions not to be interfered with by the attorney general."

All the leaders in the debate were trying to make some political capital for the crime across the province, but Green Party leader Jane Sterk was trying to make hers with a different take on public safety.

She said, “if more police, more prisons and more prosecutors was a solution to safer streets, the United States and China would be the safest countries on the planet and they are not.”