British Columbia

Canada's fastest-growing city grapples with how to manage rising crime rates

Police and crown prosecutors say they need more support to deal with crime in the city of Kelowna, B.C., as it experiences rapid growth but the province says it wants to focus on addressing root causes.

Prosecutors in Kelowna, B.C., say they need more support, province says focus needs to be on root causes

RCMP in Kelowna say they are doing their best to make arrests and get cases to trial. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

Police and Crown prosecutors say they need more support to deal with crime in the city of Kelowna, B.C., as it experiences rapid growth.

But the province's Attorney General David Eby says the government needs to focus its efforts on addressing the root causes of crime rather than its aftermath.

"If we want to interrupt the cycle that some people are in, we need to deal with the addiction and mental issues that some people have," he said.

The comments come following a dispute between Kelowna RCMP and the B.C. Prosecution Service over who is responsible for complaints that property crimes and petty thefts are going unaddressed in the community.

They also come as Kelowna sees rapid growth as the fastest-growing metropolitan area in Canada  — and tries to deal with the growing pains that come with it.

A backlog of cases

The dispute between police and the prosecution service began during a presentation to Kelowna city council on Feb. 28 about the previous year's crime rates, which saw increases in several categories including assaults and property crime.

RCMP Supt. Kara Triance told council that although police are making arrests, they have faced delays in getting charges approved by Crown counsel, who are responsible for deciding whether a case will go to trial.

Triance said nearly 80 per cent of the files they passed on to the Crown in 2021 were still waiting for assessment.

But prosecution service communications counsel Dan McLaughlin called the claim "grossly inaccurate" and issued a statement saying the majority of cases in Kelowna are dealt with within 30 days.

However, the B.C. Crown Counsel Association, which represents Crown lawyers in the province, said regardless of the exact numbers there is still a severe backlog of cases in the Kelowna region that needs to be addressed.

Growing complaints of crime

"Kelowna is growing, and our workload there is growing, too," association president Kevin Marks said in a release.

According to Statistics Canada, Kelowna led the country in growth among census metropolitan areas between 2016 and 2021, growing by 14 per cent, or more than 27,000 people.

The data-gathering agency also found Kelowna had one of the fastest-growing crime rates in the country in both 2019 and 2020, when it was ranked third in the country overall.

Marks said his group has been asking the government since 2017 to hire additional prosecutors in Kelowna to help deal with the increase and that the prosecutors who are in the city are severely overworked.

"They work nights and weekends to get the job done," he said. "When Crown counsel offices are not adequately resourced, there is a real risk that justice will not be served."

All of this comes as business owners in Kelowna are demanding more action from authorities to deal with crime.

Local news outlet Castanet has reported on multiple properties in the community, ranging from car washes to furniture stores, which are dealing with repeated issues such as smashed windows and petty theft costing them thousands of dollars.

But Eby said the dispute between police and prosecutors may be concealing the best solutions for dealing with crime.

Treatment and housing options

Eby suggested that while some people are calling for more arrests and jail time, the bigger problem is the number of individuals with serious mental health and addiction issues who are involved in petty crime and would benefit from support. 

"They need a medical response to the challenge they're facing," he said of repeat offenders in the community. 

"They're in and out of jails, and they're in and out of emergency rooms regularly."

B.C. Attorney General David Eby says the province is focusing on addressing the root causes of crime through mental health and addictions support. (MIke McArthur/CBC)

Eby said the province is focusing on building complex care sites throughout the province to help people, arguing it is cheaper and more effective than filling up jail cells.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said he is supportive of all solutions as long as they lead to lower crime rates for his citizens.

"There are certainly a lot of things that need to be done, given the complexity of dealing with the social issues we're seeing on our streets."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joseph Otoo

CBC Kelowna

Joseph Otoo is a reporter at CBC Kelowna: joseph.otoo@cbc.ca, @joseph_o2.

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