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Posted: March 1, 2022

Panel discusses crime spike and solutions for Cranbrook

By Ian Cobb

It was a first step forward; a mix of views showing the complexity of the crime and addictions problems growing in Cranbrook.

The first of two town hall meetings focussing on the increase in criminal activity in Cranbrook was held Thursday, Feb. 24 at the Heritage Inn and Conference Centre. This report focusses on roughly the first half of the 90-minute town hall. A video, accessed below, covers the entire discussion.

Kootenay Columbia MP Rob Morrison, Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka and City of Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt were joined by about 50 business owners and community members at the Q&A session.

Genex Marketing owner Chris Botterill served as open house emcee on behalf of host Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce.

The panel discussed a wide variety of questions including from Bridge Interiors owner Ken Bridge who noted the large costs to business owners from damages to properties/materials from criminal activity and impacts on insurance.

“Why doesn’t the government – all three levels – let us deduct/turn our bills in as part of our tax payments and deduct that from our taxes?”

Shypitka said there could be ways to create tax credits if all levels of government agreed to “strategize around those types of things. It’s an honest cost to an honest problem. Those are the kinds of outside the box thinking we could do. I would definitely like to follow up on that to see if government is really serious in helping business owners.

“It needs to be a holistic plan.”

Mayor Pratt pointed out that businesses can write off a portion of expenses incurred from damages and in terms of giving it back in taxes, “the only way I’d ever be in favour of something like that is if that money went directly into a fund to increase policing or solutions based on our city. If it’s going to be off municipal tax, we have to account for that and it would have to be directly into a fund that we can control, to hire more policing or security or whatever. Otherwise, it’s going to go into the pot and it’s going to disappear.”

MP Morrison noted how business owners donate significant funds to community charities and impacts from crime will carve into that charity.

“It’s a two-fold problem. Not only are you losing but so is the community,” he said.

He added if the federal government wanted to get serious about the toxic drug epidemic, “well, pay up.”

Shypitka stressed the importance of listening to experts, those who work with people at street level, or who have recovered from drug addictions and can provide their point of view.

Dealing with the rise in addictions and toxic drug deaths must “come from the ground up,” he said.

Morrison urged that whatever solutions can be achieved, they need to based around what Cranbrook needs and not East Hastings or Kelowna or bigger cities.

Pratt said he believes the city has been working at trying to address a rising crime rate.

“We’ve been concerned about this for a number of years, especially the last two,” he said. “The crime rate in Cranbrook in 2021, for personal property offences is up 32%. And we don’t like to hear that.”

Pratt said Cranbrook RCMP has grown by five officers since 2015, and two alternate officers can be accessed by the city when needed.

“It’s not something we’ve ignored. We’ve been working closely with the local RCMP.”

He said the crime rate is not the fault of the police as officers round up lawbreakers who are then treated lightly in the courts.

“We asked Crown Counsel about that. You’re the guy what’s going on? He told us he doesn’t have the say over the judges. It’s not up to him to tell the judges what to do and what not to do. It’s the Solicitor General or the Attorney General. So trust me, we’ve been working on it behind the scenes and doing as much as we possibly can.”

Pratt shared a story of a recent chat he had with Attorney General (AG) David Eby.

“I told him about the Crown Counsel and the judges turning them loose. His answer to me at the end of the discussion after I tore his whatever off for about 40 minutes, was I’ll get into touch with BC Housing and get up to speed on that and he said I’ll have to talk to the Solicitor General. So that’s where it comes; it’s lip service. What we need is for these guys (repeat offenders) to be arrested and put in jail and get them the help they need,” he said.

Shypitka summarized the complexity of the issues at hand. “Is this a spike in crime; career criminals coming into town? Is this a homeless issue? Is it an addiction issue? I think it’s probably a smattering of all three.”

Emcee Botterill said he had “dozens and dozens” of questions from business owners covering theft, vandalism, there’s people defecating on property; they’re cutting down fences that have to be repaired. A lot of these petty crimes are not worth paying the deductible in insurance to repair it and it is death by a thousand cuts to businesses. That’s why we’re here.”

The shelter at the Travel Lodge was also another hot topic of discussion, with a query about why the City of Cranbrook wasn’t involved in the decision to site it there.

Mayor Pratt said he also brought that up with AG Eby.

“BC Housing came to Cranbrook. They put a contract in place to put a temporary housing shelter in. They never even discussed it with the City of Cranbrook. We tried after the fact to have discussions with them; let’s work together, let’s find a proper location for a permanent shelter and it went nowhere. And we had numerous meetings with BC Housing and it was going good and all of a sudden everything came to a halt; they’re not discussing anything anymore and I think it’s because their budget got cut. Right now, BC Housing is under audit,” he said.

Pratt pointed out the city has seen several hundred new housing units added in the past couple of years and housing numbers are improving and believes the issue boils down to addictions and people with mental health problems who falling through the cracks.

“The people staying at the Travel Lodge, some of them need that place and it’s good that it’s there,” Pratt continued. “But the one who are causing most of the problems, they’re not in the Travel Lodge. They’re not allowed in there. And they don’t want to be there because they don’t like the rules and regulations.”

Shypitka reminded the city had “a pretty good solution” in 2015 but the inclusion of a “safe injection site” at the project forced its end as the backing agency (Salvation Army) did not approve of an injection site.

Another homeless shelter proposal near the Memorial Arena, which has been zoned accordingly, remains something Pratt is opposed to, because of the location.

He’d like to work with BC Housing to identify a better locale “and build a permanent shelter that gives these people the help that they need. The temporary shelter is not the answer.”

Pratt suggested to those in attendance to write a letter to BC Housing asking it to re-address this proposal “and have a look at a better solution.”

Shypitka quoted a letter from someone who works with the homeless population.

Government at all levels fail the homeless because they say ‘this is a model these people don’t need. For years, qualified people in the fields of supporting people who are disadvantage have spoken to the needs of the people they care for. Still we are here; politicians knowing what is best.’ I may be throwing myself under the bus by reading that but I believe that to be true. We have the people who know. Those are the cumulative inputs we need to reach a plan that identifies this from all angles; not just enforcement. That’s the quick fix.”

A question was asked about what business owners should do if they find needles on their property? Who should be responsible for picking them up?

For the answers to that and numerous other questions posed to the panel, please watch the entire video from the first townhall meeting. (Video courtesy Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce)

A second town hall is being held March 2, at College of the Rockies from 4 to 5:30 p.m., with a panel consisting of Cranbrook RCMP, ANKORS, Cranbrook Community Connections Society and others.

The events will be held as a face-to-face/virtual blend with limited seating and will be streamed live through zoom.

If you cannot attend the event(s) in-person, please register for the virtual event and a recorded session will be sent to you if you are unavailable at the time of meeting, the chamber said.

Lead image: From left – Kootenay Columbia MP Rob Morrison, Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka and City of Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt. Ian Cobb/e-KNOW photos


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