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Rob Shaw: If it can’t tackle crime, BC NDP faces political punishment

The party – and the public – better hope the next premier has a plan in place to tackle the province's plague of crime and violence.
B.C. Legislature in Victoria

BC New Democrats better hope premier-designate David Eby has a miraculous plan to tackle the random street violence plaguing cities, because the NDP government is sinking deeper by the day on the issue.

The Opposition BC Liberals are sharing a seemingly never-ending list of horror stories in the legislature about violent repeat offenders who in some cases severely injure or kill someone only to be let out on the streets to do so again.

A man randomly stabbed in Vancouver. Another shot in the chest with a crossbow. A woman sucker-punched in the face for no reason by a random stranger. A 93-year-old man thrown to the ground in Chinatown by a random assailant and left with a broken hip. A woman dragged into her apartment building lobby and assaulted.

Monday saw one of the most egregious stories yet: A convicted killer in Kelowna, who stabbed to death a man he didn’t even know on a Kelowna bus several years ago, somehow keeps getting charged and released on additional violent crimes in the community even though he’s shown to repeatedly skip bail.

The result is a violent, repeat offender roaming the streets of Kelowna while the RCMP warn about his danger to the public.

Castanet laid out the details of 32-year-old Tyler Newton in several excellent stories over the past few weeks.

Newton fatally stabbed 55-year-old aerospace worker Caesar Rosales on a Kelowna bus in 2014, in an unprovoked and random attack. He was convicted of manslaughter after a psychologist determined Newton was in a drug-induced psychosis at the time that he slashed Rosales’ neck and fled the scene.

He only served seven years in jail.

Newton was arrested again in June on assault and weapons charges, granted bail in September, failed to make his court date six days later, disappeared, was re-arrested this month, and then last week, inexplicably, was granted bail again. B.C.’s Crown prosecution service even consented to his release.

The story is so stupefyingly bad that all the BC Liberals had to do Monday was read the details into the record and watch Attorney General Murray Rankin sink into his chair.

“Newton has a long and appalling criminal record, with 51 convictions,” said Liberal MLA Karin Kirkpatrick.

“He's described in parole documents as someone with ‘consistent disregard for the law, pro-criminal attitudes and values and a high-risk and high-needs offender who has not mitigated that risk.’

“He is a violent, prolific offender who has a history of blatantly violating release conditions, yet he faces no consequences. He is being released again because of the incoming soft-on-crime premier's catch-and-release program.”

Rankin had nowhere to maneuver. The Newton story is the very personification of the prolific offender and violent crime controversy that the NDP have spent months trying to downplay.

“We, obviously, share the member's frustration with this horrific act,” said Rankin.

“We share the understanding that this cannot continue, and we are taking concrete steps to address it.”

The Liberals, though, were quick to counter.

“This is exactly why we have called for the NDP to issue a directive to Crown prosecutors that puts the rights of the community's safety ahead of the criminal's right to reoffend,” said Kirkpatrick.

“To the attorney general, why was Tyler Newton's right to reoffend more important to this NDP government than the right of the community to be safe?”

Rankin was equally boxed in on that question as well.

He proceeded to put on his law professor hat and attempt to explain the criminal code.

Crown prosecutors are an “independent branch of government, making daily decisions,” Rankin intoned.

“The 500 talented people who choose what to do in certain circumstances are governed by the criminal law of Canada and the Charter of Rights,” he said.

At risk of putting readers to sleep, I’ll skip the rest of Rankin’s dry lecture on the intricacies of bail reform. Suffice to say, the attorney would like to assure you the issue is everyone else’s fault but his and the government’s.

Which brings us back to Eby, the premier-designate and former attorney general who is said to be preparing a major crackdown on crime in his first 100 days of office.

“One of the challenges that we face is we can't direct Crown counsel to violate federal criminal law,” Eby said Friday during the launch of his plan.

Thankfully, unlike Rankin, he didn’t stop there.

“My position is that violent offenders should be kept in jail,” he said.

“This is not a controversial position. That's the position that is shared by British Columbians. And as the leader of the BC NDP, people will see me advocating with the federal government to make sure that the criminal code, and that federal laws, correspond with what British Columbians want.”

Outgoing Premier John Horgan has accused the BC Liberals of exploiting the crime issue with “bumper sticker” slogans.

But it’s hard to accuse the opposition of too much politicking when it’s just summarizing awful cases that are already making people angry in the real world, outside the bubble of the legislature.

“I think the public would prefer to hear some solutions from the opposition rather than claiming that everything's gone to hell in a handbasket,” Horgan said last month.


But at this point, the province is looking to hear some solutions from Horgan’s successor first.

Eby better have a plan, room in the budget and some serious political capital to spend solving the crime issue. Because every day he waits, the political damage to his government gets worse.

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Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 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, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.