A report on Repeat Offending and Random Stranger Violence in BC
This week on Legally Speaking with Michael Mulligan:
In response to criticism from mayors and others, a report entitled A Rapid Investigation into Repeat Offending and Random Stranger Violence in British Columbia was prepared.
The authors of the report, a retired deputy police chief, and an academic, found that in 2021, while there had been a 7.55% reduction in the non-violent crime severity index in British Columbia, there had been a 4.32% increase in the violent crime severity index.
Part of this was the result of apparently random assault of strangers. In Vancouver, offences of this kind increased by 35% in 2021.
The report concluded that most suspects in these offences had been apprehended previously under the Mental Health Act.
The Mental Health Act permits people to be apprehended and held for involuntary mental health treatment when someone is determined by doctors to be a danger to themselves or others. Predicting this is, of course, difficult, and available resources are inadequate.
The report explains some of the history of treatment for people with mental illness in British Columbia. Between 1913 and 2012 there was a facility called Riverview Hospital, located in Coquitlam. It provided treatment for people with mental illness in a secure setting. By 1956, there were 4,300 patients living at Riverview.
Riverview was closed in 2012, and the theory was that psychiatric treatment would become “community-based”.
Unfortunately, there have not been sufficient resources provided for community-based psychiatric care.
As a result, people with serious mental illness and, frequently, drug additions have ended up homeless or living in temporary shelters.
In 2017 BC Corrections concluded that 75% of people admitted to provincial jails had a mental illness and or a substance use disorder.
The report concluded that the property and violent crimes committed by people who are suffering from mental illness and drug addiction could not be meaningfully addressed by longer jail sentences. They concluded that while people who are in jail for longer would prevent them from committing crimes while they are incarcerated, this would only result in a potential “small gain” because the people would eventually be released with the same mental health challenges.
Even if was effective, there is insufficient capacity in jail. All 10 provincial jails in British Columbia had an average of 2,500 prisoners in 2021.
This is approximately the number of people who died of drug overdoses in the same year: 2,224.
In 1956, when there were 4,300 patients in River View, the population of BC was less than 1.4 million. As of 2022, the population is more than 5.2 million.
Many of the recommendations in the report involve the urgent need for additional treatment capacity for people with mental illness and drug addiction. These include the need for Crisis Response and Stabilization Centres where people could receive immediate help. Such facilities would allow people to walk in for help without long waiting periods. They would also provide the police or paramedics somewhere to take people for immediate help.
The report also suggests that once assistance for people on a voluntary basis is created, consideration should be given to a system of involuntary treatment.
An interesting submission by the BC First Nations Justice Council was released, along with the main report. That submission is critical of some of the report’s recommendations and points out the massive overrepresentation of indigenous people in the justice system and the systemic reasons for this.
Legally Speaking with Michael Mulligan is live on CFAX 1070 every Thursday at 10:30 am. It’s also available on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
An automated transcript of the show:
Legally Speaking Oct 6, 2022
Adam Stirling [00:00:00] Time to talk with Michael Mulligan Barrister and Solicitor with Mulligan Defence Lawyers. Legally Speaking here on CFAX 1070. Good morning, Michael. How are we doing?
Michael T. Mulligan [00:00:08] Good morning. I’m doing great. Good to be here.
Adam Stirling [00:00:10] It’s a really interesting week because I know that you have helped us understand in the past matters such as the Zora case dealt with by the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as changes to the Criminal Code that were brought forth in Bill C 75 to do with bail and release conditions. And those figure prominently into a report on repeat offending and random stranger violence that I know has been part of a raucous debate in the B.C. legislature. And I know you have some thoughts on it as well.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:00:36] I do. And given that I’m not running for anything and are not trying to score points in the legislature.
Adam Stirling [00:00:42] Yep.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:00:42] I might be able to make some sense of it. And its work that I’m involved with on a daily basis professionally, of course. So, I do have some insight into it.
Adam Stirling [00:00:49] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:00:50] It’s a the is entitled “A Rapid Investigation into Repeat offending and random stranger violence in British Columbia”. And it was ordered by Mr. Eby when he was the AG. And perhaps part of the motivation would be to kick that issue down the field for about three months. And so, the report came out and I think as you made a point of noting the report, they’re released on I think it’s Saturday.
Adam Stirling [00:01:16] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:01:16] So not, not a whole lot of attention being drawn to it. But there are some really good and interesting points in the report that I think really do deserve to be discussed. Despite the short timeline, the report runs over 150 pages and then has a very interesting amendment to the end of it or an appendix to the end of it, which were the submissions made by the B.C. First Nations Justice Council, that take, I think, some issue with the report itself. So, it’s also really notable that the Government saw fit to release those submissions along with the main report. Now, I should say when the report was ordered, I think there was some in some quarters concerned that the people being asked to author it were retired police officer and an academic.
Adam Stirling [00:02:09] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:02:09] Whether that would produce a completely balanced outcome. But I think it’s fair to say they consulted quite widely. They acknowledge. They didn’t have time or a mandate to consult with all of the First Nations groups that should have been consulted with.
Adam Stirling [00:02:24] mm -hmm.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:02:25] But with that caveat, there’s a lot in here, and I think it does provide some insight into what on earth is going on in some of the municipalities like Victoria, where the candidates aren’t in holding up awards at the debate about all the wonderful things that have occurred because of some of these challenges.
Adam Stirling [00:02:47] hmm.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:02:47] And the one of the core things that the authors of this report point out when they’re talking about the origin of some of the problems which are real and exist in places.
Adam Stirling [00:03:00] yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:03:00] All across the province, including Victoria, Vancouver and elsewhere, is that there are for some categories of offences, there has been a statistical increase in the number of offences being reported. One of the statistics the authors provided was that in Vancouver between 2019 and 2021, 2020, there was a 35% increase in the number of what we describe as assaults by strangers. And so, there is an increase in that and a notable one and the background, which the authors point out, I think it’s really important for people to know and to have some context into some of the numbers and statistics. One of the things which was the origin of the challenges that are being dealt with in terms of social disorder, property crime and assaults by people who are plainly, profoundly mentally ill, and obviously and often drug addicted.
Adam Stirling [00:04:01] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:04:02] Is how we deal with mentally ill people in B.C.
Adam Stirling [00:04:04] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:04:05] And the authors of the report point out that we used to deal with people who were profoundly mentally ill by putting them in an institution, involuntarily. And the principal one in British Columbia was called Riverview Hospital. It was in Coquitlam. It opened in 1913 and it only closed in 2012. And by 1956 there were 4300 patients who were held there at Riverview Hospital. By the early nineties, that had been reduced down to about a thousand, but a substantial number of people. And remember, back in 1956, this was a much smaller province. That’s a lot of people. To give you some context for that because context is always important. What do you make of a figure like 4300 people?
Adam Stirling [00:04:51] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:04:52] Currently in British Columbia. Well, in 2021, the average number of people we had in the ten provincial jails all across the province was 2400.
Adam Stirling [00:05:03] Wow. So, double the average population in the jails was institutionalized a couple of decades ago. Those cases were similar cases. The question being, where are they now?
Michael T. Mulligan [00:05:13] Correct. Many of them are in jail.
Adam Stirling [00:05:16] mmm.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:05:16] And the other statistic the authors point out is that 75% of those people. Right. That’s those people in jail. The average 2400 people in B.C. in provincial jails.
Adam Stirling [00:05:25] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:05:25] 75% of them have either a mental health difficulty or a substance abuse disorder. 75%. Many of them have both.
Adam Stirling [00:05:35] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:05:35] Okay. So that’s who’s in jail. And to give some context to that number. So, we have used to have back in the 1950s, 4300 people with mental health challenges in a secure facility. That’s gone. They closed it.
Adam Stirling [00:05:52] yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:05:52] They were all released. The promise was that there would be help in the community. The problem is that didn’t come.
Adam Stirling [00:05:57] I see.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:05:58] because it’s expensive.
Adam Stirling [00:05:59] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:06:00] Now, to give some context to that number of people we currently have in jail, right, in 2021 as well, the number of people that died of drug overdoses in B.C. was 2224.
Adam Stirling [00:06:12] wow.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:06:12] Roughly the same number of people we have in prison.
Adam Stirling [00:06:14] Yeah,.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:06:14] In B.C. now, it’s, of course, very difficult to extrapolate from that. How many people are opioid addicted? Right. Or, you know, in that, but if you have a number, the number of people dying of drug overdoses is roughly the equivalent of our prison population, every year, now, and the number is going up. And so, you need to try to extrapolate from that. How many people are we dealing with in this category that have profound mental illnesses and how often drug addiction and often interrelated, we had in the 1950s, 4300 people who we deemed necessary to keep in a mental health hospital in Coquitlam. Now that’s gone.
Adam Stirling [00:06:55] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:06:56] And the authors of the report point out that, and this is really telling, and I think really important for people to know when they’re assessing what on earth is going on here and what can we do about it. Is that the majority of the suspects, in the part of this report was dealing with these random attacks for no reason by strangers on the street. Right. Obviously very troubling.
Adam Stirling [00:07:19] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:07:20] The authors of the report point out that the majority of the suspects in those attacks and of course, we haven’t caught all of them, but a majority of them had previously been apprehended under the Mental Health Act. So just think about that. A majority of the people apprehended, previously been apprehended under the Mental Health Act that were the suspects in those random assaults of people. Now, the Mental Health Act, which we currently have, allows people who are determined to be a danger to themselves or to others to be involuntarily kept for treatment. But the challenge, of course, is that put yourself in the position of the doctor who’s charged with dealing with the person.
Adam Stirling [00:08:05] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:08:05] you’re working at the Jubilee Hospital. Persons presented to you with serious mental health problems. Your task, doctor, is going to be to try to predict, is this going to be the person who’s going to engage in some random act of violence at some point in the foreseeable future? Good luck.
Adam Stirling [00:08:24] Yeah, I was just going to say that’s not what they teach in medical school. At least not, to my knowledge.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:08:28] Pretty, pretty tough, right? You know, and there is a shortage of capacity to treat people and the authors point that out as well. The frustration that they consulted widely with police officers and others that were in the system and part of the feedback they got was how frustrating it is for police and others who are dealing with people, because at the end of the day, the police are sort of the there’s nowhere else to go. Right. We download problems on to our police force. Right.
Adam Stirling [00:09:04] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:09:05] The problem might be mental health, but who are you going to call when the person is, you know, in the middle of the street screaming or, you know, waving a weapon around? The police.
Adam Stirling [00:09:15] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:09:16] They’re the ones who wind up being called there. And the police provided to the authors of the report, they described it as how frustrating it was that when the police were called to deal with people, that there was just nowhere for them to go to get detox and treatment. And how unsatisfactory it was that to get into something like that, it could be weeks or months of a waiting list. Right. So, your Constable so and so, who gets called to the person in profound distress, you’re concerned about them. They’re obviously dealing with a drug addiction, and you’re left with nowhere to take them. And so, one of the, I think, very good recommendations, along with many that have lots of merit in this report, was the idea of establishing places where a person could be taken for immediate treatment and assistance with, for example, drug addiction.
Adam Stirling [00:10:12] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:10:13] Without having to line up and wait. And that’s an excellent idea. Right. Having that available either for somebody to simply go there themselves. Look, I need help. If they have that capacity to, you know, realize where they’re at. Or for a police or ambulance to take somebody for help. I mean, no kidding. The talk the authors talked about how frustrating that would be. Imagine yourself as the police officer with that person. What am I going to do? And as well, the authors recommended that there be, it sounds like sort of a longer-term increase in mental health facilities along the lines of the current scheme we have, that allows people to be required to accept treatment if they’re deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. And the use of different language for what we might call that. But it seems to me that that just has lots of merit. Many of these suggestions have lots of merit. The challenge, really here, is one of resourcing money. That’s really what it boils down to.
Adam Stirling [00:11:17] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:11:18] I think when you when you look at this report and one of those one of the early first important recommendations is that idea of having a place where the police can, or an ambulance or individual can go to immediately get assistance. Clearly, we should have that.
Adam Stirling [00:11:34] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:11:34] I mean, anyone who’s driven or walked down Pandora Avenue in Victoria is going to immediately realize there is a profound need for that. Right, and we clearly need that. And as well, it’s clear that some of the other recommendations, including that one, to sort of be talked about, sort of a low security sort of long-term mental health facility, sounds a little bit like Riverview.
Adam Stirling [00:12:00] It does. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I thought the same thing. Reading it. Exactly. I totally agree.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:12:05] And maybe that’s where we’re at right now. That is something that we need. Certainly, it’s clear that we need additional resources in some form. It’s not satisfactory to just release people who have mental illness and drug addiction into the community because the daily pattern of somebody who’s in that position is going to be daily, constant criminal activity.
Adam Stirling [00:12:32] yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:12:32] In order to get money to buy drugs. That is the only way that can happen. In our current model, where we have consumption sites, but drugs not provided, somebody who’s the opioid addict will spend every waking moment breaking into cars and shoplifting things to get money to buy drugs. That’s just what they’re going to do. And if we don’t address that, either by getting them treatment or they’re going to stop using the opioids or some people say provide safe drugs or something. Right. Or have the people in a facility like, you know, reinvigorated version of Riverview or something like this, this is just going to keep occurring. And I think the current A.G. took some heat in the legislature the other day saying, well, we can’t arrest our way out of this.
Adam Stirling [00:13:19] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:13:21] And maybe that isn’t a politic thing to say, but it’s true.
Adam Stirling [00:13:24] It depends on what out means. But yes, I hear you. Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:13:28] And the authors of this report. The police officer, the academic. Retired police officer. They agree with that. They come to the conclusion that, well, you might make a link to a small impact if you had many more people sentenced to longer periods of time in jail. For the obvious reason, right. If you’re sitting in jail, you can’t be stealing cheese.
Adam Stirling [00:13:51] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:13:51] Right. You just can’t be right.
Adam Stirling [00:13:53] No.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:13:53] And you can’t. If we take all of these people who have the thousands of people who have mental illness, and I should say the authors are keen to point out being mentally ill does not equate violence. In fact, people are mentally ill and more likely to be the victim of violence. And most people with mental illness will never do anything wrong at all.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:14:10] Indeed.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:14:10] But, you know, some people do. And so, if the authors conclude that, well, you might have some small impact by doing that, it’s clearly impossible. Just consider the numbers of people that we are dealing with. Right. How many times of the current prison population and how many prisons are you going to have to house all these people? That’s not going to work. And when you take a and the authors agree, and when you take somebody who’s the mentally ill person with a drug addiction and you put them in a provincial jail for a period of time, what pops out after a number of months or years or however long you want to keep them in? Is a person with a mental illness and a drug addiction. They’re back.
Adam Stirling [00:14:58] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:14:59] That really hasn’t achieved it. And so, there are some very good ideas. Maybe after the break, we can talk.
Adam Stirling [00:15:05] Yeah, yeah
Michael T. Mulligan [00:15:06] On some additional suggestions here. And the key theme is we need more if we want to have less of these things like repeated crime and people being attacked, there are solutions. They just cost money.
Adam Stirling [00:15:18] All right. Let’s take a quick break. We’ll continue with Legally Speaking with Michael Mulligan from Mulligan Defence Lawyers. I was very interested to hear his thoughts on the report released by the government of British Columbia. We’re also going to play some clips from question period yesterday when this matter came up again, but that’s later on next hour. All coming up on CFAX.
Adam Stirling [00:15:35] We return to Legally Speaking now with Michael Mulligan, Barrister and Solicitor with Mulligan Defence Lawyers. It was a raucous day again in the B.C. legislature yesterday. Acting Attorney General Murray Rankin fielding some questions. The Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth also jumping, and we’ll play some excerpts of that later on in the program. But Michael, we’re interested in your analysis and insight on this because one, as you mentioned, you serve as criminal defence counsel, so you know this system extremely well as your profession. And two, I think that this report, Michael, goes a long way into answering a lot of the otherwise unanswered questions that many of us had occurred to ourselves earlier in the pandemic. In hindsight, a lot of it makes sense. We had thousands of individuals, all else equal, who a decade or two ago would have been institutionalized, who were not. The alternate supports that were initially promised or at least implied, were not delivered. COVID Hits. You have provincial jails less likely to have people remanded in custody. Pre-trial, you have charges themselves less likely to go forward for elements such as breach. You have the police already strained. Everyone’s scared inside their houses. It was a bubbling cauldron for public disorder in hindsight.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:16:47] I think you’re right, and in many respects, now, I’m not sure the bail is really the source of the problem. And I think the authors ultimately come to that conclusion. They talked about, you know, the reason bail decisions are made and so forth. But it’s absolutely clear, right when you have now if you sort of move the 4500 people that we kept in custody.
Adam Stirling [00:17:10] Yep.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:17:10] over mental health problems, 1950s, flash forward to 2022. What’s that number going to look like? It’s going to be enormous.
Adam Stirling [00:17:17] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:17:17] Right. And the solution is clearly not wait for the mentally ill, drug addicted person to steal cheese and then try to get them detained in a provincial jail for a few weeks. That doesn’t solve anything. It might feel satisfying, right, to sort of well, I got that person who keeps stealing cheese and coins and breaking into cars. I got them. And of course, I can appreciate the frustration. If you’re the constable,.
Adam Stirling [00:17:48] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:17:48] You’ve been called to deal with something. I appreciate the idea that you want to immediately do something. Who wouldn’t want to do something right?
Adam Stirling [00:17:54] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:17:55] And that’s reflected in the report, too. But how much better would it be if the frustrated police officer who catches the drug addicted person with profound mental illness, they’re not left with the alternatives of send them, try to send them to jail for a few weeks. Right. Not likely to be much of a long-term solution or bring them to some immediately referred to as crisis response or stabilization center if that’s what they’re proposing.
Adam Stirling [00:18:19] yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:18:19] A place where police and a person could immediately go and say, look, this person is in the middle of a profound crisis. They need help. They need to detoxify; they need help now. Not, I am going to get on a list and three months from now a bid may come up. That’s an excellent idea. Right. And the underlying problem is not bail. That’s just not it. We don’t have the capacity. It won’t work. And that’s not the solution to the problem. And the authors agree that’s not what we need to do. Another idea, which I think must have been floated by mayors or somebody who’s pretty hard to imagine how anyone in the system with any experience would have thought this was a solution, but it was in the terms of reference. So, the authors spent a fair bit of time dealing with it. Somebody had the idea that the solution to this problem was electronic monitoring bracelets.
Adam Stirling [00:19:08] Oh, I saw that. And I beg you, I was going to ask you about that. Is that practical?
Michael T. Mulligan [00:19:13] Absolutely not.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:19:14] All right. I didn’t think so.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:19:15] Of course, it’s just ridiculous. If they’re useful, we use them. And the authors point that out when the objective is, for example, make sure a person isn’t going to a particular place, like to protect a complainant.
Adam Stirling [00:19:27] Yes.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:19:27] Or make sure they’re not going to flee the province like the whoring chief that we had just for a period of time. Yeah, they got their place. But what are we doing? Are we putting electronic monitoring bracelets on thousands of mentally ill people with drug addictions? I have this sort of vision of who don’t have a home often. That’s where I had this vision of some police officer sitting at a Google screen watching a bunch of little darts swarm around the city. What are you going to do with this?
Adam Stirling [00:19:55] Okay, I can see it. Yeah. All right. You’ve made your case.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:19:58] …. have gone to 7-Eleven. What am I supposed to do with that information? Nothing. Now. The only thing that’s really important I mentioned at the outset, and it may explain why this report got released the way it did.
Adam Stirling [00:20:11] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:20:12] Is the B.C. First Nations Justice Council made a very detailed submission as part of the process and take a very different view of the problem.
Adam Stirling [00:20:23] yeah.
Adam Stirling [00:20:23] And the authors, I think, are sensitive to that. And they point out that they didn’t adequately consult with First Nations when preparing this report. And the First Nations Justice Council, you know, for example, part of their insight is that, you know, we need to take into account all of the background that goes into the massive overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. And in their view, stigmatizing people by calling them a prolific offender.
Adam Stirling [00:20:50] yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:20:50] Is not helpful, they point out. I mean, some of the stats I’m familiar with, like the percentage of people in prison who are Indigenous compared to the that to the general public rate is something like 5% of the population is Indigenous and we’ve got like 30% of the people in prison are Indigenous. That doesn’t line up. One of the other statistics they provide that I hadn’t heard before was they talked about the number of Indigenous people that have been shot by the police.
Adam Stirling [00:21:14] hmm.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:21:14] They point out that the analysis found that 1.5 out of every 100,000 Indigenous people has been shot by the police since…
Adam Stirling [00:21:24] wow.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:21:24] But since 2017, compared to 0.13 of every 100,000 white Canadians.
Adam Stirling [00:21:31] Hmm.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:21:32] Think about that.
Adam Stirling [00:21:33] Yeah, that’s a factor of ten. Wow.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:21:35] Yeah, it’s sort of. Well, that’s really remarkable. Yeah, it is. Ten times they say the likelihood of an Indigenous person being shot and killed by the police. Now, that’s not to say that the police have engaged in improper, conduct. It may be right that because of all of the systemic factors that they point out, you’ve got lots of Indigenous people who have really profound challenges.
Adam Stirling [00:21:57] Yeah.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:21:57] Right. And so that’s.
Adam Stirling [00:22:01] All the time we have for today, Michael. But thank you.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:22:03] Okay, very good. Thank you so much. Really important report and I hope it does get careful consideration.
Michael T. Mulligan [00:22:08] Absolutely. Michael Mulligan with Mulligan Defence Lawyers during the second half of our second hour every Thursday here on CFAX 1070, Legally Speaking.
Automatically Transcribed on October 11, 2022 – MULLIGAN DEFENCE LAWYERS