By ROY WOOD
More than 400 people crowded the main room at the Oliver Community Centre this evening to share ideas and vent frustration at what most of them see as a growing crime problem in the South Okanagan.
While there was little by way of hard numbers or crime statistics, there was an obvious consensus that crime, particularly drug-related property crime, is on the rise and the understaffed local RCMP detachment is hard pressed to cope.
The revolving-door court system, too-soft Criminal Code and crafty defence lawyers came in for some abuse, as attendees attempted to put fingers on causes and grapple for solutions.
The loudest applause of the evening went to Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie, who advocated for tougher sentences and for modernized drug treatment centres to deal with opioids and Fentanyl addictions.
“It’s the damn courts,” he said. “They’re too easy on crime. … If you do the crime you should do the time.”
As well, said Louie, the laws around youth offenders are too lenient. He advocated publishing the names of young offenders. “Shaming is part of rehabilitation,” he said.
Most of the crime “on the res” and elsewhere, he said, is drug-related. He advocated for more and better drug treatment facilities to help those willing to overcome their addictions.
Fern Gould, who said she first visited Oliver in 1953 and retired here 20 years ago, described the recent daytime theft of her husband’s truck. She said the experience has left both of them traumatized and frightened.
“(But) I bought a baseball bat. If anyone comes into my house that I don’t know, I’m going to kill him,” she said to hearty applause.
Local realtor Brian Amos indicated there could be a financial price to any increase in crime. If the local area becomes known for crime, he said, “We will become stigmatized and real estate values will go down.”
Amos described himself as a “No National Park Reserve guy.” He warned that the estimated 300,000 annual visitors to a South Okanagan park will present a “target-rich environment” to would be thieves.
Rick Knodel, who mentioned he is running for the RDOS board in October’s election, said the court system is “letting the police forces down” and it’s up to citizens speak up for changes in legislation.
He said he would like to see longer sentences for repeat offenders. “Not all criminals are rehabilitate-able.”
Former lawyer and Vancouver downtown east-side employment counsellor Gail Owen suggested that part of the local problem is that RCMP members spend too much time going to court in Penticton. “Why don’t we have a court here?” she suggested.
On the prescriptive side, Christine Kirby of ICBC described most thieves as not very hard-working. She said that locking your car and keeping valuables in your car out of sight is a quick and easy way of convincing criminals to pass you up as a victim.
RCMP Corporal Christina Tarasoff, who said she was not at the meeting in an official capacity, but just “showing our support,” did not bring up-to-date crime statistics with her.
But, she said, a recent meeting with senior officers from Penticton indicated that crime in the South Okanagan is not increasing any faster than in other jurisdictions in the province. Crime levels in Oliver are “not out of line,” she said.
The warden of the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver was at the meeting to answer questions.
On the issue of rehabilitation, Steve Dicastri said that every sentenced inmate has a “sentence plan” and is required to work every day. There are several shops where the inmates learn trades to help them on their release.
As for potential threats from released inmates, Dicastri assured the audience that inmates are never simply released into Oliver, unless that is their home. Released inmates are always taken home to their “courts of origin.” If there are no buses available, OCC staff will sometimes drive the inmate home upon release, he said.
The event was organized by the recently formed South Okanagan Crime for Change. Emcee for the evening was ODN columnist and former BC Fruit Growers Association president Fred Steele.