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'Stranger attacks' the defining public safety issue of 2022, says minister


The minister responsible for public safety in British Columbia says the rise in stranger assaults was the defining issue of 2022 for his office.

Mike Farnworth sat down with CTV News for a look back at the main challenges his department faced this year.

“I think there has been an increased unease and concern by people about what we saw in terms of the random attacks that we’ve seen in some communities, particularly in Vancouver,” Farnworth said. “I think that’s where there has been considerable concern and anxiety amongst many people.”

The minister said his office’s focus at the beginning of the year was initially on the ongoing impacts of natural disasters in 2021, but the issue of safety on the streets quickly emerged as a new priority.

In January, former mayor Kennedy Stewart said Vancouver was “one of the safest cities in the world,” despite local police reporting an average of four random assaults per day.

“We are generally a safe province,” Farnwoth said. “But the reality is we have seen spikes in the random stranger assaults in Vancouver in particular during the course of the year.”

After hearing continued feedback from mayors across the province about public safety in their communities, Farnworth said the province asked them to provide information and statistics. “From that came the Lepard Butler report,” he said.

The report was released in September and contained 28 recommendations for “making communities safer.”

Two months later, on the first weekend of David Eby’s tenure as premier, the province announced a public safety plan.

The announcement was met with some cautious optimism.

When asked where the province was at with implementing the plan, Farnworth said that there were “short term, medium term, long term” steps to be taken.

“(Short term steps will) start to look at the assistance the police need in dealing with some of the mental health issues, ensuring that we’ve got good coordination,” he said, referring to the Peer-Assisted Care Teams and expanded CAR programs.

Expansion of the CAR program includes a $3-million pool of money that communities can apply for. Farnworth did not confirm if applications were officially open, but said cities “can start getting them in now.”

The minister also spoke about the need for changes to the federal criminal code in regards to bail for repeat offenders.

B.C.'s attorney general, Murray Rankin, has previously told CTV News that unintended consequences of bail reform in Canada are leading to more repeat offenders, some of them accused of random violence, ending up on the streets.

Farnworth promised his office would continue to lobby the federal government for changes, describing bail reform as “not just a B.C. issue”, but a “Canada wide issue.”

The minister says there are a number of things in place to measure the success of the province’s public safety plan.

“I think a number of things, I think one. That we see those random attacks, “Obviously we want (random attacks) to stop and significantly decrease. Secondly, seeing people getting the help and treatment they need. What we also want to see is that people who are committing crimes, repeat offenders, particularly violent ones, are not getting automatically released on bail,” said Farnworth.

When asked about what grade he would give for the handling of the public safety portfolio for 2022, he said, “”My staff are A+ and as for me, well, I’ll leave that up to the public.” Top Stories

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