Letter to the citizens
September 5, 2018
I recently read an excellent article by Lethbridge Police Services (LPS) Chief Rob Davis published in the August 20th, 2018 issue of the Lethbridge Herald. I realized that virtually all questions directed to Council regarding Policing in our Town are answered in this article. So, I will largely quote from it to address common concerns with a Q and A format.
Q: Why can Police not detain, for a lengthy period of time, a person arrested for committing an offence in town?
A: 1. If the offence is considered minor by the courts, a case where no one has been injured and the offender does not pose a risk to the safety of the public, the offender is typically released with an Appearance Notice, a promise to appear in court on an undertaking or by way of a summons.
2. Police cannot arrest at will and haul every drug user and criminal off to jail and detain them indefinitely, because the Criminal Code of Canada under Section 497 (1) directs the release of an accused “as soon as practicable” after they are arrested. In exceptional circumstances, as per Section 497(1.1)(a)(ii), to “prevent continuation or repetition of the offence or the commission of another offence”, the accused needs to appear within 24 hours in front of a justice who will determine if a release is to be granted. The Police do not determine the guilt and sentence of an accused.
Q: Can Police not deal with mischief incidents in Town by arresting and charging the perpetrators that stop citizens from enjoying their shopping in the downtown core?
A: Under Section 430(1)(d) of the Criminal Code “everyone commits mischief who willfully obstructs, interrupts or interferes with any person in the lawful use, enjoyment, or operation of property.”
So this begs the question: why are the perpetrators not arrested and locked up for years under this Section? Because it is not how our justice system operates. The decision to release is 100 per cent outside the control of police. It is in the hands of the Judiciary.
Q: So what is the Police’s job?
A: 1. The Police’s job is to gather sufficient evidence to have reasonable and probable grounds to arrest and charge a person and then, as dictated by the Criminal Code of Canada, facilitate their release “as soon as practicable” or get the accused before a Justice (within 24 hours) who will decide on their detention or release. Police are bound by the terms of the Criminal Code (requirements of evidence .
Q: Why are Police perceived to be doing so little when dealing with the recurring daily state of intoxication of some of our vulnerable on Main Street?
A: 1. “We have provincial legislation that addresses disorderly behaviour when people are intoxicated by liquor that allows Police to detain the person until they are no longer a danger to themselves or the public – usually less than 24 hours. The key is they actually have to be a danger to themselves or others. Their mere presence is not sufficient grounds for detention.”
2. There is similar provincial legislation to deal with people suffering from mental-health episodes. When they are a danger to themselves or the public, they can be taken to and detained in a hospital for a length of time. But that is for bona fide mental-health issues and the police would be criticized if they attempted to stretch or manipulate those provisions from their intended purpose to fit addictions and crime.
Q: So is our justice system failing us to a point that nothing seems to work to fix all the above issues?
A: More arrests, more jail time even if jails had adequate capacity, more strain on hospitals; all of these interventions cannot fix the problems on the long run.
Q: What then?
A question that Chief Davis poses for us all who are frustrated with a feeling that the justice system is not adequate to deal with current issues on our streets, being minor offences, mischief, intoxication and addiction.
Chief Davis expressed the following in a possible answer:
A: 1. “Perhaps it is time that provincial policy and legislation be created and supported by new and appropriate medical mental-health-addictions facilities that could receive and legally detain individuals for the appropriate amount of time. This would provide a chance to treat the addict with the end goal of addressing the addiction and the harm to themselves and others.”
2. “Creating public policy and legislation is not the role of the police. We operate within the rules created by government. Creating public policy and legislation is a function of elected officials and the citizens they serve.”
As you can see, “there are gaps in the tools, legislation and appropriate facilities available to police, healthcare, social services, justice, corrections”. I addressed these very issues with Alberta Health Services and it became clear to me and to our CAO that the lack of services’ integration needs to be addressed to find adequate solutions for the most vulnerable in our society who fall through the cracks.
Our RCMP detachment and our Level 1 Peace Officer can only do what is lawful according to the Criminal Code of Canada even if we deem that inadequate or ineffective. They are aware of our issues and of our common frustrations. Let me reassure you that they do their best within the confines of the law. There is always place for improvement and for better communication and we do address issues at our Ad Hoc Policing Committee. Our enforcement officers need our full support and appreciation for the services rendered to our community.
Council will actively seek allies to push this agenda forward, at all appropriate levels of government, to see the gaps addressed for the benefit of all concerned, and for the well-being of all communities affected in a similar manner. We will continue to work together with other organizations and levels of government to address the complexity of our recurring issues as suggested by Chief Davis.
Always at your service,