Pubdate: Sun, 31 Dec 2006
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw, Times Colonist


Solicitor General Counts Police Integration, Traffic-Safety Helicopter
As Top Successes

British Columbia must build more jails in 2007 because crowding in the
corrections system has reached an unacceptable level, says John Les,
solicitor general and minister of public safety.

But at the same time, Les said, he has to find solutions for what's
clogging the jails, such as street-smart prisoners who know they get
double credit toward sentences if they don't post bail and are
remanded into custody before trial. They represent more than half the
jail population, he said.

"We have a capacity problem in our jails right now, and I'm in
discussions with the Treasury Board as to what our options might be,"
Les said in a year-end interview with the Times Colonist.

"We will need to have additional capacity underway," before the end of
2007, he said.

Vancouver Island likely won't see a new jail. But the Okanagan would
be a logical choice and the Lower Mainland could see space built onto
existing facilities, he said.

The congested jail system was one of Les's top issues in 2006. His
ministry also encompasses police, liquor licensing, driver fitness,
and the Provincial Emergency Program.

Les characterized 2006 as a "good year" with "excellent" responses
from emergency officials during the snow, rain and windstorms that hit
the province in the last two months of the year.

His critics have a laundry list of topics for attack. The NDP says Les
is a minister big on verbiage but less impressive on delivering

Les doesn't hesitate when asked to list his top accomplishments in the
past year: Funding a traffic-safety helicopter in the Lower Mainland,
creating more police-officer positions, starting a police program to
use automated licence plate reading technology, passing the Civil
Forfeiture Act to allow government seizures of illegal property, and
pushing forward the province-wide police records database known as

He also claimed success this month when he convinced Greater
Victoria's mayors and police departments to co-operate on forming
integrated regional police units.

However, the minister had to call the mayors into his office in early
December to make it happen. Prior to that, he weathered weeks of
criticism that he wasn't acting decisively when he asked local
politicians to solve the long-standing dispute among themselves.

NDP ministry critic Mike Farnworth said Les could provide more clear
leadership. "On issue after issue after issue this solicitor general
and ministry have failed to step up to the plate," said Farnworth.

Farnworth pointed to Les's reluctance to regulate the home-inspection
industry. The government also failed to act on a study in September
that said Vancouver's bank robbery rate is six times higher than other
major Canadian cities but its robbers get a third of the prison
sentence when caught.

The promise of more jails comes from a government that closed 10
facilities in 2001, said Farnworth. "Now he says he wants to build

B.C.'s jails are 100 per cent full, and more than 75 per cent of
inmates are double-bunked. Correctional officers have said violence is
increasing as the guard-to-inmate ratio widens.

The crowding is not acceptable, nor are estimates that as much as 10
per cent of the prison population has arrest warrants from other parts
of Canada, said Les. "I would love to start shipping some of these
people back to where they belong, particularly if they have warrants
for more serious crimes than what they've been picked up for in
British Columbia."

That's just one of the ideas the government will explore in a busy

Les continues to mull a five-year ban on novice drivers caught with
any blood-alcohol level. He floated the idea in November after the NDP
released statistics showing the odds of a drunk driver being convicted
in B.C. have dropped to 30 per cent from 60 per cent in the last nine

Regulating the payday-loan industry and its high interest rates will
also move forward in 2007, but legislation may not be completed, the
minister said. Provincial legislation was put on hold until the
federal government drafted its own bill, which is now on the way to
the Senate.

At least two locally-led initiatives failed to find traction in the
last year and appear stalled.

B.C.'s police chiefs and fire chiefs -- led by the Oak Bay Fire
Department -- asked for a provincewide ban on fireworks. Les refused,
saying individual municipalities can do it themselves.

A Victoria police idea to restore special-constable status for
hospital security guards also fizzled. Police said it would prevent
officers from waiting up to six hours at hospitals on mental-health
calls. Les expressed support but said police and health officials (who
complained of the cost of such a plan) should work it out on their
own. An initial meeting failed to produce an agreement.
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