Property Crime has been a serious concern in the City and RM of Portage la Prairie. From residents to municipal council members, people have grappled with the fact that arrested offenders are released so soon.
Central Plains RCMP Inspector Paul Peddle gives a perspective from the RCMP about the complaint of many residents concerning the short incarceration time.
"When you mention Catch and Release, we often refer to it as Prolific Offenders in our community," explains Peddle. "For those who don't know, it's people that we deal with on a regular basis. A lot of the time, even here in Portage la Prairie, there are people that we deal with 20, 30, or 40 times a year. They go to court and they're released, and we're dealing with them again in very short order."
He notes the court's hands are tied due to limitations imposed by Bill C-75.
"Bill C-75 was brought in in 2018," continues Peddle. "It's basically meant for bail provisions. They use what's called the Principle of Restraint. What that means is they try to release offenders on the least onerous conditions possible. So, for example, if somebody is dealing with alcohol addiction, previously, they'd release that person on conditions not to consume alcohol. They're trying to get away from those provisions now to try to help the individual get their life back on track and stay out of the judicial system."
He outlines how long an arrested individual is held.
"Basically, we have 24 hours before we can bring someone before the courts," adds Peddle. "Depending on the severity of the crime, it's going to dictate when that person is released. If something is minor, like a property crime or a minor theft, we would release the person in short order, if there was no previous or lengthy criminal history. If it's somebody that we hold for a more serious offence, they go before the courts and the decision is with the Crown and the Court as to when that person is released. Unless it's something extremely serious, usually we're seeing that they're released on that first court date. If it's something with aggravating factors, then that person would be held."
He says they always perform a background check on arrested individuals.
"We'll do what's called a Cpic check," says Peddle. "We'll check their criminal history to see if there's any warrants, and what their past is. A lot of the time, we're picking up people where there are warrants from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and all over the country. There are people who have a lengthy record, and we could have 18 to 19 sheets of offences from the Court for previous history. That dictates how we handle the situation, and it obviously dictates how the Crown deals with it, as well, when it comes to releasing that person or holding them on remand for a lengthier period of time."
Peddle notes it's basically a situation where first-time offenders are released rather quickly if there are not serious aggravated aspects involved. The more such a person is caught, they're held for longer periods.
"If somebody is a first-time offender and it's an offence that's lower on the scale, such as a property offence, or even like a minor assault, they're usually released on conditions to come back at a later court date," continues Peddle. "If they progress and they continue to commit crime, then the expectation is that eventually, they're going to be held in custody. I can understand how it's frustrating for the community that doesn't understand the acts and doesn't understand the legislation, what the court is bound by, and what the Crown is bound by when they release these individuals. They have certain laws that they have to follow, as well."
Peddle responds to the thoughts of those who might be tempted to take matters into their own hands, thinking the judicial system is not doing enough.
"I can speak from the RCMP standpoint," adds Peddle. "Anything that we get, we'll deal with, we'll lay the appropriate charges, and make the arrests. Unfortunately, concerning our decision to hold the person longer in cells, there are times we, obviously, would like to see the person held in custody, and get the help that they need to get their lives back on track. But that decision is not in our hands. It's with the Court and the Crown attorneys. They have to make that decision based on the information that they have. So, I can understand how it can be frustrating, but we also have to understand that there's legislation in place. They have to take precedence for what's been done in the courts."
Peddle understands that people see the police make the arrests and release offenders, and think that it's the RCMP's responsibility to determine how long the offenders are held in custody. He notes that's definitely not the case.
"A lot of the times, we see, even on our social media posts if there's a post about an arrest made, the public will make the misconception that the police are the ones releasing the individual back to the roads or back to the community again," explains Peddle. "A lot of the time, it's done by the courts. They have to go by the legislation and the new Bill C-75 that was brought into effect in 2018. What I encourage people to do, if they're frustrated, I always say, 'Never take things into your own hands.' Always call the police. We're extremely busy here, but we will respond and get to the matter. But I never encourage anybody to take matters into their own hands."
He notes he's seen people take things into their own hands, only to wind up being in trouble with the law, themselves.
"I always say to call your Police Department when those situations occur," says Peddle. "I tell people, for these situations, you can certainly speak to the local MLAs and the Crown Office. Bring those issues forward that you have. That's some of the conversations I've had with our local councils, as well. I can assure you, from an RCMP standpoint, we're doing everything we can. We understand the frustration and I sit on a number of committees in town, as well. We're making progress to help change this and get the offenders the help that they need to get their lives back on track."
Peddle says the issues that they see relate to alcohol addiction, drug addiction, and mental health.
"From my short time here in Manitoba -- I've been here about a year -- there is an issue with the individuals getting in for wait times to get the help that they need," adds Peddle. "We see that cycle continue and the people continue to commit crime, while they're waiting to get the help that they need. I sit on a number of committees in town. I work with the City of Portage la Prairie, the RM, the Department of Justice Manitoba, and the local Wawokiya wackier group. We have committees in place in which we're trying to advance these programs to get these individuals the help that they need, so they don't continue that cycle of crime. At the end of the day, it benefits everybody and it benefits the community."
He notes the local hub organization called Wawokiya, that involves several resources and organizations to help curb crime before it takes place, has made a difference.
"Wawokiya has been a tremendous support to the RCMP," notes Peddle. "So, if we have an individual that's at risk and we see a need or a program in the Community that can help them, we'll do the referral over to the Wawokiya Community Mobilization group. They'll set that individual up with programs that can help get their lives back on track. Unfortunately, like I said, I sit on the committees and there are hurdles that we're trying to overcome, and some of those hurdles are the wait times. So, we've been working with Southern Health-Santé and different groups that try to alleviate that wait time, so that the individuals can get the help that they need."
Peddle adds there is no individual group that's going to fix this problem.
"It's not going to be the RCMP arresting these people all the time," says Peddle. "The prolific offenders do not help the situation. We need to do something that's long-term and that's going to help get these people out of trouble with the law, so that at the end of the day, the community is a safer place for everybody."
He says the RCMP are making efforts to help see changes by visiting municipal councils to inform them as to what they can do to make changes that they feel are necessary. Peddle says Case Law with the courts and the 2018 Bill C-75 have alleviated incarceration times, bail provisions and principles of restraint.
"In 2018, Bill C-75 put more restrictions in place to alleviate, incarceration," adds Peddle. "So, you got things like bail provisions and the principles of restraint placing the least onerous conditions on people that are released to the community, and also special attention has to be given to indigenous communities and as well as vulnerable populations under that Bill. So, that plays into the Court's decision when it comes time to make the decision whether to release an individual on conditions or to hold them in custody."
Peddle explains they're working extremely close with the Crown.
"I meet on a regular basis with the Senior Crown for the area, and we also send regular reports to our crown," continues Peddle. "One of the things we like to do is make the Crown aware of who we see as the prolific offenders in the community. We do up a list every month with all the information that the Crown needs. We'll send them over the people in the community that are causing issues for us that we regularly deal with, and we'll update the Crown on that list every month so that they're aware and they take it into consideration when it comes time that individuals are in court again for charges that are committed within the community."
He gives kudos to the members of his detachment who work extremely hard.
"We take an extreme volume of calls," adds Peddle. "I presented to the council last month here in the city that, so far, we're at the halfway point for the year. We're taking about 8,000 calls. That's in a six-month period. Usually, in the run of a year, we're somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 calls for service just here in the Central Plains area. This just gives everybody appreciation of just how busy our members are. I just want to take the opportunity to say thanks to the members that work with me for the tremendous job that they do every day to make the community a safer place, and also to the local organizations within the community, and the volunteers that work with us to help advance this and make the community safer as well."