(This column was published in the North Shore News on Oct. 27, 1999)

 

Fatal crash a symptom of sick justice system

By Leo Knight

LAST week's hit and run tragedy in Surrey surely must cause the attorney general to re-think his approach to supposed non-violent offences and the whole issue of police chases.  

 

Auto theft has become a major crime problem in British Columbia.  

 

With over a 100% increase over the past four or five years, it has reached epidemic proportions.  

 

Instead of addressing the problem with aggressive enforcement action and backing that up with a zero tolerance policy in courthouses across the province, the AG has declared it a non-violent offence and insisted on alternative methods of sentencing for the perpetrators, which does not include jail -- or any sort of meaningful consequence for that matter.  

 

Last week I told you about how the AG is handcuffing the police with new legislation effectively preventing the cops from being able to do many aspects of their job.  

 

The tragedy in Surrey merely underlines how wrong Dosanjh is (again) in aiming at the police instead of the real problem.  

 

Every day in Surrey and Vancouver alone, almost 50 vehicles are stolen on average. Every day. Toss in North Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, Coquitlam and, well, you get the idea.  

 

By and large it's the same people stealing the cars over and over and over again.  

 

Oh sure, they sometimes get caught only to get zipped through the revolving doors on the front of our courthouses.  

 

The double fatal hit and run in Surrey is a direct result of this broken system. Of the three people suspected of being responsible, two are young offenders who cannot be named because of another ridiculous law.  

 

They were arrested by Surrey RCMP the day after the fatal crash attempting to steal yet another car.  

 

The third suspect, 19-year-old Jeremy Matthew Coles, finally surrendered to the authorities on Monday after being sought by the police following the accident.  

 

With a lengthy list of so-called non-violent offences to his credit, Coles now stands accused of having the blood of two innocent people on his hands. One of whom was a six-year-old boy, a mere child on his way to school with his dad.  

 

In 1994 when auto theft numbers began to rise, the government took aim at the police in restricting how they conduct themselves when chasing suspects.  

 

Somehow, they reasoned that if the police didn't chase the thieves, innocent lives would not be lost in the occasional collisions that resulted when the irresponsible car thieves began doing crazier and crazier things in the effort to escape.  

 

Now the punks do things like taunt the police while driving stolen cars trying to incite a chase.  

 

And what happens?  

 

Nothing.  

 

The cops know there's no point in trying to stop the bad guys. The chase will be called off as soon as they call it in by a supervisor cognizant of the rules stacked against the police.  

 

One Vancouver police sergeant told me last week, "It's real simple. If any of my guys start chasing a car, as soon as I hear it on the radio, I shut it down. I don't need the grief."  

 

Now it's really important to note that the police were not chasing the vehicle when it hit that motorcycle head-on in Surrey. No amount of hand-wringing and obstructing the police by Dosanjh will change that.  

 

Neither, I might add, were the police chasing another stolen vehicle earlier this month when it ran a red light at Cassiar and Hastings and creamed a horse trainer on his way to Exhibition Park in the early hours of the morning.  

 

One dead and one seriously injured in that crash. The car thief limped away and to date has not been apprehended.  

 

Where's the outcry in these incidents?  

 

Had the police been chasing these stolen vehicles, the media would be setting their collective hair on fire.  

 

Three people dead in just a couple of weeks and nobody seems to have noticed this is the direct result of the policies of the B.C. government.  

 

Realistically, if one looks at the numbers over the past 20 or so years, there are probably as many, if not more, of these types of incidents in which drivers of stolen cars caused a crash and fatally injured someone as when the crash occurs while the police are trying to apprehend the car thief.  

 

So where does our self-professed defender of public safety focus his attention? Not on the thieves who are causing the problem, but on the police who are paid to protect the public.  

 

Does anyone understand this lunacy?  

 

If Dosanjh really wanted to do something about all of this, he would buck up the millions of dollars needed to get a police chopper in the air over the city.  

 

This allows the police to conduct chases in a more passive manner while still monitoring the target vehicle in order to use methods such as spike belts to stop the idiots before someone is killed.  

 

He would also focus his attention on ensuring there are real, not imagined, consequences for the perpetual car thieves. And please, I don't want to hear the argument that the judiciary is independent and, yadda yadda yadda, they are sentencing within the range prescribed by the Criminal Code.  

 

The reality is our system is so broken that judges have no confidence that any sentence they impose will be carried out. Which is the specific and direct responsibility of the attorney general's ministry.  

 

People are being killed and the police are virtually powerless to stop it.

 

The AG is too busy with politics to do his job.  

 

The media at large are silent on the subject. Something is very wrong with this movie.  

 

  -30-

 

 

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