There is a 29-year-old St. Thomas resident who has been arrested 29 times since 2019, with 77 Criminal Code charges, 34 of those related to property crime, six related to trespassing, four drug-related charges and 39 fail-to-comply charges.
Twenty-six of those were withdrawn. And overall, 45 charges were withdrawn.
St. Thomas Police have checked on this individual’s well-being 19 times, including for overdoses and that person was reported to police 63 times as an unwanted or suspicious person because that person experienced homelessness or still does.
As they say on television crime dramas, those are the facts.
However, this is a real-life situation and not drawn from a reality show.
And it’s the type of ongoing police interaction that has St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge calling for a two-stream justice system.
We delved into this last May, asking the question how are police supposed to keep this community safe when the courts continually release or deal lightly with repeat offenders?
We’re revisiting the conundrum after learning earlier this month city police issue a Weekly Court Dispositions list that advises officers on the outcome of arrests and charges in the city.
We touched bases with Herridge earlier this month about the purpose of the list.
He advised, “We want to raise awareness about the challenges facing officers and the community as well. And, how do we find solutions to help vulnerable people?”
And to counter the keyboard warriors who insist police are guilty of catch and release.
“Communication and education are so important and we need to do that for the public,” continued Herridge.
He was quick to add, “To some degree, I will defend the courts because they’re at the mercy as well.
“What are our avenues for those people who are in the system because of vulnerability. They have substance use disorder, addiction, mental health issues, they’re living rough, in poverty or they are homeless.”
Those are the driving forces behind much of the property crime in the city, pointed out Herridge.
“You’ll do what it takes to survive.
“And that’s where we have to try and strike a balance.
” . . . we need to come up with a better solution, not only for the hard-core offenders but also for those who are in the justice system because of vulnerability.”
“For us, we are caught in the middle. We are caught between ensuring that we prevent crime, protect property and protect people but we also have to ensure that we protect a vulnerable person and try and find the resources for them as well to assist them to become productive members of the community.”
Circling back to the 29-year-old individual who is well known to police, Herridge asked if sending that person through the justice system is the right solution and is it working?
“It’s not,” asserted Herridge.
“There are many others like that. And that’s the reason we want to bring this to the public’s attention, not only to explain the catch and release piece of things, but also we need to come up with a better solution, not only for the hard-core offenders but also for those who are in the justice system because of vulnerability.”
“It’s like saying to a person who’s been arrested for impaired driving who is an alcoholic. We’re going to tell you you can’t drink alcohol. We’re setting the person up for failure right away.”
So, you have to wonder why are there so many instances of charges withdrawn?
“There could be a number of reasons. It could be a deal made between the Crown Attorney and the prosecutor. Plead guilty to this charge and these charges are withdrawn.
“There could be a variety of factors involved,” offered Herridge.
And what about court conditions imposed on an offender? Is there a realistic expectation they will be adhered to?
“It’s like saying to a person who’s been arrested for impaired driving who is an alcoholic. We’re going to tell you you can’t drink alcohol.
“We’re setting the person up for failure right away.
“And, that’s where I come back to that is not the solution. We need to find the person help.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of the cycle of poverty, addiction, homelessness and mental health issues.
We need to find a solution that’s going to help the vulnerable person who is involved in crime, but also decrease property crime they’re involved in to support their habit.”
It’s a complex issue, admited Herridge, “and so multi-faceted across various systems.
“We’re talking about the justice system, the healthcare system, social services system and so many changes and so many conversations are required where we need to connect a number of people.”
He stated the obvious, it is not an overnight fix.
“Here in St. Thomas we do not have a detox location and we don’t have a withdrawal and treatment centre. These are some of the things we need.
“We need a couple of streams of justice.
“Incarcerating a vulnerable person because they are in the justice system, is that the right answer?
“Maybe we should be finding another solution, instead of sending the person to jail and they get released again to get back in that cycle where they cannot get out on their own.”
Herridge continued, “We are arresting a lot of people and the officers are doing a great job and we’re trying to help people out.
“Sending police officers to deal with persons in crisis is not the right answer. And locking up people in crisis is not the right answer, either.”
“We just arrested a couple of people a couple of days ago in the early hours for break and enter and vehicle entry and offences and we requested those two individuals be held in custody and by the afternoon they had been released.
“They are known offenders to us and there is no doubt they will be involved in property-related crime.
“That’s frustrating for our officers. There was a time when if you broke into a residence, that was taken very seriously.”
Herridge shifted focus and pointed to the new player in the city, Indwell, which is constructing more than 100 affordable and supportive housing units in the next three years.
“They are bringing wraparound support services and that’s what we need. We need to get people housed, we need to provide them with the services they require and hopefully that’s going to reduce their involvement in crime.”
So, do we have to arrest people in all cases where a crime has been committed?
“I come across someone who has committed a minor offence because of vulnerability, why not provide police with an option where we do not have to arrest and we do not have to charge.
“This is where you are going to go to get support. We are not going to put you through the justice system because we know that is not working.
“Let’s find another avenue where we can have that person sent to get them help.”
Herridge wrapped up the conversation by underlining this takeaway.
“Sending police officers to deal with persons in crisis is not the right answer. And locking up people in crisis is not the right answer, either.
“We definitely can and have to do better.”
THE INN, WHERE PEOPLE CAN BEGIN THE HEALING PROCESS
Dwelling on that theme, the city’s new full-time emergency shelter opened mid-week and the timing couldn’t be better with the coldest temperatures of the winter upon us.
Located at 10 Princess Avenue and now known as The Inn, the renovated facility is the purpose-built home for Inn Out of the Cold, formerly housed for almost a dozen years at Central United Church and many years operated strictly as a seasonal shelter.
The facility, operated by Indwell, will house up to 40 individuals who seek shelter, safety and support.
“When I first became mayor a little over three years ago,” recounted Mayor Joe Preston at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, “we had a shelter that was kind of part-time.
“It closed in the summer and in the winter it did what it could do and in three years this is quite a reach to get to what I just saw inside.”
The Inn is a full-service shelter where individuals will receive comprehensive support.
Executive director Lori Fitzgerald advised The Inn will allow individuals to “begin the healing process and focus on next steps.”
She stressed The Inn will offer mental health and addictions support, health care and harm reduction services.
Preston noted the new emergency shelter is all about ensuring everyone has a place to sleep.
“I continue to share with everyone who asks that St. Thomas has a place for everyone to sleep tonight.
“And we continue to have a place for everyone to sleep tonight.
” . . . a stable facility from which dedicated local service providers can continue to carry out their important, lifesaving work.”
“And, if it got to where we didn’t, the next day we would.
“The City of St. Thomas would make sure we could make it happen.”
Purchase of the new location at 10 Princess Avenue was made possible through a provincial grant and city council and staff helped make the full-service shelter a priority, explained Preston, who praised the efforts of MPP Jeff Yurek.
“We recognized that’s a job the city has to do,” continued Preston, “and so we grabbed it with both hands and said ‘Yes, let’s do it.’
“The province made it possible with the areas the province does and I know Jeff did an awful lot of heavy lifting making sure the right ministers heard the right story.”
Back in October of 2020, Yurek announced $928,000 in funding to support the purchase of a new building for a permanent emergency shelter.
A facility Yurek noted that will be, “a stable facility from which dedicated local service providers can continue to carry out their important, lifesaving work.”
WE GOT US A CONVOY
They started arriving in Ottawa yesterday (Friday) and over the weekend gridlock will be the order of the day as the Freedom Convoy offloads a cargo of messages from frustrated truckers and fringe groups looking to hitch a ride to where the action will be.
Earlier this week we talked with Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio who was in Ottawa this week for her take on the cross-country cavalcade.
Her most poignant observation: The convoy has taken on a life of its own.
With the truckers running the risk of being drowned out by white noise.
Although it doesn’t appear overly apparent at this time, Vecchio anticipates supply chain problems throughout the winter if the Trudeau government doesn’t reverse vaccine mandates.
“In principle, I fully support what they are doing,” advised Vecchio. “I believe in the right to protest and I believe the policy has to be reversed.
“That being said, I recognize that any time there is a protest there will be fringe groups that join them so the safety and security of Canadians are also important at this time.
“We need to be there and actually listen to what the truckers are saying.”
“And when I look at the truckers, these are people who are saying, ‘We just want to work and you’re not letting us.’ We have to reflect on that.”
By sheer coincidence the PM is in voluntary COVID isolation this weekend, however, Vecchio indicated Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and other party members will be on hand to meet with truckers.
“I know on Saturday Erin will be here to speak to groups of truckers who want to speak directly with him.
“There will be other members from our team who will be there looking at the agricultural, industrial and all of the other sectors that are going to be impacted.”
Vecchio advised the truckers in the Freedom Convoy want to work but are not being allowed because of the cross-border vaccination mandates.
Which, by the way, are in effect on both sides of the border so U.S. officials have to be part of the dialogue.
Vecchio noted, “Eighty per cent of the goods in our own riding are exported outside of Canada and we need to be able to get those items onto trucks.
“We need to be listening. They’re coming here because they are tired, Canadians are angry and there are many people who are joining in good conscience knowing that people are losing their jobs.
“And when I look at the truckers, these are people who are saying, ‘We just want to work and you’re not letting us.’
“We have to reflect on that.”
As of this morning (Jan. 29), a GoFundMe account established to raise money for the convoy had garnered close to $7.8 million.
The fund is being organized by Tamara Lich and B.J. Dichter.
The former is on the board of directors of the Maverick Party an advocate for Wexit, Western Canada’s version of Brexit.
According to their website, they plan to take The Twin Track approach to achieve this.
“Many Western Canadians are not ready to abandon their ties to Canada, so Maverick has adopted a “twin-track” approach to achieve greater fairness and self-determination for Western Canadians.
“Track A involves striving for 5 Constitutional Changes that would bring fairness back to the west within Canada, while
“Track B proposes laying the foundation for the creation of a Western Nation.
“These will be conducted simultaneously as we build towards greater autonomy.”
How many of the truckers in Ottawa this weekend support this agenda?
FOR THE CALENDAR
In March of last year, St. Thomas Elgin Local Immigration Partnership (STELIP) in conjunction with Western University undertook a survey administered by a third party to better understand the experiences of discrimination in St. Thomas and Elgin county.
Area residents and members of the business community are invited to hear the results of the Experiences of Discrimination survey via a pair of online events to be held on Feb. 8.
It’s an opportunity to learn more about the experiences of immigrants and visible minorities, Indigenous peoples and the population at large.
Service providers and employers are invited to attend from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at which time workplace-specific information and interventions will be discussed.
The general public will meet online from 6:30 to 8 p.m. when community-wide considerations will be discussed.
At the workshops, participants will learn the results of the research and will connect with other participants to consider ways to address the experiences of the community.
STELIP notes, “A welcoming, caring, and inclusive community can be achieved with intentional planning and actions at the local level.
“All community members, employers and organizations are invited to attend and discover their role in community development. Positive change begins with a shared vision. We invite everyone to join the conversation and be a part of the change.”
You can register online on Eventbrite.
Employers and service providers: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/243180458297
General public: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/246780084877
Also in February STELIP encourages area residents to support local restaurants by participating in Global Flavours.
Pick up a passport at participating restaurants or print it off at home from their website https://www.railwaycitytourism.com/global-flavours.html.
Collect stamps every time you eat out throughout the month and enter to win a prize pack.
You can also win prizes by posting your meals with #globalflavours.
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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.