Ridge Meadows RCMP are putting forth a plan to keep certain criminal offenders out of a specific area in Maple Ridge.
The concept of introducing a ‘red zone’ was presented to Maple Ridge’s Mayor and City Council on Monday and would essentially ban certain offenders from the region they are frequently committing crimes.
According to a release by RCMP, for this to be implemented, police are required to have community impact accounts outlining how certain repeated criminal behaviour has negatively affected a specific area.
Armed with that background, when the police arrest an offender, but lack the legal grounds to hold them in custody for a court appearance the next day, they now have the ability to release that person with conditions to not return to the town center.
The particular boundaries at stake for Maple Ridge specifically are from Brown Avenue to 50 metres south of Lougheed Highway, between 222nd to 226th streets. Drug trafficking and increased crime levels are among main concerns for Maple Ridge that are leading the charge for this system to be used.
Steele & Drex have asked a series of experts how effective ‘red zones’ may be, and what consequences their implementation could have.
‘It’s been a disaster in Kelowna’
One concern for Victor Janicki, who has been a lawyer for 37 years, is that the people being targeted by ‘red zones’ are homeless and addicted. He says these people need access to many outlets found in the very town centre they could be banned from.
“In Kelowna for example… in that area we have the gospel mission where homeless people can go for food and shelter, the metro church, the outreach clinic where they can go for both medical and dental work, the Indian friendship society, the brain injury society, and there’s a major bus link where people would get off buses and catch different buses.”
Janicki says it’s often addicts who have ‘red zone’ ruled imposed on them, and it leaves them with no where else to go.
“The police will catch a person who let’s say is smoking a crack pipe, not selling, but just smoking. They give him a first appearance two and a half months later. They tell him he cannot go into the red zone. There is no where else for these people to go. It’s one thing to say ‘fine, you cant go in this red zone,’ but give these people some place to go so that they don’t basically walk around with shopping carts.”
‘Red zones’ don’t target the root problem: Pivot laywer
Believe it or not, Maple Ridge and Kelowna are not the first to try to impose ‘red zones,’ but Pivot Legal Society lawyer Doug King says it’s an outdated concept and doesn’t work.
“One of the biggest issues with red zones is that you’re typically dealing with people who are repeat offenders, the vast majority of repeat offenders in our justice system are people with addictions issues. They’re engaged in criminal conduct because it’s related to their addictions or because of mental health concerns… Simply red zoning them from an area is not usually effective in doing that and what happens is that the conduct continues, they add more breaches and more charges onto them and you engage in a kind of criminalization that’s not addressing the root issues.”
King says Maple Ridge is a “war zone” in terms of handling issues of crime and drug use in the sense that the city is still battling over whether to have a homeless shelter and where supportive housing should be located.
He says the city seems to be “trying to push the problem out of Maple Ridge” by ‘red zoning’ and not building necessary facilties.
Former police chief says ‘red zones’ worked wonders in Edmonton
Former Delta police chief Jim Cessford says ‘red zones’ were used in Edmonton, mostly for offenders selling drugs in specific parks or other areas.
He say criminals are the target of ‘red zones,’ not those who are homeless or in need.
“I don’t advocate using this for say homeless people or people with mental health issues, I don’t see it being used for that purpose. I see it, to me, it should be used for people who are committing criminal offenses within a certain area and if they’re charged with a criminal offense, then the area restriction should be put in place.”
However, according to King, the two can often overlap and criminal behaviour is often not separate from addiction or mental illness.
Cessford says ‘red zones’ have been used in Delta as well, for example on a man who was repeatedly tormenting his neighbours. After committing firearms and assault offenses, the man was ordered not to return to his home in Delta, Cessford says.
He says repeat offenders often have a comfort zone, and removing them from it is a valuable tool.
Exceptions to the ‘red zone’ ruling
Maple Ridge City Councillor Bob Masse says, like other Metro Vancouver communities, Maple Ridge has seen a spike in crime, drug use and trafficking.
It’s because of this that he’s in support of the proposed ‘red zone,’ and says no other Councillors have objected. He also says there are exceptions to the ‘red zone’ ban: if someone needs access to a doctor’s office, addiction service or other pressing need, they are permitted to return to the ‘red zone’ to access that service.
When asked whether he thinks criminals pushed out of the town centre will just commit crimes elsewhere…
“I think that that is something that does have to be watched, they’re not going to all of a sudden lead a life of virtue with no crime.”
Drex asks, if the people impacted by ‘red zone’ rules are repeat offenders, why aren’t they in jail?
Masse says, it’s not that simple.
“There’s been charter of rights and freedoms challenges, the judges have quite often said ‘this guy’s in front of us for the 74th time for petty crime, has he been in for treatment yet?’ And you know, there’s lots of problems with the system for sure.”