Suspected wildfire arsonist's release from custody last straw for Okanagan MLA | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Suspected wildfire arsonist's release from custody last straw for Okanagan MLA

July 13, 2021 - 4:50 PM

As the B.C. Liberal’s housing critic, Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart has travelled the province hearing more and more concerns about the fact that people arrested for serious crimes are left to go back onto the streets while they wait for their trails.

But the attempt by a West Kelowna man to light a forest fire last weekend was a step too far for him.

READ MORE: West Kelowna man arrested after allegedly trying to start wildfire

That prompted him to send a letter to Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, and copied to Attorney General David Eby, demanding changes.

“There is a big disconnect between the justice system and the people that are enforcing the law trying to keep our communities safe and free of crime,” Stewart told today, July 13. “The citizens think, maybe it’s the police. I think the government has to wake up and get tough on this stuff, because if they don’t, they’re basically hamstringing the police officers that are expected to prevent crime or make certain the public is protected.”

Last weekend, a man was captured on video trying to light a fire in West Kelowna. He was arrested by police as he fled the scene but was later released pending charges being approved by Crown counsel.

As of yesterday afternoon, Stewart was told charges have not yet been laid. Police are still trying to collect more evidence and want people to come forward with any video or photos they may have of the incident.

“I was astonished that person was then released back into the community,” Stewart wrote in his letter to Farnworth. “It is hard to understand when someone is literally caught in the act of intentionally starting a fire, that could obviously destroy many houses and endanger many lives, that authorities wouldn't seek to have that person detained until their trial, to help keep the community safe in the meantime."

He pointed out that arson is a very serious offence that can carry $1 million fines and possible life imprisonment.

“We have seen a general trend where it seems to be rare for people charged with anything less than murder to be denied bail,” he wrote. “Instead, they are allowed to await trial while still in the community. It's time to take a serious look at whether we need to tighten up on the ‘catch and release’ approach to law enforcement.”

He believes police are so concerned about getting charges accepted that they release suspects while they try to build iron tight cases, leaving the suspects to return to the streets.

He’s hoping his letter serves as a catalyst to get people to raise their voices in protest.

“The sense I’m getting in terms of the petty crime, drugs and all the things I’m seeing with the housing file – I would say, there is a tipping point the citizens are at,” he said.

He was encouraged to hear that a citizen’s group was recently formed in Kamloops to tackle these kinds of issues.

READ MORE: Citizen committee to take action against criminal activity on Kamloops's North Shore

On June 25, Leah Moss started a Facebook group called Kamloops Citizens for Change, that now has at least 1,500 followers wanting to take back their city. They’re talking about holding a protest at City Hall and starting a petition campaign.

“I think the government is slow to respond on these issues and, frankly, the public has to speak out,” Stewart said. “This group in Kamloops is past this point. They’re fed up with this rogue mentality that is taking over in every community I can think of."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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