Vaughn Palmer: Eby speaks for parents after sex offender goes missing

Opinion: Eby has taken an increasingly hard line on crime — both as a parent and as a politician appealing to the middle-of-the-road voter

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VICTORIA — Premier David Eby reacted with anger and dismay Sunday at the news that a sex offender and child abductor considered a high risk to reoffend was on the loose after failing to return to a halfway house in Vancouver.

“I don’t understand why there weren’t sufficient safeguards put in place by the parole board on this individual to prevent this from happening,” said Eby, responding to the issuance of a Canada-wide warrant for the arrest of 58-year-old Randall Hopley.

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“I’m certainly, as I imagine all British Columbians are, deeply disturbed,” he said. “I think everybody with a four-year-old in their life is thinking about that child right now and the fact that this man is at large.

The premier has two young children in his life — his own. But he also spoke for many British Columbians.

It was the second such outburst from Eby in two months.

He resorted to stronger language back in September on discovering that Blair Donnelly, charged in a triple stabbing in Vancouver’s Chinatown, was out on a day pass from a psychiatric hospital despite a history of knife attacks and murder.

“I am so angry. I am white-hot angry that this person was released unaccompanied into the community to have a devastating impact on all of the hard work of these community members,” the premier told reporters. “I cannot fathom how someone who murdered his daughter was released in 2009, went out and stabbed somebody else, would then be released again. Unaccompanied, (he was) somehow able to go out and buy a knife, and then go to Chinatown and stab three people.

“I’m sure it boggles the mind of all British Columbians, as it does me,” said Eby, who vowed to “get to the bottom of how this happened.”

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The government appointed former Abbotsford police chief Bob Rich to review Donnelly’s release.

“This man has a long record of engaging in exactly this kind of conduct,” Eby told reporters. “We will ensure that Mr. Rich has access to all of the documents and individuals that he needs access to in order to share the details with British Columbians about how it could possibly be that this man was released into our communities, without warning.”

Rich has yet to report. B.C. United MLA Elenore Sturko called on the government Monday to appoint a similar review into what happened in the Hopley case.

Hopley had completed a six-year sentence for abducting a three year old. Authorities subjected him to a long-term supervision order that he reside in a halfway house, respect a curfew and not be near children.

He was arrested in January of this year over allegations that he was in a library in proximity to children. He was released on bail with conditions in February.

Sturko also called on the government to review whether the provincial B.C. Prosecution Service had urged the court to deny bail — and, if not, why not.

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In commenting on the case Sunday, Eby reiterated his call for the Senate of Canada to pass federal legislation making it harder for repeat, violent offenders to get bail.

“We really look to the senate to approve the bail reform bill as quickly as possible,” said the premier. “It’s unacceptable that they are sitting on this bill because it is compromising the safety of British Columbians.”

Eby was even more direct late last month, after Sharma was challenged over B.C.’s support for bail reform during her appearance before a senate committee.

“I’ve never been more sympathetic to the federal NDP’s suggestion that the senate be abolished,” fumed the premier. “How absolutely out of touch must senators be to not understand the grievous and serious public safety issues of releasing someone who has committed multiple violent offences back in the community. “

He pushed back at those senators who fretted that toughening bail provisions for violent offences could have a disproportionate effect on Indigenous people.

“Indigenous people, in particular, are the most likely to be the victim of a violent offence,” said Eby.
“The unwillingness of the senators to open their eyes and their ears to the calls from across the country to fix this quickly is profoundly disappointing to me, and, frankly, disturbing.”

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Eby’s comments on bail reform — and the ones on the Hopley and Donnelly cases — make up a pattern of hardline positions on public safety.

The government directed the prosecution service to push harder against bail applications from repeat, violent offenders. The New Democrats brought in legislation to crack down on open drug use.
Then last week the government dismissed the chief coroner’s call to waive the prescription requirement for access to so-called safer supply drugs.

Eby has travelled a long way, rhetorically speaking, from his days as a lawyer representing folks on the Downtown Eastside, a spokesperson for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the author of tracts like How to Sue the Police.

With an eye to next year’s election, he’s sounding less like the activist he used to be, more like the parents and middle-of-the-road voters he’s courting.

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