Rob Shaw: Eby's outrage trumps Falcon's caution in response to Chinatown stabbings

The BC United leader was cautious, the premier was 'white-hot angry'

BC Premier David Eby's criticism of the system that permitted a repeat offender to be released was surprising and striking, Rob Shaw writes. | Province of B.C.

BC United leader Kevin Falcon could not have asked for better timing to launch his party’s public safety plan Tuesday, with Vancouver still reeling over yet another random attack by a repeat violent offender.

Falcon’s previously-scheduled announcement landed on a day of widespread public outrage over how a man charged with a triple-stabbing in Chinatown over the weekend had been out on an unescorted day pass from a psychiatric facility.

Even worse, the 64-year-old had a history of disturbing violence, including stabbing to death his own 16-year-old daughter in 2006, and then stabbing someone else while out on unescorted leave in 2009.

And yet, when the dust settled on a Tuesday of duelling press conferences and political jousting over public safety, it was Premier David Eby, not Falcon, who stole the spotlight.

The premier delivered a rare and uncharacteristically emotional outburst on the issue, venting publicly at a criminal justice system that could allow this to happen. In doing so, he encapsulated the public frustration far better than Falcon, who demurred, saying he’d like to see more facts about the case before drawing conclusions.

“I am so angry,” said Eby.

“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 all these community members. 

“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, somehow able to go out and buy a knife, go to Chinatown and stab three people. How is that possible?”

The Chinatown stabbing case was unique. Instead of being yet another prolific offender cycling through the revolving door of the justice system, this suspect was deemed safe enough for unescorted day passes by B.C.’s Review Board, which determines the safety of people found not criminally responsible due to mental disorders.

Eby tore a strip off the independent review board, saying it will undergo an independent assessment of its own, starting with an immediate look at all the other people it has released on day passes to make sure they aren’t a similar risk to the public.

“I can assure the people who were the victims of this attack and their families, everyone who is impacted by this horrific event, that our government will get to the bottom of how this happened,” he said. “We will do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen again. I just cannot, cannot imagine how this happened.”

Falcon, on the other hand, was more cautious.

“We need to know why this individual, given that history of extreme violence, was released on a day pass like that,” he said. “But you know, I try to be careful not to prejudge. I don't want to point fingers of blame at this very early stage until we have more information.”

There is a lot of interesting material in the BC United crime plan — including a pledge to immediately end the decriminalization program that critics have said is contributing to rising public disorder, as well as implement a provincewide ban on open drug use in public spaces.

“I have heard in every community, most recently in Nanaimo, about the total carnage that's taking place with the fact that people are now openly using drugs and parks, playgrounds, beaches, public spaces, and the police have now no ability to deal with the situation,” said Falcon, whose party initially supported decriminalization but has now flipped against the issue.

There’s also $500 million towards new police officers, prosecutors and community courts. Plus, the plan calls for allowing convicted criminals to choose “secure treatment” for addictions issues while serving jail time.

But much of those details were lost Tuesday in the public anger and debate over the Chinatown stabbings. 

What had been a golden opportunity for BC United dissipated under Falcon’s cautious denunciation of the alleged attacker. 

Meanwhile, the NDP, which should have been on the defensive, regained its footing thanks entirely to Eby, who delivered one of his best performances to date. The premier gauged the public mood correctly, and met it. Another reminder of why he and the NDP remain so popular after six years in power, and BC United, despite its big ideas, still has a lot of work to do.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. rob@robshawnews.com