The Thompson-Nicola Regional District chair is calling a push by an Okanagan MP for stiffer penalties for looters during emergencies “common sense.”
The TNRD recently issued a letter of support to Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola MP Dan Albas (Conservative), who wants the Criminal Code to be updated to include an aggravating factor in which a natural disaster or evacuation order is present.
“There should be more severe consequences,” TNRD chair Ken Gillis said.
“People have to be able to obey evacuation orders, it seems to me, and be secure in the knowledge that, provided their property survives the fire or flood that they’re fleeing, that it will be safe.”
Gillis said the RCMP has done a “good job” protecting evacuated areas during floods and fires in the region in recent years. However, incidents of looting have still occurred.
Amidst thousands of people evacuated as a result of wildfires throughout the Interior and Cariboo in 2017, for example, arrests were made in connection to looting in 100 Mile House and Williams Lake.
“To me, that’s just beyond the pale,” Gillis said. “If you inflict that kind of misery on people who have already got more than enough to cope with, it seems to me that more severe punishment should be in order.”
Bill C-447 proposes to apply an aggravating factor to trigger stiffer penalties during sentencing if the crime was committed in the presence of a forest fire, flood, earthquake, tornado or other disaster, or when a local or provincial government or federal official declares an evacuation order.
While judges can take any factor raised in a case into consideration during sentencing, the proposed update would essentially mean it is automatically considered.
“What we’re doing is saying that society, through Parliament, views these crimes as being harsher than others, so the penalty should be, as well,” Albas said.
He tabled the private member’s bill in May after hearing demand for federal support in communities impacted by emergencies.
Other places, such as Australia and some states in the United States, already consider emergencies in sentencing, he said.
Albas said the bill is intended to protect property owners and encourage evacuation.
In addition, he said, looting complicates emergency response efforts and draws away resources.
“I looked into it, researched it and found that the Criminal Code is completely silent on this fact,” he said.
Albas said he has received strong support from across the country since he tabled the bill, including from West Kelowna, Logan Lake, the Central Okanagan Regional District, Alberta’s attorney general and the mayor of Ottawa.
Albas hopes his idea can carry on to becoming law should he fail to secure re-election this fall.
“Part of the reason why I’m running in this election is to see things like this, so that we don’t lose the momentum here,” he said.
“There’s obviously a really strong feeling right across the country.”