Re: Open letter to MP Mark Strahl from Alayna Weiss (Chilliwack Progress, May 6).
Thanks for your note. I appreciate you taking the time to send it to me, because the only way that things will change is if enough people get together and work together to make it happen.
I’m glad to hear that you are doing well in school. I hope that you will continue to succeed and that you will inspire your brother and your friends to do the same.
Like you, I have been very troubled by what is happening in downtown Chilliwack. I’m sorry that you’ve had to see the things that you have and that some of your friends and acquaintances have been victims of violence or become addicted to drugs. People shouldn’t have to experience those things or fear for their own safety in the community that they’ve grown up in.
Far too often it seems that the same individuals are committing the same crimes, over and over. No matter how many times the police arrest them and Crown prosecutors bring them to court on charges, they are released without having paid any meaningful consequence for their actions. As a member of the previous federal government, I promoted and voted for over 30 measures aimed at strengthening our justice system including mandatory jail sentences, and it’s been very disappointing to see the courts “strike down” some of these laws recently.
It is also disappointing that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that he opposes mandatory jail sentences for violent crime, for drug dealers, and for gang members, claiming that all they do is “clog up our jails”. Well, I would argue that if you want safer streets you need to put violent repeat offenders behind bars. So, there’s more work to be done and I’ll keep pressuring this new government to put the safety and the rights of law abiding citizens ahead of the rights of criminals.
Some people have been asking for more police on our streets to keep us safe. That sounds reasonable, but to be clear, policing is a municipal responsibility and politicians don’t direct police on how to deal with crime “hot spots”. Adding more police officers takes time and costs a lot of money, and police resources are always stretched thin. I’ll be speaking with our local RCMP detachment to get an update from them on the situation downtown. We need to make sure that they have the resources they need to do their jobs.
Other than putting criminals in jail, another thing we have to do is make sure that we’re diverting people from a life of crime before they get sucked into that vortex. That’s why I’m a big supporter of things like Chilliwack Restorative Justice and other diversion programs.
We also need to do a better job in our province and right across the country in treating people suffering from either drug addiction or mental illness or both. Too often people in the system are untreated or refuse treatment for drug addiction and mental illness. It is very difficult to find a way to force people to accept help that they don’t want though, and it seems that far too many people in our criminal justice system are untreated.
All of this to say that I am aware that my constituents are concerned about crime in our community. So am I. I was born and raised in Chilliwack. I’ve lived here for most of my life. My wife and I are raising our son here. While we don’t live downtown, we spend time there and know the challenges.
I’m willing to work with any individuals, community groups, and elected officials from other levels of government who are ready to roll up their sleeves and find solutions. One group that is working to deal with many of the social issues our community is facing is the Chilliwack Healthier Communities group. Perhaps they would benefit from having a youth representative like yourself come on board?
Chilliwack is a great place to live, work and raise a family, but we know that we can always work to make it even better. And right now, we need to focus that work on our downtown so that people like you don’t have to live in fear, and our community doesn’t expect to read another story about another serious crime every day.
I’d be happy to meet with you face to face to discuss your ideas for making our community a better and safer place.
Mark Strahl, MP