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Williams Lake councillors want GPS tracking for repeat offenders

An aerial view of Williams Lake, B.C.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

Councillors in the B.C. Interior community of Williams Lake have passed a resolution calling for increased GPS tracking of "prolific and repeat offenders" after a 14-year-old boy was robbed of his bike at gunpoint.

And though one councillor has suggested implanting microchips in offenders' arms – yielding references to spy movies and concerns from civil liberties advocates – the mayor of the community of about 11,000 says that was not part of the resolution.

The resolution, passed at a meeting earlier this week, says councillors "endorse and support GPS tracking on prolific and repeat offenders who are considered risks to their communities."

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The city itself does not have the authority to implement electronic monitoring of offenders, and its resolution will now be passed on to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the North Central Local Government Association.

Mayor Walt Cobb noted the resolution does not mention microchips, and said the GPS tracking was instead a reference to new electronic-monitoring bracelets that were recently purchased by the province and have a GPS function.

The mayor said while crime in Williams Lake is down, there have been some worrisome incidents of late. He mentioned the theft of the teen's bike at gunpoint earlier this week, which was captured on a video that was distributed by the RCMP, as well as a shooting at a home last month. Two men were injured in a separate targeted shooting, also last month.

Mr. Cobb said the community has also had issues with two rival gangs.

"If they want to fight amongst themselves, I guess there's not much we can do about it. But when they start attacking innocent kids, that's way beyond," he said in an interview Thursday.

Mike Morris, B.C.'s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General, said in a written statement that the ministry is exploring a community safety partnership project in Williams Lake and nearby communities.

A ministry team has met with the mayor and various leaders to discuss community safety and crime prevention, and further consultation continues, Mr. Morris said.

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The minister added that British Columbia has just implemented a new electronic-monitoring system that has increased capabilities, including bracelets with a GPS function.

Scott Nelson, a Williams Lake councillor, said he supports the province's system but doesn't believe it goes far enough. Mr. Nelson said he would support a system in which prolific offenders had a microchip implanted in their arms, though he agreed that was not part of the resolution that was passed.

"We just want to make sure that we chase these individuals down and monitor their activities 24/7, 365 days a year," he said in an interview.

Mr. Morris, in his statement, said he was "not familiar with the particular technology that is being referred to" when it comes to microchip GPS implants.

Micheal Vonn, policy director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the microchip proposal has no place in Canadian law. However, she said, the actions taken by Williams Lake council indicate "they're at the end of their tether."

"What we want to be sensitive to is the fact that there appears to be a genuine problem in Williams Lake," she said in an interview.

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"Clearly, this is a cry for assistance."

Williams Lake council also passed a resolution at its meeting, held Tuesday night, to upgrade its security-camera system. The city currently has four surveillance cameras, none of which are high-definition. The resolution calls for the number of cameras to eventually climb to 32.

However, it's unclear exactly when the city will reach that figure.

It's expected to have seven high-definition cameras in place by the end of this year, according to its department of legislative services.

Ms. Vonn said the effect of such cameras can be overstated. "We're not opposed to them categorically.

"But there are very few places where the evidence actually suggests that they are effective," she said.

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MOTION PASSED

Here is the text of the motion regarding GPS tracking passed by Williams Lake councillors earlier this week:

Moved by Councillor Scott Nelson; seconded by Councillor Laurie Walters

That City of Williams Lake Council endorse and support GPS tracking on prolific and repeat offenders who are considered risks to their communities; and further, this resolution be sent to the North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA) and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM). CARRIED

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