B.C. police chiefs champion new fugitive return fund

Program sends clear zero-tolerance message to criminals: minister

Police agencies throughout the province can now access a $40,000 pot of money every year to return fugitives to provinces where they are wanted on outstanding warrants.

Police chiefs throughout B.C. signed their agencies up for the new Fugitive Return Program on Feb. 14. The provincial government program, the first of its kind in Canada, “… strengthens public safety and sends a clear message to criminals that they won’t escape justice in B.C.,” Solicitor General Shirley Bond said in a statement.

The new initiative is based on successful Con Air programs initiated by the Victoria and Vancouver police departments in 2008-09, which have been partly funded with more than $100,000 from the province’s civil forfeiture program.

The Fugitive Return Program, which has been tested out since last summer by a number of police agencies, including the VicPD, is being co-ordinated by the RCMP.

It will be up to the federal agency’s major crimes section to prioritize which fugitives are returned first, such as prolific and high-risk offenders.

“There is a void for sort of the low-end chronic offenders who have multiple warrants in multiple jurisdictions,” said Saanich police Sgt. Dean Jantzen, “but you as a Crown prosecutor wouldn’t go to the expense to bring them from one province to the next.”

The new initiative will compliment Victoria’s Con Air program, through which at least 19 suspects have been escorted beyond B.C.’s borders, said VicPD Const. Mike Russell. The Vancouver department transported 98 people out of B.C. in the same time frame.

“We still have the ability to return people on their warrants through Con Air,” he said of the local program, which has been partly funded by the Downtown Victoria Business Association. “If we couldn’t fly them back quick enough through the Fugitive Return Program, we could fly them back through Con Air.”

The new provincial money represents a boost for B.C. police agencies, especially smaller departments with tight budgets.

“(Returning fugitives) can be very expensive, depending on where they are from,” Oak Bay Police Chief Const. Mark Fisher said. He added the expense includes travel costs for officers and the prisoners they are escorting.

Under B.C.’s Fugitive Return Program, B.C. sheriffs will escort fugitives.

“It gives us another option to deal with a serious offender we have from another province,” Fisher said.

emccracken@vicnews.com