In the midst of increasing crime, including a recent fatal stabbing, residents gathered in Nanaimo to demand public safety.
An estimated 200 people rallied at Country Club Centre on Saturday, Jan. 28, decrying criminal activity and asking for accountability from politicians. The mood was similar to a September rally at the Nanaimo Courthouse grounds.
Lee Marstein, a Country Club Block Watch member who said she narrowly avoided being hit by a getaway car after a fatal shooting at the nearby Rock City Centre in 2021 and whose daughter’s boyfriend was fatally stabbed at Maffeo Sutton Park in September, understands the RCMP are busy, but said more needs to be done.
“Maybe, just like Surrey, we should try and start a Nanaimo city-wide police department to be able to help citizens like ourselves to police our areas … these free places that they’ve set up for [the homeless], they’re not working. They may have a roof over their heads, but they’re still out stealing things from people. This has really got my dander up … we need to do something to keep our communities safe.”
Jeff Ross, owner of Gold Silver Guy on Townsite Road, said he has suffered numerous break-ins and can’t get insurance coverage.
“Just in the last 60 days alone, I’ve had two break-ins, three vehicle break-ins, two shoplifting events, two store windows being broken, plus plenty of garbage that I had to pick up,” he said. “It makes it very hard to stay and want to be in business. What if this causes me to close my business in Nanaimo? I would not be paying taxes, I would not be employing any staff, who also pay taxes.”
Ross said he doesn’t blame the police, however.
“I would ask the politicians and the courts, ‘Why should I have to suffer for someone else’s actions?’” said Ross. “I pay approximately $40,000 a year in city taxes. Some of that money goes for maintenance, but a good portion goes to policing. Money being spent on those that make poor choices and take from other people should be used for the people that work all their lives and contributed to society and pay taxes.”
Darrel Gyorfi, retired RCMP staff sergeant who also spoke at September’s rally, said the situation isn’t improving.
“At the time, I said that that’s the worst I’ve ever seen crime in a 34-year police career,” said Gyorfi. “Could it have gotten worse? Yep. It got a lot worse. I lived in Nanaimo since 1995 … it’s a rotting mess right now. Just in the last little while, we’ve had another murder, stabbings, robberies at knifepoint. [Nanaimo Area Network of Drug Users] chaos has plagued the south end … those businesses are hurting financially. I don’t know if you can run a business downtown and make a living.”
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog, the subject of some angry comments, said better mental health services are needed.
“There are a number of people who are living in our streets, who in any other time would have been in secure and involuntary care, getting treatment for their mental health, addictions, brain injury and trauma issues,” he said. “People have talked a lot about crime today. Yes, crime is an aspect of this and I’m not diminishing it … the kind of crime that is disturbing you, that is frustrating businesses like Jeff’s, arises from people supporting a drug habit.”
Krog said he has called on the B.C. government to recognize the seriousness of those suffering from such issues and provide the care needed.
Karen Kuwica, one of the event organizers, echoed sentiments about worsening crime, and added that she was pleased so many came out to show their concern for public safety.
“Everybody needs an opportunity to share their experience, everybody’s got different personal views and that reflects their experience and their life, that’s what this was about, just an opportunity to share what’s going on,” Kuwica told the News Bulletin.
Video from the rally is viewable at the Nanaimo News Bulletin Facebook page at www.facebook.com/nanaimobulletin.