The News Bulletin’s stories of the year for 2022. (News Bulletin file photos)

The News Bulletin’s stories of the year for 2022. (News Bulletin file photos)

Nanaimo News Bulletin’s Stories of the Year 2022

Crime severity, overdose crisis, city plan and Metral Drive were some of the year’s top stories

Sometimes it seems that Nanaimo makes the news more than its fair share. But it means that each year at this time, there are endless possibilities for stories of the year.

Some years there’s an obvious single story of the year – think Discontent City in 2018, for example, or COVID-19 in 2020 – but for 2022, there wasn’t one that stood above the rest, so we chose a handful.

Our stories of the year this year include crime severity, the overdose crisis, and Nanaimo’s city plan and rapid growth, and we simply couldn’t overlook the volume of reader interest in Metral Drive road reconstruction.

Crime happens every year, unfortunately, but this year’s crime index statistics, four more homicides and public outcry ensured that crime severity needed to be a story of the year. Drug overdoses have been a crisis in B.C. since 2016, but 2022 was the worst year ever for drug poisoning deaths in Nanaimo. The ReImagine Nanaimo city plan was adopted soon after potentially transformative master plans were approved for Sandstone and Green Thumb, in a year when the city was confirmed as one of Canada’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas. And as for the Metral Drive complete streets project – well, our Beefs & Bouquets commenters can tell you all about that one.

We considered many other stories of the year possibilities. It was an election year, which is always newsworthy. Local health-care delivery was further stressed. The freedom convoy, like it or not, was something we’ll remember about 2022. There was more action on the truth and reconciliation front with re-naming of an elementary school and a sports field. The City of Nanaimo’s introduction of community safety officers to deal with street disorder was noteworthy. Trustees voted to re-open Rutherford school, Gabriola travellers got two new ferries, and Lantzville’s Village South plan fell through. Also, a house blew up.

Happy new year and please keep reading the News Bulletin, because the stories of the year for next year are bound to happen sometime soon.

Nanaimo’s crime severity was a cause for concern

Nanaimo entered 2022 on the heels of a major 44 per cent jump in crime severity – driven in part by five homicide investigations in 2021 – and it wasn’t long before the city looked set to continue that trend.

A carryover from 2021 was the investigation into the murder of Sidney Mantee, who was 32 when he disappeared in 2020. The two-year-long investigation into his death culminated in the arrest in March of Mantee’s former girlfriend Paris LaRoche, who was 26 when she was charged with murder and indignity to human remains. A preliminary inquiry to determine if there is sufficient evidence to go to trial is scheduled for January.

A shooting and assault sent two people to hospital with serious injuries in January. Police and emergency crews responded to a residence on Needham Street where one man had been shot and another man sustained injuries from an assault. Other people in the home had been bear-sprayed.

Nanaimo’s first murder of 2022 happened in February, when employee Eric Kutzner, 79, was killed at Buzz Coffee House. Police described the murder as a “random and tragic incident.”

James Carey Turok, 29, was arrested and later charged with second degree murder. His arraignment hearing is set for Thursday, Dec. 29.

Another homicide happened in June, as a man was taken into custody after police responded to a complaint about a disturbance at a property on Eighth Street in Harewood and found the body of Denise Allick, 40, of Victoria. Simon James Baker, 21, of Nanaimo was charged with second-degree murder.

A man was seriously injured in a shooting in north Nanaimo outside a home on Laguna Way in July. The victim was taken to hospital with a serious but non-life-threatening injury after being shot in the leg. Police later released a photo of the suspect approaching the victim’s house while wearing a black surgical mask and carrying a Skip the Dishes bag.

On B.C. Day in August, Robert Allen Estes, 48, of no fixed address, was charged with the one count of attempted murder after a man was shot with what police said they believed was a sawed-off shotgun near the Nanaimo Parkway and Northfield Road. The victim suffered serious injuries. Estes’s next court appearance will be in March.

In August, Kimberly Lewis, 51, was charged with aggravated assault after she allegedly stabbed a man in the head multiple times at a downtown Nanaimo bus exchange. The 27-year-old male victim was hospitalized and recovered. Lewis’s next court appearance is Jan. 17.

That same week, a police probe into the discovery of a body following a fire in a home on Athletic Street turned into a homicide investigation. Trevor Stross, 40, of no fixed address, was identified as the victim by Nanaimo RCMP who released the information to help further the investigation. The city designated the address as a nuisance property in September, having dealt with complaints from neighbours since 2019 and after “recently [being] used during the commission of a serious assault and abduction with a firearm,” according to a staff report. No updates have been issued regarding the homicide investigation.

In September, more than 100 people staged a rally on the Nanaimo Court House front lawn in downtown Nanaimo in September to demand action to restore public safety. The rally was motivated by recent violence including the murder of Fred Parsons, 29. Parsons died after he, his fiancé and a friend were approached by two men in Maffeo Sutton Park who bear-sprayed all three and their dog before one of the assailants fatally stabbed Parsons. Mark Harrison, 19, was charged with second-degree murder.

RCMP forensic investigators were examining the scene of a shooting on Bowen Road in December after a 34-year-old man was shot at a residence. Police said the shooting appeared to be targeted, but have not released updates on the case.

Also this month, the RCMP’s emergency response team was called to assist with a search warrant at a home on Murray Street, looking for evidence related to a “violent stabbing” in an apartment on Albert Street. One suspect allegedly involved in the stabbing was arrested and police were looking for a second suspect.

Toxic drug supply killed more people than ever in Nanaimo

With more than 10,000 deaths caused by illicit drug use drug-related overdoses were declared a public health emergency in 2016, people are desperately seeking solutions to a complicated issue.

Island Health, the regional health authority, issued four drug poisoning and overdose advisories for Nanaimo this year – one in January, two in May and one in November. Each advisory remained in effect for a week and warned of the increased risks involved with injecting or inhaling opioids.

To help get the word out faster and notify people when overdose advisories come into effect in specific areas, Island Health initiated a text message alert system that anyone can sign up for earlier this month. The notifications also offer tips for safer drug use.

To address issues unique to Nanaimo and the effects of the overdose crisis in the city, community members and advocates gathered at an event in mid-June.

Discussions at the Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis project, as organized by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, included people who use drugs, people in recovery, youths, families, health professionals, provincial and municipal representatives and First Nation, Inuit and Métis organizations.

At the event, Shane Calder, a drug policy advocate for the CDPC, identified specific drug policy issues important to the city including housing issues, public safety and stigma reduction as main areas of discussion. The Nanaimo event was the coalition’s only in-person session out of 18 public health discussions planned for the project.

Amber McGrath, a Nanaimo resident and advocate, said she thought Nanaimo should try avenues that appear to work in other communities, such as setting up a safe supply through a pharmacy.

“Addiction is not just the substance, it’s also the habit,” she said.

Over the summer, the Nanaimo Community Action Team on the Overdose Crisis hosted an event on International Overdose Awareness Day at the end of August in Maffeo Sutton Park to raise awareness and call for action.

Carol Robertson, a speaker at the event, said her son Gordon died on Aug. 31, 2021, not long after an intervention.

“I’ve had this year of grieving and the sad part when you’re grieving, when nobody knew your kid – he wasn’t from Nanaimo – it’s a lonely place,” Robertson said.

A Nanaimo Community Action Team facilitator, Tanis Dagert, said the crisis must be tackled by people working together.

“My work has been to try to bring awareness to the overdose crisis and what we’re now calling the ‘lethal drug poisoning crisis,’ particularly in Nanaimo and to bring all the people together to try to address the crisis…” she said. “We have a lot of collaborations and really good people and we’ve really tried to build it on a foundation of relationship-building. We have to stop this crisis.”

Robertson also spoke of the need for people to work together to try to prevent more drug-poisoning deaths. “I’ve noticed in Nanaimo, there seems to be a really strong ‘us and them’ mentality and I think until we become ‘we’ and bond together in this fight, it’s just going to continue,” she said.

In an expansion of services, the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mid Island branch relocated its overdose prevention site from Wesley Street to its new premises on the corner of Albert and Dunsmuir streets earlier this month.

The larger location has space for supervised drug inhalation as well as injection, since drug use has increasingly transitioned to inhalation rather than injection and the majority of overdose deaths in B.C. now come following drug inhalation.

Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson, who was B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions at the time, said people required more supervised consumption services and wrap-around care, and that the service expansion would “really build that continuum of care so people can stay alive in the toxic drug emergency and get connected to health-care treatment.”

The trend in drug toxicity and overdoses, unfortunately, is not unique to 2022 alone and appears to only be building.

According to B.C. Emergency Health Services data released in January, paramedics across the province responded to 35,525 overdose calls in 2021 – averaging 97 per day – a 31 per cent increase from the year before.

The latest B.C. Coroners Service report released indicated that 1,827 British Columbians died in the first 10 months of 2022. Even before November and December are tallied, however, it’s become the most deadly year of the drug-poisoning crisis for Nanaimo with a record 59 overdose deaths.

Illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia and is second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost, noted a news release from the provincial government last month.

City plan created for fast-growing City of Nanaimo

The creation of a plan for growth and change over the next 20-30 years was a story of the year in Nanaimo.

Granted, only about 3,000 people took part in the ReImagine Nanaimo process and the vast majority of residents didn’t have the inclination to fill out surveys or provide input. But Nanaimo is a growing city and after 2022, we have a better idea of how that growth will happen.

Early in the year, StatsCan released population information, showing that the Nanaimo was one of the top five fastest-growing census metropolitan areas in all of Canada over the past five years. Kelowna’s population grew the fastest during that time span, Chilliwack was next, then Nanaimo, Kamloops and London, Ont., were pretty much tied for third.

Certainly there have been signs of rapid growth, such as minuscule vacancy rates, rapid real estate development and challenges accessing health care, but the top-five census ranking would have probably come as a surprise to some.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said the population growth means employment and business opportunities, but also means increased traffic and pressure on city programs and services.

“People have discovered Nanaimo, recognized all of its amenities and they’re coming. They want to be here…” the mayor said. “The fact that we’re experiencing this growth is no surprise.”

Some strong indications of how and where the city will grow came with the approval of two major development master plans early in 2022 – first the Sandstone master plan for 2,200 homes spanning Cedar and the Cinnabar Valley, then, a week later, the Green Thumb-Bowers District master plan for 2,500 homes in north Nanaimo.

Both those projects came in under the wire as two of the last major developments passed under the previous official community plan, because in early July, Nanaimo city council adopted the ReImagine Nanaimo city plan.

The city plan replaces the previous OCP, and will nudge development around seven urban centres – one primary urban centre downtown and six secondary urban centres stretching from Woodgrove to Chase River.

The city plan will also serve as the city’s master plan for parks, recreation and culture; transportation and mobility; climate action; and accessibility and inclusion. It includes five city goals: resilient and regenerative ecosystems; equitable access and mobility; community well-being and livability; reconciliation, representation and inclusion; and a thriving and resilient economy. The city plan notes its framework is the doughnut economic model that strives to maintain a social foundation while staying within environmental limits.

As one of Nanaimo city council’s last decisions before the local government election, the city plan in some ways became an election issue. Some fringe candidates campaigned against the city plan and doughnut economics; however, six of the eight incumbent council members who stood for re-election were voted back in.

Nanaimo grows every year. But big decisions made in 2022 determined where we grow from here.

Everyone had an opinion about Metral Drive

Road work on Metral Drive in Nanaimo either satisfied or drove people mad in 2022, it seems.

The road, running from Mostar to Aulds roads and passing by the Real Canadian Superstore, received elevated curbs, intersection realignment, sidewalks, crosswalk improvements, bike lanes, new bus stops and repaving in a $14-million project that included money from federal, provincial and local government. Work began in 2020 and is essentially complete, save for some road markings and landscaping that will be addressed when weather permits, said Annalisa Fipke, city project engineer.

Upgrading infrastructure is necessary for a municipality’s viability, but based on submissions to the Nanaimo News Bulletin’s Beefs & Bouquets section, the topic was polarizing.

A bouquet from the Nov. 9 issue of the News Bulletin states, “I love Metral Drive. I want to thank the work crews for doing a great job and the flaggers for keeping us safe. We now have a park-like setting, great for cycling and walking. Need speed? You know where to go.”

A beefer from Dec. 14 expressed concern about the effect on commerce, stating “To the professional truck driver beefer. I saw truck drivers try to negotiate backing down narrow rear accesses off Metral only to tie up traffic while they would manoeuvre three or four times to get in to deliver, and that was when there were no real curbs or infrastructure to negotiate. Talk to the businesses on that road that had a drop in revenue. I will have to go out and observe more now.”

“To the hundreds of cyclists whizzing up and down Metral Drive on the cycle path so kindly provided to them by our far-sighted city council. Slow down before someone gets killed,” beefs another in the Nov. 30, issue in relation to road safety.

“To the Metral Drive project. I know the construction is a headache but using the bike lanes with my kids on the weekend was a treat. Feels more like a neighbourhood street. If you don’t like it, use the highway,” said a bouquet submission from June 22.

According to Fipke, construction is rarely convenient and the road work meets guidelines.

“For generations we’ve been driving on, what I refer to as share-use lanes, which are wide enough to accommodate bikes and vehicles,” she said. “The lanes on Metral Drive have been right-sized to the appropriate width for vehicles to drive both safely, but also to calm traffic,” said Fipke.

It’s refreshing to see the range of people using Metral from toddlers on Strider bikes, to the elderly on e-bikes, she said, as well as children walking and biking to school safely.

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