People from B.C. cities experiencing some of the same crime and substance abuse issues as Nanaimo expressed sympathy and empathy at a rally this morning.
On the heels of a March 12 shooting at a homeless encampment, the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association hosted a rally at Pearson Park on Terminal Avenue on Thursday, March 16, demanding better from the provincial and federal governments.
Shannon Stewart, Clean Streets Penticton group administrator, said Nanaimo reminds her a lot of her city, as people experiencing homelessness are on the streets and people fear for their safety.
“Main Street Penticton last summer was a nightmare. All you could see, and you guys are living it, people using, the shopping carts, people nodding out … and it’s starting to look a bit better, but it’s because we are vigilant and not vigilantes,” she said. “We are aware, we are active, we are engaged and we’re not sorry about that because we’re helping each other, and ourselves, make a difference.”
In Stewart’s opinion, part of the problem lies in including addiction under the health care and consent act.
“Once that transition was taken from the hands of the legislature, from the hands of the authorities who have capacity to manage and deal with that and keep us safe, and moved under the health care act, it didn’t go with a coinciding set of processes and procedures about how to address that,” she said. “Addiction is, for certain, a health condition, but the subsequent negative social consequences of addiction are not and that’s where the gap lies.”
Elenore Sturko, Surrey South MLA, who is the B.C. Liberal Party’s critic for mental health, addictions and recovery and also a former RCMP officer, said the catch-and-release of chronic offenders isn’t working.
“We’re seeing recidivism where people are again offending, often times also committing violent crimes,” said Sturko. “We have urged this government to take action by giving direction to Crown counsel to make sure that they are ensuring it’s always in the public interest to ask for either strict bail conditions or to be looking for individuals who pose a risk to public safety to be held in custody.”
While many in the crowd were critical of Nanaimo city council, Coun. Sheryl Armstrong, another former RCMP officer, said her colleagues want constituents to be safe.
“We’ve tried to invest in policing, adding 19 more police officers, which I know doesn’t sound like a lot … this is not a policing problem,” said Armstrong. “What always happens in societies, when they don’t know what to do, it becomes a policing problem. This is a problem of not investing our dollars properly, as we’ve heard, in addiction treatment and then the follow-up afterwards.”
Collen Middleton, Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association interim chairperson, said the issue is non-partisan and a conversation with elected officials is needed, regardless of affiliation.
“We have a budget that’s come out at the provincial level. There’s plenty of more funding for [policing, mental health and addictions and treatment], but what is that money going to be used for and where is it going?” he asked. “How is it actually going to help the people that are actually suffering on the streets right now? You can’t just send a bunch of money into a not-for-profit advocacy eco-system with no accountability and say that it’s somebody else’s problem.”
Chrissy Forsythe, a friend of March 12 shooting victim Clint Smith, said he is expected to be awoken from a medically induced coma today.
Middleton estimated 300 people showed up at the rally.