Businesses and organizations from across the province gathered in Vancouver to join forces in what they are calling a BC-wide coalition to “Save-our-Streets,” to bring awareness to all levels of government on the increasing crime and fear plaguing BC residents.
The rally was held in Vancouver by delegates from several large corporations, and small communities from Vancouver Island to Nelson with all speakers conveying the same message: communities have had enough.
According to Statistics Canada, crime has increased by just over 1,500 incidents since 2021 across BC, and organizations like S.O.S are saying it is hurting communities not only by driving up fear.
Chief Operating Officer of London Drugs Clint Mahlman said at a press conference in Vancouver, he has had to take measures, which he never thought he would, just to keep his employees safe when they are working to combat the growing crime.
“I never thought I would be authorizing certain staff to wear stab vests,” he says. “These are the extremes we are having to take to protect our staff has come to, and that’s not OK in a province like BC or a country like Canada.
“The justice administration has let it get to this point, and we can’t let this continue.”
Mahlman addressed the violence by saying these random acts are not just hurting businesses, but they are doing significant damage to those who rely on these stores in their everyday life.
“It also impacts the affordability for Canadians, and British Columbians, through pricing impacts locals have to pay,” he says. “Businesses have to pay for vandalism, theft, and security measures which end up costing consumers an increase of $500 per year.”
Premier David Eby said in an earlier statement every resident in BC, and across Canada, should not have to live in fear and deserves to live in peace and the SOS coalition is asking him to honour that promise and reduce crime across the province.
“I agree with those folks out there. They deserve safe communities, and our government is on their side,” he said. “We’ve got their backs and we’re going to deliver for them.”
Smaller business owners had their chance to share their thoughts at the rally, highlighting their struggles with what they are calling a state of emergency and calling on government intervention.
Nanaimo and Public Safety Association founder Kevan Shaw says they’ve seen enough. The ‘catch-and-release’ method isn’t working, and the government needs to act.
“You need to put criminals in jail and help those on our street,” Shaw says. “Users need to be in detox, and if they are mentally ill they should be in complex care facilities.”
Nelson restaurant owner Tanya Finley traveled from the Kootenays to echo a strong portion of what was said during the rally by saying the current situation is devastating and frustrating.
“My business has become the center of homelessness, crime and addictions in the City of Nelson,” she says. “Criminals are being caught and let go, which is impacting our seniors and children not to mention businesses are losing money and employees are scared to work.”
Finley says impacts are being felt across the province, but government officials are not addressing it because they don’t feel it.
“It is clear to me the government isn’t doing their job because their paycheques, homes, and businesses are not being threatened,” she says. “They’re not being defecated on, ransacked or robbed.”
Organizations from all corners of BC have been calling for more strict action to be taken since the opioid crisis, decriminalization, and the pandemic took its toll but many of those in attendance say it is not enough and they are tired of the staffing turnover, the cost associated with replacing staff and having to filter that to their customers.
Decriminalization came into effect on January 31 and is expected to last until 2026. The provincial government has since put in legislation banning public use around building entrances and bus stops within 60 metres as well as within 15 metres of where children play.