A crowd gathered in downtown Nanaimo today to cry for government action on violent crime.
More than 100 people gathered on the front lawn of the Nanaimo Courthouse on Wednesday, Sept. 14, for what organizers called a safety rally.
The event, promoted as “a grassroots initiative” to provoke change to restore public safety in Nanaimo’s parks, homes, banks and businesses, was sparked by recent crimes, including a stabbing in Maffeo Sutton Park on Sept. 5 that claimed the life of Fred Parsons.
A short list of invited speakers shared the impacts that crime in downtown Nanaimo has had on their businesses and personal lives.
“It may be outrage that brought us here today, but it’s resolve that will make this event a success, that inspires others and helps us all,” said Karen Kuwica, Newcastle Community Association member and president of the Newcastle Block Watch, who moderated the event.
Lee Marstein, mother of Parsons’s fiancée, related how her daughter, Parsons and a friend went out to take their dog for a walk at Maffeo Sutton Park and were allegedly attacked by two men.
“They walked up to them, sprayed them with pepper spray – all three of them as well as the dog – and then proceeded to stab Fred to death,” Marstein alleged. “Now I have to hold together my daughter, her children, my other daughters, because they absolutely adored Fred.”
Marstein, a member of Country Club Block Watch, said she has never had a problem dealing with people experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo.
“But that doesn’t mean there is not a problem out there,” Marstein said. “We all have to stand together, as a community, and make sure that our community representatives are there to represent us, not the money.”
Willow Friday has operated Iron Oxide Art Supplies for 20 years and said it’s never been easy to be in business at the store’s Victoria Road location. The store has been broken into six times and on numerous occasions she’s dealt with people having “psychotic”episodes in the store. Friday said she is exhausted and the situation is affecting her health.
“There has always been a hardness to Nanaimo, but over the last year it has gotten out of control. The lack of safety is very scary,” she said.
She cited drug addiction and lack of action by the judicial system for prolific offenders who believe they can “keep stealing, mugging, lighting fires, being violent and sexually exploitative with no consequences.”
“Not every user is a criminal, nor criminal a drug user, but when you pair those things up it amplifies into a prolific problem that we are living in daily,” she said. “I look forward to seeing all levels of government working together to change our judicial system, invest in social programs and accountable facilities – the key word being ‘accountable’ – so we can give our streets and homes back to the children and the elderly.”
Alex Sheaves’s 34-weeks-pregnant wife was hit in the stomach with a paving stone thrown at her by an individual on Commercial Street who also threw hot coffee on a man in a wheelchair, struck another man in the head and threw two beer mugs at Sheaves before attacking his wife and daughter.
“We don’t know how the baby is. All we can tell is what the heart rate is because the baby hasn’t been born yet,” Sheaves said. “I will never bring my wife and daughter back downtown until something happens because it’s ridiculous. My five-year-old daughter is in the back seat of my car as we drive down Nicol Street asking what the homeless are doing on the side of the road smoking their drugs. How in the hell is that OK? Why is the government allowing this?”
Brian Rice owns Maffeo Salon and Day Spa on Wentworth Street, which had eight break-ins in one year with thieves making off with about $20,000 in merchandise and cash. He said his insurance company threatened to decline to insure the business if he makes further claims.
“If I get declined insurance, the bank will decline my mortgage and my business will cease to exist,” Rice said. “Not only that, I can’t even sell a property that you can’t get insurance on, so what is petty theft, to me is not petty … This has become very serious to me.”
He said he has hired a security guard at $12,000 a year and his insurance premiums are now $900 per month.
“We’re calling on the province, we’re calling on our MLA to do something,” Rice said.
Darrel Gyorfi, retired RCMP member with 34 years of service, cited recently released figures from Statistics Canada indicating Nanaimo’s 44-per cent jump in violent crime severity and said crime in the city is the worst he’s seen since moving here in 1994.
“This last couple of months [there have been] murders, robberies, vicious assaults, weapons offences, threats with weapons being used,” Gyorfi said. “Our victims? A man killed in a restaurant. A man stabbed while sitting in a park with his family. Seniors robbed after using an ATM machine. Random stabbings. Assaults and threatenings all over downtown, most not reported … It’s not part of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms to allow people to commit crimes against someone else.”
Gyorfi also spoke about B.C.’s “revolving door” justice system that releases offenders back onto the streets instead of holding offenders in custody when it is in the public interest.
“Police and security guards are not going to fix Nanaimo’s out-of-control crime,” he said.
Kuwica said the effort to restore public safety will continue and noted there is a looming municipal election, which will be followed by provincial and federal elections.
“This isn’t a one-time thing. This is a big problem. It’s systemic through all bodies of government and … all levels of government need to understand that the people don’t feel safe, the people aren’t happy and that needs to change and that message is only going to come across if the people gather and share their message,” she said.