As a Nanaimo businessman recovers in hospital from a gunshot wound, friends and neighbourhood association representatives decried the need for increased public safety at a gathering held on the site where the shooting occurred.
The press briefing Monday, March 13, organized by the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association and Newcastle Community Association, followed a shooting Sunday, March 12, in the parking lot of the former White Spot restaurant on Terminal Avenue. The owner of an auto repair business and two friends went to a nearby entrenched homeless camp along the Millstone River to recover tools and other items allegedly stolen during a break-in.
The encounter between the party trying to recover the items and the camp residents – one of whom, allegedly, had a pellet gun and the other a .22-calibre rifle – sent one man to hospital with a bullet wound to the stomach. A second man also suffered what policed described as a serious injury.
“I think it’s a sad statement when a business owner has to go look for his stolen property because he knows that it won’t be recovered any other way and that he can’t afford to continue to replace items that are being stolen,” said Karen Kuwica, Newcastle Community Association president. “It’s happening to businesses all over Nanaimo.”
She said “it’s widely known” that theft under $5,000 is not prosecuted.
“Police have their hands tied and their resources are stretched. It’s pretty common for people in Nanaimo to recover their stolen property by reaching out to the community for help locating it,” she said. “Often stolen items are discarded [or] are posted online and people recover them. It’s just normal practice here.”
According to a rough estimation based on calculations made by her community association’s Block Watch group, theft in Nanaimo amounts to about $5 million per month and is not sustainable.
Collen Middleton, interim chairperson of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, said the RCMP do what they can, but Sunday’s shooting illustrates how bad the situation for public safety has become. He said higher levels of government need to step in.
“Municipally, I don’t know what more can be done … the City of Nanaimo wants a clean and safe community just as much as the rest of us, and the province, right now, has to step in and make it safer for the community because right now people are being left to their own devices, both on the streets and also to protect their own property,” Middleton said.
He said there is not enough help to keep the community secure.
“On top of that we have a bail system that’s really not functioning for civil society at all right now, so this whole situation, it’s really unfortunate and we’re really just hoping that the victim, the business owner who had all his things stolen, is OK,” Middleton said.
Jeff Callaghan, founder of the Van Isle Clean Team, said he, the business owner and another man went into the encampment after one of the items allegedly stolen from the business was spotted on Terminal Avenue.
“So we went down there, told everybody to get out of the tent and, at first they denied having any stolen property,” Callaghan said.
The trio spotted more items missing from the business, including a table saw, Callaghan said, but when the business owner tried to retrieve them, one of the men from the encampment attacked him with a baseball bat.
“A guy pulled out a hand gun,” Callaghan said. “First it jammed on him a few times before he could get a shot off and then he kept shooting and we were just grabbing the stolen property and trying to get up the hill without getting shot and then his buddy circled around with a .22-calibre rifle and started shooting at us through the bush.”
They made it to the top of the embankment and across Terminal Avenue into the restaurant parking lot, but their assailants followed and continued shooting at them across the street, Callaghan alleged. The business owner who was shot “had some kind of vest on” and put himself in harm’s way to try to protect his friends.
Middleton said the issue is complicated and he does not view the business owner trying to retrieve his property as vigilantism.
“Under the circumstances, no, I don’t,” he said. “I think that … he’s a well-known business owner who’s had his property broken into countless times … This was a situation where somebody went in, knowing that it was stolen property, knowing that it was in there, they had a plan, it seemed like it was safe to go in there and nobody anticipated them getting shot at … come on. This is crazy. The province has to step in. Enough was enough so long ago.”