Nanaimo battles to secure the heart of the city

Squatters now control a central plaza as a spike in violence, open drug dealing and break-ins force city to spend $400,000 on downtown security

By
Western Investor
April 21, 2021





City struggling with increasing violence, open drug use and break-ins across downtown. | CHEK News
— City struggling with increasing violence, open drug use and break-ins across downtown. | CHEK News

The City of Nanaimo is poised to spend $400,000 to pay for increased security throughout its downtown, as the city copes with problems ranging from increasing violence to open drug use and break-ins of parkades and other property.

Mayor Leonard Krog said the situation stems from a mental health and addiction-acquired brain-injury crisis that’s affecting many communities. Nanaimo RCMP say they have seen a jump in mental-health related calls in the past couple of years.

“We have a significant problem on our streets in Nanaimo,” Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog told CTV News.

Several businesses and people living in the downtown area have expressed concerns to council over the increase in conflicts, and say it’s having a significant impact on the downtown core.

“Citizens don’t want to go downtown anymore,” Krog said. “We cannot let our downtown be turned into a warzone like the Downtown East Side in Vancouver.”

“This amazing downtown is still there and the purpose of this money is to try and keep it safe and secure enough to survive to better days,” the mayor added.

People have set up camp at the Diana Krall Plaza and are not willing to move on, said Krog, adding the city has no choice but to do something. In a perfect world, housing and facilities would be in place, but they are not, he said.

“There are some who are saying: ‘Well you shouldn’t be spending the money on security. You should be spending it on housing and treatment and those things.’ The simple answer is this: First, that is not our jurisdiction and we do not have the money to make a dent in that anyway.

“In the meantime, all we can do is try and make it safe and secure for people on our streets in our downtown, the businesses that are trying to survive through the rigours of COVID, the public services that need to be available that people feel comfortable entering.”

The expenditure, endorsed April 21 by the city’s finance and audit committee, would supplement the work of bylaw-enforcement officers and other existing security, Krog said.

According to the Crime Severity Index, a Statistics Canada measure of all police-reported crime, Nanaimo ranked 23 in Canada for break-ins in 2020, up from 36 a year earlier, out of 237 cities profiled. Nanaimo moved up to 36  place, from 59 in 2019, for all crimes reported last year.

Kim Smythe, executive officer of the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, said businesses will be pleased to see downtown security beefed up, but he would rather see the money go toward solutions. Smythe opposes the city’s security plan, saying it will just move people around, and hopes to see additional help from the provincial government. The city’s finance and audit committee also endorsed spending $50,000 to expedite a new public-safety action plan.

Stakeholders such as Nanaimo RCMP, bylaw enforcement and private securities companies plan to meet to identify ways to improve public safety in the downtown area, identify security gaps and make recommendations to council.

 


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