Retailers in British Columbia Demand Government Action as Crime and Safety Concerns Reach Crisis Point [Interview]

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Retailers in Canada are increasingly more concerned about the state of Canadian cities with crime, violence and safety issues negatively impacting their businesses.

In British Columbia, it’s reached a ‘crisis point’, according to the Save our Streets (SOS) initiative, which is a new public safety coalition demanding governments step in and deal with the issue.

Since being announced in late October, the Save Our Streets coalition has grown from 30 community organizations, citizen groups, organizations and local businesses, to 59 and counting.

Image: saveourstreets.ca

Jess Ketchum, co-founder of SOS, said more are also expected to join the coalition’s call for all levels of government to coordinate their efforts and put an end to the unprecedented wave of theft, property crime and street violence being seen on the streets and at places of business in communities around B.C.

Jess Ketchum

The SOS website also went live recently at SaveOurStreets.ca, containing the group’s message to all levels of government, answers to frequently asked questions and information for others interested in joining the SOS coalition.

“Our membership has expanded to every region of British Columbia with new member organizations from Quesnel, Prince George, Kelowna, Kamloops, Nanaimo, Victoria, Trail, Campbell River, and the Lower Mainland plus several organizations that are province-wide in their membership,” said Ketchum. 

“It is definitely not just a Downtown Eastside of Vancouver issue. Our message has hit a nerve as a growing number of British Columbians recognize that a different, comprehensive, and results-driven approach is required to address the escalation of crime and violence in our communities, and it must be dealt with urgently. Drug addictions and drug trade, mental health challenges, law enforcement, judicial reform, homelessness, are all factors. While governments have a long history of announcing policies and programs meant to respond to these issues, the desired results have not been realized. Governments have smart people, legislative control, financial resources but also, most importantly, the responsibility to generate better results.”

The growing number of members is sending a clear message to governments.

In addition to increasing awareness, and highlighting issues and incidents of crime, SOS is coordinating a plan to research these trends, and establish measurable results to determine whether government actions are working to make streets and communities safer or not. SOS noted that retail theft and the cost of additional security for retail stores is costing B.C. families $500 annually and there is no end in sight. British Columbians are urged to reach out to their MLAs and MPs, to demand coordinated action and keep communities safe.

A Prince George RCMP officer ensures a group of individuals vacate from a business in downtown Prince George. (MyPGNow.com staff)

Ketchum said retailers have been watching these issues develop over a number of years with governments and police forces trying to respond to the issues.

“But at the end of the day, things just keep on getting worse rather than better,” he said. “These businesses are now coming to us saying ‘look we want to try something different. We need to do something different so that we actually get results’. That’s why SOS has experienced the growth that it has over a couple of months.”

Ketchum said the organization could eventually expand across the country because the issues are similar in cities in Canada.

“I’d love to see the same approach taken across the country because I think it’s a good approach,” he said.

What are the consequences of inaction by the government and police?

“I just see a further deterioration of communities whether it be safety for families, the liveability of communities. If we don’t do something about this and start getting actual results in bringing down the level of crime and violence in our communities, it’s just a deterioration of our society,” added Ketchum. “It’s brutal. It really is.

“Going through this process here in B.C. over the last couple of months, it’s just so obvious everywhere. In B.C., the focus has been on downtown Eastside of Vancouver because it’s iconic. But the fact of the matter is it’s in Victoria, Nanaimo, Prince George, Quesnel, Dawson Creek. Wherever you go in B.C., the circumstances are evident and becoming more so.”

Newest members joining the coalition since the launch of SOS are:

  • Anthem Properties
  • Blackbird Security
  • Canadian Tire BC Dealers Group
  • Circle K
  • Cranbrook Neighbourhood Network (N2)
  • Downtown Campbell River BIA
  • Downtown Kamloops BIA
  • Downtown Prince George
  • Downtown Surrey BIA
  • Downtown Van
  • Gastown Residents Association
  • Ginger Group
  • Gold Silver Guy (Duncan/Qualicum Beach)
  • Gourmet Warehouse
  • Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
  • Highwaymen Barbers (Victoria)
  • J. Gordon Enterprises
  • Lordco
  • Magnolia Hotel & Spa (Victoria)
  • North Shore BIA (Kamloops)
  • Quesnel Downtown Association
  • Quesnel In Action
  • Sechelt Downtown Business Association
  • Tango Meats and Deli
  • The Lotus Strata BCS2884
  • Trail Neighbourhood Network (N2)
  • Vancity Health Clinic
Image: SOS

“We decided to join the SOS Save Our Streets coalition to join with other communities throughout B.C. in gaining the attention of governments over the desperate situation with crime and violence we are seeing in our communities,” said Tanya Finley, Chair of the Nelson, Cranbrook and Trail N2 concerned citizens groups. “We need a results-driven, comprehensive and intergovernmental coordinated plan that addresses many contributing issues including drug addiction, the drug trade, mental health challenges, policing, judicial reform and homelessness.”

“In Sechelt, we are seeing crime activity at a level never seen before,” said Theressa Logan, Executive Director of the Sechelt Downtown Business Association. “We are working hard locally, but we’ve also decided to join SOS because a louder chorus of voices is harder to ignore and will demonstrate that the issues are province-wide and urgent. We need to see results from our government leaders who are the ones able to make the necessary policy changes to address these issues.”

Communities, citizen groups, and B.C. businesses interested in joining SOS are invited to contact: info@saveourstreets.ca.

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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