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Nanaimo safety rally brings hundreds to downtown square

Over a hundred people gathered in a south Nanaimo square to continue to protest crime in their community.

Speeches came from Nanaimo locals regarding the changes they’ve seen in their community. 

“Owning a small business in the old city quarter has definitely had its challenges over the years,” said long-time Nanaimoer and business owner Chrissy Forsyth. “The encampment that we had for a couple years, definitely. It literally gave me PTSD. I have dealt with so much death and overdose and social disorder in my life. I never thought that anything like this could ever happen in our city. It’s absolutely unbelievable what it has done. It has torn our community apart and we need to stop this. Enough is enough.” 

Forsyth watches over Wesley Street encampment and has talked to town hall about this since 2019. 

“I have been going back and forth with all three levels of government for five years now, with no solutions. Nothing has changed. Everybody’s just doubling down on the same shit that is not working. It’s not working. One thing I can tell you about British Columbia is that the homeless industrial complex is alive and well. Making profit over somebody’s life is absolutely disgusting.” 

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Parent Ruth Taylor has faced poverty before, saying she knows how it feels to be ‘under homed’. However, she understands that it’s unsafe in the city. 

She described an incident where a man intimidated her family, questioning her father-in-law about how many children lived on her property, and ripped her gate off its hinge. She says no charges were laid, and if they were, they did not get the man’s name. 

“So imagine your kids playing in the yard after that incident,” said Taylor. “We have had a man jump our fence and refuse to leave even after being filmed by a neighbor and confronted by my husband again, this is our home, a place where every child deserves to feel safe. At school, my children have found uncapped needles while playing during recess.” 

She describes the situation similar to a young girl at Quarterway school who had found a bag of fentanyl, and showed it to her three-year-old brother. 

“Even when I send my children to school, I worry about what they may find on the playground,” continued Taylor. “The school now employs a security guard and the unhoused aroused and moved off the playground where they are sheltering overnight.” 

Clint Smith, the business owner who was shot trying to retrieve tools from a homeless encampment, also spoke at the event. He talked about how a long pattern of systemic failures have lead to the current situation in Nanaimo. 

“This poorly executed idea of decriminalization for so-called safe supply of opioids and hard narcotics for a three-year trial period, particularly considering the complete and total lack of checks and balances, is provincially administered program with no accountability, no mandatory treatment, no clinical addiction counseling, no life skills training, and no supports. We’d abandoned these folks for needs for recovery and they’re gonna spiral to the inevitable overdose.” 

Photo provided by Ridley Wilson.

He said people cannot walk downtown with confidence, much less after dark. He said they must demand real support for those struggling with addictions and mental health issues, as well as support for frontline responders who are traumatized by their work.  

“Demand that the provincial and the federal governments end the catch and release system, and prolific and violent offenders are held in custody with real and tangible accountability to protect the community at large. Demand respect of the social contract, all governments and yeah, I’m looking at you too, [Mayor] Krog, all governments, it’s constituents. And that all the repercussions and failures will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately at the ballot box. Demand our communities return to safe, peaceful, and realistic levels of law enforcement of our laws so that we no longer fear being out in public and being out in our own neighborhoods. Demand less lip service and more action.” 

After the event, he spoke to reporters about the topic further. He said this is clearly not just a Nanaimo issue, as most communities on the island and beyond face the same problems. 

“Get involved in your community If you feel that there’s not a problem, get out and go for a walk and have a better view. Because there’s issues in every neighborhood in, in Nanaimo, I’m sure pretty much every neighborhood in British Columbia right now. This isn’t a Nanaimo issue. This is a provincial issue that has federal involvement. It’s out there. If you’re not seeing it in your neighborhood, it’s because you’re just not looking in the right dark shadows.” 

snuneymuxw elder and resident at the Faculty of Health and Human Services at Vancouver Island University, Geraldine Manson said those who are fortune enough to be well educated, to belong to organizations, have to come together throughout the community to look at what they can do for the less fortunate.  

“Not just put ’em into a section that they sleep and to keep warm and then put out for the day without money in their pocket where they stand at the corner of a street and panhandle. We need to begin looking further of how we could help and support them,” said Manson. “So they’re not looking at addictions, whether that’s drugs and alcohol, but to lift them up. Just like we embrace our children in our own homes, how we teach them to be respectful when they’re out of our house, when they’re in schools, learning the ones that are unfortunate, that are stuck in that world of theirs that are too far gone in mentality. We across BC, across Canada, need to come together to build our resources with all to help those who are unfortunate because they no longer can help themselves. They’re too far gone. So now we really need to help. It’s not up to the police, it’s not up to the political people. It’s up to those who stand in that field of health and wellness.” 

At the end of the rally, Mayor Leonard Krog came from the crowd to address concerns brought up by the other speakers. 

“Basically, we’re all saying the same thing. We recognize we have a criminal problem. Acts committed by people who should be in jail and held in custody pending trial if they’re out for violent offenses. We all agree on that. And I suspect all of us agree and acknowledge that the range of people who are homeless in our streets, some are just poor. Some require supportive housing. Some require assistance of various kinds. And there is a small portion who are so frequently violent, who have no control over their behavior. Who should be insecure? Involuntary care, as I’ve been saying for three and a half years… And in fairness, Mr. Smith was right. This started under the soak creds. It was carried on by the ndp. It’s been carried on by the liberals,” there was a bit of interruption from the crowd. “No blame game. No blame, no. Look, let me finish. It’s, it’s not a blame game. Every government of every stripe has participated in the closing of institutional care and the cessation of the services that people in dire straits needed. That’s not political. That’s just the truth.” 

Krog talked about the need for extra support for services that would help support the homeless. When he spoke about raising taxes in order to support those services, the crowd was very displeased. 

“Let me be candid with you,” said Krog. “I got into trouble the first time I ran for office by suggesting if people wanted all these services, they were gonna have to pay higher taxes. All of you, most of you, I suspect, didn’t raise a peep in the last few years as we found hundreds of billions of dollars in this country, federally and provincially to deal with the covid crisis. Did you hear right wing or left wingers ever complaining about the amount of the deficit or the debt we were running up? Not very much. And now we have the same crisis, the same people added to in numbers who are on our streets suffering before covid are there now joined by others. I suspect I like most of you, are prepared to pay to provide the care and assistance so that we get back our sense that we get back our sense of community. So instead of the city having to spend your tax dollars on community safety officers and extra policing, we’ll have the kind of services that people need so that we don’t have to have rallies like this. So Karen can go back to looking after her neighborhood association and enjoying peace and security that we all want.” 

There may be more rallies in the future, but it’s not confirmed what time they will be at or what location. 

The full audio of the speeches, and the interview with Clint, is available below. 

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