Mischief charges pending in window-smashing incident

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Another small business located in Ganges Alley has suffered damage due to ongoing problems associated with Centennial Park.

The main window at Strong River Studios was smashed out early Monday evening, not long after an altercation that involved several people in the park between around 3:30 and 4 p.m. 

According to a Salt Spring RCMP media release, RCMP officers responded to two incidents in Centennial Park within a few hours of each other. The first incident was reported as a possible fight involving two men. RCMP members arrived on scene and separated the combatants. It was determined that the best resolution was to separate the two. One man was given a ride from the scene by police to another location of their request. The man agreed to stay away from the area, and said he would cause no further concerns.

RCMP say approximately two hours later another incident was reported near Centennial Park. This time it was reported that a window of a local business had been broken.

An RCMP member who was on scene saw two men arguing on the sidewalk. The police officer easily identified one of the men as the same man driven from the scene earlier, who had agreed to not return. Witnesses on scene identified this man as having thrown an item through the business window, shattering it.

“This is an unfortunate and unnecessary incident,” said Sgt. Clive Seabrook, Salt Spring RCMP detachment commander. “This man was given a ride to another location by the police, told to avoid the area and instead he decided to return, causing a scene and breaking a window.”

The Salt Spring man was arrested without incident and transported to the local RCMP detachment. He now faces charges of mischief under $5,000, and is scheduled to appear in Ganges court in March of 2021.

The man was released on conditions not to attend Centennial Park.

Other incidents in the area in the past several months included a violent attack on the owner of the Harbour Food Market on Nov. 4, and feces spread on nearby Beachside premises and windows broken at two Ganges Alley restaurants during the summer. Business owners say there have been incidents of people in the park drinking, doing drugs and being violent on a near daily basis over the past year.

According to Marta McKeever, whose husband Edward runs the Strong River Studios design firm specializing in decorative finishing arts, there is a complex social situation unravelling in the park and far too little in the way of support services.

“The homeless community needs safe shelter (not just during night time) with access to internet and toilet facilities, as well as easier access to mental health and substance abuse services,” McKeever posted to Facebook and shared with the Driftwood. “Instead they are met with shop keepers like us who have had enough of the violence and chaos outside of our places of business and next to the playground where our kids are too scared to play. 

“It’s absolute bedlam out here but it’s not about ‘us and them.’ It’s a leadership issue and a safety issue for everyone involved and it’s up to our community to come up with a peaceful solution, I guess.” 

Osisi Boutique owner Jennifer Lannan is another local business owner in the Ganges Alley complex. She has repeatedly sought action from local authorities such as the RCMP and the Capital Regional District. 

Lannan was already trying to get help from police on Monday afternoon when tensions escalated into a fight.

“People in the park were high as kites and had been drinking for hours on end and having mental breakdowns with yelling and screaming. That is why I called,” Lannan told the Driftwood.

Lannan wrote to Salt Spring’s CRD director Gary Holman the following day. 

“I’m emailing to inform you that the situation in the park is deplorable and must change. I have all the same things to say to you as many of us have in the past,” Lannan said, before listing a number of questions she wanted answered.

Included in Lannan’s list were questions on why there have been so few bylaw enforcement patrols of the park in recent weeks, why local government has not followed through on requests to clean up the park, and why business owners are expected to manage the situation by reporting incidents, when these are “constant and perpetual.”

CRD bylaw enforcement personnel and RCMP had collaborated this summer to step up enforcement efforts against unruly behaviour in Centennial Park.

Holman said he has been in regular communication with CRD Bylaw Enforcement head Don Brown about the situation. Salt Spring’s CRD budget for 2021 will include the third annual increase for bylaw enforcement. Holman has also committed to organizing a meeting between CRD, RCMP and local business owners before the end of the year.

Holman said some of the root causes of the situation — mental health and addictions, lack of affordable housing — are largely due to federal and provincial government failures.

“Local governments are left holding a very big bag, which is ultimately the responsibility of senior government,” Holman said, adding some programs are now slowly starting to take effect under the B.C. NDP government.

“The best we can do in the short term, I think, is increase presence in the park and make it clear bylaws and laws will be enforced.”

Seabrook, who was only recently posted to Salt Spring, said RCMP is continuing regular patrols of the park. He has been talking with neighbouring shop keepers about their concerns and has also spoken with the people using the park about expectations.

“I have been meeting with various groups and organizations to see where the RCMP can assist with finding longer-term solutions. I am optimistic that a solution can be found,” Seabrook said.

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