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B.C. coalition seeks 'critical' crackdown on violent retail crime

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London Drugs president Clint Mahlman said he never thought he'd be telling a news conference about having to authorize some staff members wearing stab vests.

“But that's the extremes that we're having to take to protect our staff, and that's not OK in a province like British Columbia or a country like Canada,” he said in Vancouver, where the formation of a coalition of more than 30 British Columbia retailers, trade associations and other groups was announced Monday.

The Save Our Streets group is demanding immediate government action on theft, vandalism and violent crime its members say have reached “epidemic proportions” across the province.

The coalition says it wants all levels of government to work together to address what it calls a crime “crisis” in retail settings. It estimates the added cost of security is effectively costing B.C. families $500 each per year.

Mahlman, a founding member of the coalition, said the issue was at a crucial juncture.

“The streets and communities are becoming more unsafe,” he said. “We are very concerned that we are past the tipping point, and that it will take decades to correct if not dealt with now.”

The coalition said there was a “critical” need for immediate action to deal with threats to staff safety, rising security costs and community impact.

They said a co-ordinated government response for repeat offenders was needed.

Mahlman said federal and provincial governments can't succeed by taking a piecemeal approach and addressing “singular aspects” of the problem, such as drug decriminalization, policing resources or mental-health reform.

The coalition also wants the B.C. and federal governments to “establish a set of measurable results” for the public to see if any government action works to bring down crime.

Members of the coalition include such retailers as Lululemon, Aritzia, Rexall and Save-On-Foods, and groups such as the Greater Vancouver and Surrey boards of trade, the Retail Council of Canada and Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers.

Vancouver police said last week that officers made 258 arrests and recovered almost $57,000 in stolen goods in a 16-day shoplifting crackdown in September.

Police also said there were another 82 arrests in Delta, Langley, Richmond and Burnaby as part of a co-ordinated effort throughout the Lower Mainland.

Coalition members, however, said such actions only address a small part of the problem, and Karen Kuwica with the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association said the issue involved the entire province.

“Premier (David) Eby stated that everybody deserves to feel safe in their communities,” Kuwica said. “He's right. We want that feeling to be a fact.”

Tanya Finley owns a restaurant in Nelson, about 600 kilometres east of Vancouver, and said the neighbourhood has become a “centre of homelessness, crime and addiction,” imposing economic hardship and mental anxiety on local residents.

“Criminals are getting away with countless crimes and being let go,” Finley said.

“The upper levels of government that are making the rules, it is clear to me that you are not sweeping up after the victims day after day,” she added. “It is obvious to me that your homes, your paycheques, your businesses, your sleep, your mental health are not being threatened. You are not being defecated on, ransacked or robbed.”

Eby said the province wanted to work with the coalition to “raise the profile” of the crime issue, in particular because federal legislation on bail reform is stuck at the Senate after passing in the House of Commons.

“We went to Ottawa to individually lobby senators to tell them how important these rule changes were to ensure that the public continues to have confidence in the criminal justice system, and it has not passed yet,” Eby said at an unrelated news conference in Victoria on Monday.

“So I'm looking forward to meeting with (the coalition) and having those conversations about what other gaps have they identified where we can do better work.”

Mahlman said the movement is not political and it hopes whatever government responses occur continue after elections take place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2023.

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