Business improvement associations from around British Columbia, including Victoria, are urging politicians to act swiftly when it comes to downtown crime they say is “plaguing” communities.
Business Improvement Areas of BC, which represents dozens of business associations, is calling on municipal, provincial and federal governments for increased funding and resources to address issues of crime and safety, mental health, addictions and homelessness impacting core downtown areas.
The group says while those issues were once seen as being confined to urban centres like Vancouver, they’re being seen more and more in smaller communities like those in the Fraser Valley, or in cities and towns outside of Victoria on Vancouver Island.
“We recognize there is a vulnerable population that suffers from addiction, mental health and homelessness in this province – and there is no disputing the need for our elected leaders to address those issues as a matter of urgency,” Teri Smith, president of BIABC said in a news release Monday.
“However, there is an immediate need to advocate for small business owners, their employees, and the communities they serve that are also being drastically impacted.”
The group’s calls for action are targeted toward the three levels of government. Municipally, they’re asking mayoral and council candidates up for election next month to pledge city dollars, should they win, to increase police resources, street lighting, sanitation, anti-graffiti programs and stronger bylaw enforcement.
Provincially, they’re calling on the B.C. government to implement a “concerted” plan to support people with mental health and addictions issues, unhoused people and taking action to address prolific offenders.
BIABC also wants the province to look at alternative justice options, such as assistance programs for businesses who are victimized by crime, and improvements in how crime is reported and responded to through EComm.
At the federal level, the group wants Ottawa to form an all-party committee on Downtowns and Main Streets — and wants “a seat at the table” in all partnerships aimed at addressing the downtown crime issue.
“Above all, we need a bi-partisan approach to this complex issue that is having a detrimental impact on us all,” says BIABC advocacy chair Patricia Barnes. “Simply talking about these issues and deflecting to other levels of government is getting us nowhere.”
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Jeff Bray, the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, lent his voice to the letter, specifically calling out “street disorder, open drug use and mental health challenges” as top issues affecting downtown Victoria businesses.
“The negative impact on our economy, sense of safety among employees and customers, and the severe damage to our reputation are all reaching crisis levels. We need to admit that the current strategies are not working,” he said.
Calls for change to the way the province deals with mental health and addictions issues and prolific offenders have been growing not just from business associations, but from the man considered to be the frontrunner in the BC NDP leadership race.
David Eby last month suggested B.C. should expand its ability to force people into involuntary care for severe mental health and addictions issues, saying it would not only prevent street violence but also people from overdosing and dying in the streets.
However, opponents have said that forcing people into treatment rarely works, leaving them at a higher risk of overdose once they’re released. They also say such a system would be a fundamental violation of their human rights.