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 coordinated 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.
Last week, Victoria police made 20 arrests and recovered more than $25,000 dollars worth of merchandise during a three day targeted shoplifting operation. Jeff Bray, CEO for the Downtown Victoria Business Association says this an example of what needs to be fixed. The association joined the coalition to push for two specific changes.
“We want to see people held in custody pending trial if they are repeat offenders. Second, for mental health and addictions we want to see much better and much stronger services around treatment for individuals including in some cases involuntary care,” said Bray.
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.
In response to the coalition, there was no immediate commitment from the province’s public safety minister who says the province is already doing everything it can to address the problem.
“We have made a number of changes that’s why this province led the push to get repeat violent offenders for example on the bail reform issue front and centre with the federal government,” said Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general.
Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2023.