Extra police patrols, funding for downtown Victoria as businesses grapple with theft, vandalism and pandemic

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Funding is heading to downtown businesses face a trifecta: pandemic, targeted stealing spree, and a random rampage of vandalism.

Surveillance cameras rolled on Tuesday night on one man’s path of destruction, throwing rocks, pieces of wood, anything he could find through downtown business doors.

Today, businesses’ storefront windows are boarded up with shop owners still in disbelief.

“First thing that went through my mind, was not again,” said Jaymie Chudiak, general manager of the Bug Zoo. “This is number three for us for broken windows.”

It’s not the first difficulty businesses have faced this year, being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The knock-on effect of COVID, people working from home. This is it,” said Tem Greenhalgh, of Themis Security.

The advent of COVID-19 shifted opportunities for criminals. With shops shuttered, and streets empty in March 2020, as a reaction to the pandemic arriving here in B.C., break and enters went through the roof.

Then, more recently, over the past two months, a more calculated criminal emerged.

“There are some professional criminals that are on the loose who have the wherewithal to cut plate glass and set it aside, that are targeting businesses. Vic PD is on that, and they’re going to catch them. Period. It’s not an option,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

The cherry on top of an already difficult year, hit this week.

A man carried out a random, senseless vandalism spree, that shattered Victoria’s quiet.

Police say the damage rampage was carried out by the same man who took them on a boat chase after stealing a harbour ferry the night before.

The damage downtown businesses face from all that crime so far, adds up to tens of thousands of dollars.

“The cost to replacing glass windows is astronomical,” said Teri Hustins, chair of the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA).

“A sheet of glass for a large display window is a minimum of $1000. The deductible within our insurance policy can be between $8-1000.”

So many shop owners decide the incident isn’t worth filing, sometimes eating the costs themselves.

Today, however, Victoria City Council voted to take some of the sting out.

“We want all of our businesses to stay in the downtown. We want them to know we have their back,” said Mayor Helps.

“This was unanimous support by council saying that.”

Helps is hoping financial aid sent to the DVBA to help support shops affected by the crime will send a strong signal of support.

“Having this support right now to helps us, for the businesses who have had these expenses, really means a lot to us,” said Hustins, who also owns the downtown shop Oscar and Libby’s.

City staff still have to work out how much will be sent the DVBA’s way in order to support business.

Whatever money is contributed, will come out of the city’s 2021 contingency fund and will be up to the association on how to distribute it.

In the meantime, extra police in high vis vests are being deployed downtown, according to the mayor.

“Having police visible in the downtown will hopefully alleviate some of those needs for private security,” said Helps.

Security companies say, however, they don’t expect the surge in demand they’ve seen since COVID started to slow anytime soon.

“Over the last year we’ve seen somewhere between 25-30 per cent growth just in the downtown area alone, with new clients coming on board alone,” said Greenhalgh.

As for the man behind the random rampage, Matthew Phillipe Poirier, he is facing two counts of mischief and a breach of an undertaking in relation to Wednesday’s vandalism spree.

Police have also recommended charges of theft in relation to the stolen harbour ferry, but the Crown has yet to approve them.

Poirier remains in custody and has a bail hearing set for Friday.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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