Is downtown Victoria safe? Business leaders say stores doing well despite perceptions of ‘rampant’ crime


Despite the perception of a crime wave in Victoria’s downtown core, fueled by a recent brazen daytime smash-and-grab at a downtown jewelry store, industry leaders say it’s business as usual at most shops in the area.

In the terrifying incident that was caught on camera Saturday, a man with a hammer destroyed display cases and grabbed jewelry at Francis Jewellers on Broughton Street as staff used chairs to try and stop him.

“I approached him initially but after seeing that he has a hammer in his hands, I had to backtrack. I was just simply afraid of losing my life,” store owner Rafal Zebrowski tolld CHEK News Sunday.

a man smashes a chair on an armed robbery suspect at Francis Jewellers in Victoria

A still is shown from surveillance video at Francis Jewellers during an armed robbery April 15, 2023.

Comments were quick to roll in on social media saying this break-and-enter exemplified the dangers of downtown, with many expressing that they don’t feel safe in the city’s core.

But somehow, despite instances like this smash-and-grab, people are still going downtown.

Since 2013 the Downtown Victoria Business Association’s (DVBA) Market Square pedestrian counter has recorded more than eight-million people walking through Victoria’s downtown core. This Sunday alone, 8,000 people passed through the core.

Year-over-year trends show that despite a plunge during the pandemic, the number of people downtown is back to yearly averages.

“The reality is a lot of businesses are doing very well. They’re just tired of dealing with some of the street disorder issues,” said Jeff Bray, CEO of the DVBA.

“There’s this perception out there that there’s this rampant, widespread crime wave going on downtown, it’s not. There are things that are happening, but it’s being perpetrated by a very small number of people who are repeat offenders,” said Bruce Williams, CEO of Greater Victoria’s Chamber of Commerce.

Last week, Premier David Eby announced funding for police, prosecutors, and probation officers to work together to tackle repeat violent offenders.

Both Bray and Williams say the issue of street disorder carried out by a few isn’t unique just to Victoria. Both say that most city centres in the country, even North America, are dealing with the same thing.

They both say the repeat criminal issues are symptomatic of population growth, but also of a lack of mental health policy and housing.

Back at Francis Jewellers two days after the robbery, Mark Ranson and Lori Stocks had a custom ring made by Francis Jewelers. When they heard of the scary mid-day break-and-enter on CHEK they decided to show their support in the form of a note and flowers, which they dropped off Monday.

“Very sad, awful. Really hit home for us because we shop here quite a bit. And it just seems enough and enough,” said Ranson. “I’m not sure how they can survive and deal with broken windows all the time.”

Feeling pressure from the business community, Victoria city council has put a grant in place to help businesses deal with vandalism. Some stores have put in security.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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