An 82-year-old volunteer was punched and spat on when he asked a group of people to move away from some stairs in downtown Nanaimo.
Pat Murphy, a volunteer of 11 years with the Vancouver Island Military Museum, was assaulted Saturday, Nov. 20, by people blocking stairs that connect Cameron Road and Front Street.
The stairs, which incorporate a concrete wall that offers some privacy, have become a hangout for drug users, Murphy said.
“It’s a standard procedure for me, when I get to the museum in the morning, is to look down those stairs and see how bad it is,” he said. “Sometimes there’s two or three people. Sometimes there’s six or eight and I usually say to them, ‘You can’t block these stairs, folks. Go find another place to do this, please.’”
When Murphy asked a group of about four people to move Saturday morning, one of the group asked for brooms to clean up the area.
“As I looked out the window for the next hour, I saw two or three homeless people hauling garbage down to a garbage bucket. They were really getting involved,” Murphy said.
But as he was leaving the museum for the day shortly before 3 p.m. he said about a dozen people had gathered and were doing drugs and drinking.
“I said, ‘Guys, you can’t block these stairs like this. There are people wanting to use them. You’ve got to go find some other place to do this crap,’” he said.
Murphy said one of the men was holding a serrated knife and Murphy asked if the man planned to use the knife on him just because he was telling him to move off of the stairs.
“As I was in conversation with this guy, one of the other homeless people got up and sucker-punched me in the left side of my face,” Murphy said. “I got a shot back in on him and then somebody came up who was next to him and spit a mouthful of beer or whatever he had on me.”
By this time a mall security guard who witnessed the altercation was calling 911.
“So I knew the police would be on their way. We get incredible response from the RCMP and I could hear the sirens coming in seconds,” Murphy said. “Homeless people were gathering up all their possessions, their bags, their drugs, cans of whatever they had and were heading out.”
Officers checked Murphy for injuries and took statements from him and two witnesses, and Murphy was also able to provide investigators with photos he took of the group.
Murphy said he wasn’t seriously injured in the altercation.
“I have a bit of a sore jaw, but I used to play hockey. I’ve had a few fights in my life, you know. You get over it,” he said.
Murphy said problems related to drug use and vagrancy have been ongoing since the military museum moved into the former Nanaimo Museum building in 2010.
“I was very happy to see that the city’s budget was increased to accommodate four new [RCMP] members because downtown sure needs more police attention,” Murphy said.
Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said the investigation is continuing.
“This is not acceptable,” O’Brien said. “Nobody in our community, especially in the downtown core, should have any fear of being assaulted because they’re simply using a city facility, so we are investigating and we will hold those persons accountable.”
Police say the suspect was a “marginalized street person” about 20-25 years old, white, thin and about 5-foot-11. He had dark hair with some facial hair and a prominent chin. At the time of the incident he was wearing a ball cap, a grey hoodie and a black jacket.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Nanaimo RCMP’s non-emergency line at 250-754-2345 and quote file No. 2021-43260.