More than 200 people called for government action on crime, drug addiction and homelessness today in downtown Nanaimo.
A noon-hour rally was held Thursday, April 26, at Diana Krall Plaza, organized by the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, was one of seven held in B.C. cities where demonstrators cried that “enough is enough” and demanded action on the root causes of increasing social disorder and human suffering.
Clint Smith, a Nanaimo business owner who suffered a gunshot wound in March when he and a group of men tried to retrieve stolen tools from a camp of people experiencing homelessness, said government has failed people and police can’t keep up with the increasing numbers of chronic offenders who keep breaching conditions of their release from custody without consequences.
“People can’t walk downtown with confidence at without fear or concern…” Smith said. “We must demand more. Demand real support for marginalized people struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Demand support for those frontline first responders who are traumatized [by] what they are forced to deal with every day.”
Smith also called for the end of a “catch-and-release” justice system.
Karen Kuwica, a rally organizer, read a letter from Nanaimo mother Andrea Miller, whose child found a bag containing fentanyl on her school’s grounds.
“Their was enough residual substance in the bag that my child had [while] playing with her two-year-old brother, it could have killed them both if they had ingested the substance,” Miller wrote.
Drug paraphernalia, including pipes, syringes and other items where also found in hedges near where children line up for class, according to the letter.
“I’m terrified and traumatized that I may send my kids to school and never see them again because of something an addict has left behind,” Miller wrote. “I now have naloxone in my home because the drug epidemic is invading the homes and lives of people with absolutely no connection to it.”
Ruth Taylor, who lives near the former Nicol Street location of the Nanaimo Area Network of Drug Users peer-run overdose prevention site, recounted what her family witnessed when the site operated, including an incident when a man asked about the names and genders of her children, then became so violent he smashed her front gate and had to be arrested.
“No charges were laid, to my knowledge, and if they were, we were never informed…” Taylor said. “Imagine your kids playing in the yard after that incident.”
She said her children have found uncapped needles on their school’s playground and witnessed people having mental health breakdowns, committing acts of self-harm, overdosing or raging violently.
“I have seen public defecation, fornication and, of course, open and extreme drug use and abuse,” she said. “As a mother, I can’t expose my children to that so we just don’t go … this is not normal. Enough is enough.”
She and her children no longer feel safe going to the downtown library and no longer go to parks in Nanaimo’s south end.
“My children don’t want to walk downtown anymore. They are afraid…” she said “We are losing our public spaces and our worlds are getting smaller right at a time when I want to give them more freedom.”
Chrissy Forsythe, Old City Quarter restaurant owner, said she has been a longtime advocate for support for marginalized and drug addicted people and said she has worked with all levels of government for five years with no solution. Dealing with the results of the drug crisis has left her with PTSD.
“I have dealt with so much death and overdose and social disorder in my life,” Forsythe said, breaking down emotionally. “I never thought that anything like this could ever happen in our city. It’s absolutely unbelievable what it has done and it’s torn our community apart and we need to stop this … Nothing has changed.”
She said the “homeless industrial complex in British Columbia” is profiting from people’s lives and government should be ashamed.
“To let people live like this on our streets, with absolutely no dignity left … What do you think that they’re going to do? Nobody cares about them anymore … We all say that we care, but there’s nothing we can do because everybody’s hands are tied with red tape everywhere … we need to hold the proper people accountable for these failed policies,” she said.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog, who attended the rally along with some other members of council, was asked by the crowd to speak at the end of the rally.
“Every government of every stripe has participated in the closing of institutional care and the cessation of the services that people in dire straits needed … You have to acknowledge there’s a problem. You have to acknowledge we’re not going to get out of it very quickly,” Krog said.
He said money will be needed to build the facilities and to train people to provide assistance and care to get people off the streets and give them the opportunity to live with dignity.
“But you need to keep the pressure up,” he said.