When Mayor Colleen Smook gave her state of the city address at council’s organizational meeting Nov. 6, which marked approximately a year since they were sworn into office and she became their head, it was a bit surprising that, with the exception of a reference to the manhunt for two B.C. fugitives near Gillam in the summer, crime was not among the topics she addressed, even when listing some of the challenges that council and the city has been facing.
Obviously, crime is only one aspect of life in Thompson, and for many of us, it is more of a theoretical concern than an actual reality that we have to deal with. Nevertheless, if people are fearful for their safety, even if their concern is perhaps higher than their actual risk of being victimized, that is a problem for the city. Unfortunately, it seems that city leaders don’t have much in the way of answers, except to point to a public safety strategy for Thompson that was promised by the provincial government and to say that once this process moves forward a little more, that things will start to get better.
Crime isn’t the only area in which the city’s main answer is to ask for more help from the provincial government. When it comes to concerns local businesses have about public drinking and intoxication and the proclivity of some people engaged in such activities to destroy property, use it as a toilet or simply hang around and make some people feel uncomfortable, the city feels that perhaps downtown businesses should form an association and put their own money and resources into helping resolve the problems or into lobbying Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries for assistance, since many of these problems are associated with the new Liquor Mart. But many businesses are already putting considerable resources that they didn’t have to spend before into hiring private security to deter people from hanging around or vandalizing their property. A local bear-hunting outfitter told the Thompson Citizen that in a survey of his clients, more than 60 per cent said they didn’t feel safe while in Thompson. An environment that scares off potential customers isn’t conducive to making a business grow.
And while the city did well in providing emergency support for people displaced by the fire at the north building of Forest View Suites in September, with the help of the Red Cross, they are powerless to do anything to help the former residents who couldn’t move back to their homes because the building was deemed unsafe. It appears these residents haven’t got back their damage deposits and that the company that manages Forest View Suites, whose owners owe millions to the bank, is disputing people’s claims to money that they expected to receive back. Here, the city can do little more than direct displaced tenants to the Residential Tenancies Branch, which could take months to recover former tenants’ money, if the management company even has funds with which to cover the cost of refunding deposits.
To be fair, some of these problems are out of the city’s jurisdiction, but others are not. And while solutions are being worked on behind the scenes, it might look good to take some highly visible actions as well, such as ensuring community safety officers are making frequent trips down Churchill Drive to confiscate alcohol from people drinking in public and ensure they aren’t loitering on private property.