A message from Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers on community safety

Council has received several letters and calls in recent weeks about increases in crime in Sechelt. While this is the same story we are seeing in every community in B.C. (Victoria’s crime stats have doubled), I want you to know that we’ve heard you, and tell you what we are doing to address it.

We convened a meeting with the RCMP, VCH Mental Health and Addictions, RainCity, Sunshine Coast Community Services, District of Sechelt Bylaw staff, VCH Public Health, mayors from Sechelt and Gibsons, and the chair of the SCRD. We have found that the issue of property crime is complicated. The stats show the location and type of crimes on the Sunshine Coast are changing. Other issues like mental health, addictions or housing challenges are also contributing factors. That is why we are approaching this problem from several angles.

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Calls for service

While the number of calls for service to the RCMP has been consistent for the Sunshine Coast overall over the past few years, the location and type of calls have changed. The calls related to mental health issues have increased, and a recent change to protocol requires two RCMP members to respond. With many of our most vulnerable gathering in a small area downtown, calls for service in that area have increased significantly since 2018. We are also seeing more auto and bike theft and break-and-enters across the Coast than in past years. Assaults are also at an all-time high.

Currently, our full complement of RCMP members on the Sunshine Coast is 35. Of that, the District of Sechelt pays for 11 members. The last time there was an increase was a municipal member in 2009. The province has not added any members since 2008. Until recently, given the difficulty in recruiting members throughout Canada to the RCMP, our detachment has not been fully staffed.

The challenging geography of the Sunshine Coast, where the detachment provides service for 100 km from Port Mellon to Egmont, impacts response times as well. This can have all the detachment’s resources tied up in just four calls for service.

Provincial support

Since we were elected, this council has worked to understand the complex issues in our community, and we have lobbied for improved support from the province.

A few weeks ago, our mayor and council members, along with elected officials from the Town of Gibsons, Sunshine Coast Regional District and shíshálh Nation and MLA Nicholas Simons met with Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and the Auditor General, and shared our concerns. We informed him that the RCMP will be submitting a request for additional members to be added to the Sunshine Coast detachment. We believe a business case may support the addition of two provincial RCMP members. With the support of all Sunshine Coast local governments, Minister Farnworth indicated the request would be seriously considered.

Adding more members is helpful but it is not the solution to all our concerns.

Mayor and council, along with other Sunshine Coast elected officials and MLA Simons, also met with Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, advocating for more support for families and people with substance use and mental illness.

No detox beds

There are currently no detox beds in our hospital. Expanded addiction services and additional outreach workers are greatly needed. We need to ensure that support organizations have capacity and staffing for a vulnerable population of the size we are seeing. Minister Darcy confirmed that these are serious concerns on the Sunshine Coast and provided contact information for us to follow up on these requests. The minister also indicated increased support for rural and first nations communities would be announced soon, including changes for Vancouver Coastal Health that will be implemented on the Sunshine Coast.

We believe the changes in our crime stats must be approached from all levels of government and all service providers. We need the province to step up and increase our RCMP members, provide more mental health support, addiction treatments, and housing options for our vulnerable populations.

In addition to raising these issues with the province we are also doing our part. Sechelt has a:

• Community Investment Program providing grants to our non-profit organizations supporting our vulnerable populations.

• Sechelt Business Watch program providing volunteers on our downtown streets at night to report suspicious activity.

• Active participation in The Community Action Team for harm reduction, which supports a peer outreach group.

• Needle bin in Hackett Park and needle bins in all public washrooms for safe disposal of needles, in addition to the needle disposal facilities at the homeless shelter, supportive housing facility and the hospital.

With the provincial election in progress we know that our lobbying efforts may have to start all over again if there is a new government, but we have the documentation and the arguments ready to do just that. We are prepared to work with whichever party is elected. We are prepared, we are ardent, and we will be steadfast in our commitment to our communities.

You can help

Together with the Town of Gibsons, and the SCRD, we are committed to improving this situation to ensure crime does not continue to increase. However, we cannot do it without your help and there is nothing better than eyes and feet on the street. So, we ask that you stay vigilant in your community. When you see something suspicious, do not be afraid to report it. If it seems a little off, it probably is. You can call our bylaw officers for noise complaints or unsightly property and you can call the RCMP for criminal matters. It is always safer to check it out.

© Copyright Coast Reporter

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