Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: More ideas needed to deal with social issues along TCH corridor

Getting the community involved in helping to deal with the problem also goes a long way

It’s hard not to sympathize with Adib Atrchi, the owner of Duncan’s Applepress printing shop, after a young man threw a manhole cover through his window in broad daylight at about 8 a.m. on June 19.

I watched the video of the incident taken from a security camera and was appalled as I saw the guy approach the shop with the heavy 50-pound manhole cover over his head and throw it at the window while a shopper from a neighbouring store watched in shocked horror.

The man, who was known to police, then just walked away without any attempt to steal anything from the shop.

Apparently, he just did it for kicks and I suspect drugs likely were a factor in his stunt.

He was released within hours of his arrest, with charges of two counts of mischief and one count of breach of conditions being recommended to the Crown, and was allowed back on the street to, perhaps, carry out more acts of wanton destruction.

Atrchi told me that it was the fourth time in three years that his store has been broken into, and he’s had about $10,000 in material stolen, plus having to replace the window after every break in at a cost of about $1,000 each time.

“Enough is enough,” he angrily told me.

“Where are my rights as a taxpayer in this community?”

What’s even more distressing is that local governments, including the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan, the RCMP and other groups have invested a lot of time, energy and money in an effort to deal with the rampant crime and drug use in the Trans-Canada Highway corridor between Beverly Street and Boys Road. Applepress has operated in the corridor since 2019.

The Safer Community Plan, which was devised by the partners, involved increased enforcement presence along the corridor, including daytime patrols conducted by RCMP, Blackbird Security, and bylaw enforcement.

But, despite these efforts, Atrchi said the local businesses are still plagued by crime, drug use, homelessness and other social issues that only seem to be getting worse.

“I’m concerned that my business, as well as others in the area, will suffer as more people are afraid to come around here due to all the crime and will shop online,” he said.

It seems that, despite all the resources being thrown at the problem, little headway is being made by all the local groups and organizations that have the mandate to deal with it.

But, sometimes all it takes is one person with a vision and the type of personality to drive change to make a difference.

Doug MacKenzie, who owns the Options Okanagan Treatment Centre for those struggling with addictions on the Lower Mainland, grew up in the highway corridor area and has committed to do anything he can to improve his hometown.

He began a campaign last year, called “Love Your Community, One Street at a Time”, in an effort to clean up some of the more troubled areas of downtown Duncan.

To begin, MacKenzie and a group of dedicated volunteers began painting the exterior of buildings on socially troubled Whistler Street last October, including painting over all the graffiti, and began a major clean up of the area.

The volunteers came back over the Canada Day weekend to complete their work on the west side of the street, and are preparing to tackle Whistler Street’s east side when they return.

MacKenzie also raised $17,000, including $5,000 from the City of Duncan, to construct a tasteful eight-foot fence on Whistler Street’s north end to prevent the easy access of undesirable people to the area.

The transformation of the street is remarkable.

With the fresh paint, the removal of graffiti and the construction of the fence, the street is now a much more pleasant area than it has been for years.

MacKenzie is encouraging more volunteers to participate in his “Love Your Community, One Street at a Time” campaign, and has plans to revitalize other areas of the downtown core that are troubled.

There’s no doubt that increasing security in the area has its uses, but getting the community involved in helping to deal with the problem, like MacKenzie is doing, also goes a long way.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter