Kenora business community says more needed to make downtown safer

Following a special council meeting on public safety late last year, the OPP said they were increasing foot patrols in the downtown area.

OPP Provincial Const. Jason Canfield said businesses have noticed an increase in foot patrol and more officers walking by or coming in their stores to say hi.

“I know we still have a lot of work to do and that's again our goal is to do whatever we can.” he said. "The foot patrol is definitely going to help [people on the street as well]. It's going to curb any violence that may get brought on to them as well. So that definitely is gonna help everyone."

With the incidences of violence and harassment still fresh in everyone’s minds, Canfield said businesses have told him about locking their doors.

“Just for their safety and just for the concerns as to what happens,“ he said. “If you want to go [into a store] and you just sort of knock and they come and let you in.”

Andy Scribilo, the president of the Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce, said even with the increased presence, he’s still getting a lot of negative feedback from both chamber members and non-members about people milling around the downtown core and using drugs.

“More and more businesses are locking their doors now,” he said. “So they're resorting to alternate things to do to keep them safe.”

Scribilo said people still aren't shopping downtown.

He said he’s meeting with OPP leadership this week to deliver some of the feedback from his members on what they say they need.

“It's in the evenings that they need the foot patrol out not during the day,” he said.

Scribilo gave the example of one financial institution which stays open a little later.

“[The manager's] really afraid of his tellers having to go home out at night in the dark,” he said. “I hate to say that but they're experiencing bad stuff every day. From injections to threatening the tellers, to laying in the vestibules, defecating on the steps. One of the worst things is having to clean [that] up the next morning.”

Scribilo said the demand for an immediate resolution to the situation from business owners is clear.

“I'm getting calls and emails pretty much every day as the chamber president of people wanting updates,” he said. “They want to know something’s starting to happen. From my end where we're working with our partners, one of them being the city, that we've got to put something together to make our businesses feel safer.”

“Bottom line. If they're not seeing it, then it's not happening.”

Scribilo commended the new mayor and council for sitting down and having an honest, up front chat about everything going on, in contrast with the one before.

Mayor Andrew Poirier said he’s met with a lot of individuals and other groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, that are willing to roll up their sleeves.

“They're all in. They want to be part of the solution and part of the team that's going to put some positive measures in place for the community,” he said adding the request for more police presence helps people have a bit more of a sense of safety and security.

“It's only been enforced now for a couple of weeks. So I think we're on the right track,” he said. “But do we have a lot of work to do yet? You bet.”

He said these steps are in the right direction, but they still need to take the steps to have a thorough plan, which includes hiring a community safety and well-being coordinator, and the whole idea is to do it right.

“We have one shot at this to start making a difference and rushing it is not going to get us where we want to get,” he said.

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source