Nanaimo protesters vent frustration with crime after shooting at encampment

Two women are pictured holding placards at a rally near Nanaimo, B.C.,'s Pearson Park to express their frustration with what they see as escalating crime. (Claire Palmer/CBC - image credit)
Two women are pictured holding placards at a rally near Nanaimo, B.C.,'s Pearson Park to express their frustration with what they see as escalating crime. (Claire Palmer/CBC - image credit)

More than 100 people joined a rally in Nanaimo, B.C., Thursday morning to express their frustration with what they describe as escalating crime and a lack of policing in the city.

The gathering started in Pearson Park, a location near where local mechanic shop owner Clint Smith was shot while trying to retrieve his stolen tools from a makeshift encampment on the weekend.

According to a GoFundMe page set up for Smith, he underwent a third surgery on Wednesday, but is still in a medically induced coma while recovering.

Collen Middleton, interim chair of Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, said in a press release Wednesday that he organized the rally to show local residents are "completely fed up" with what he claims is rampant theft and lawlessness in the Vancouver Island city of more than 170,000 residents.

"Current provincial and federal policies are leaving the RCMP and justice system woefully under-resourced, and in our view, unable to serve and protect the public and effectively offer justice to the victims being constantly confronted by prolific criminals," he said in the written statement.

Rally attendees — including people who had accompanied Smith to reclaim stolen property — congregated at the park, holding placards with slogans like "jail violent offenders" and "keep in custody."

Kari Warner/GoFundMe
Kari Warner/GoFundMe

Growing concerns with crimes and vigilantism

The demonstration comes after the Nanaimo RCMP said they don't condone the actions taken by Smith and five other people, who tried to retrieve stolen items without seeking help from the police. Mounties said saying taking justice into your own hands "never ends well."

In light of Smith's injuries, advocates working with the homeless population have also warned against vigilantism.

Claire Palmer/CBC
Claire Palmer/CBC

Desiree Surowski, the co-founder of the Penticton and Area Overdose Prevention Society, told CBC earlier this week that confrontation with unhoused people living in "survival mode" can lead to violence.

A 2019 Statistics Canada report found that people experiencing homelessness reported violence against them at three times the rate of those who had never been homeless.

B.C. should invest in addiction treatment: local politicians

Nanaimo Coun. Sheryl Armstrong, who attended the rally with two other city councillors, said she is concerned about what she described as a "catch-and-release" justice system, but she argues that the province needs to put more money into addiction treatment to address crime.

"There's no investment to send these people to treatment," Armstrong said. "Jail's not the place for a lot of these people."

Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Julian Somers, who also attended the rally, said addiction treatment needs to come with social reintegration.

"All of the things that are modifiable have to do with why are so many people demanding those drugs? Anyone here can go and buy fentanyl after the rally. None are going to, because we have better things to do with our lives," he said.

Claire Palmer/CBC
Claire Palmer/CBC

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog, who arrived at the rally shortly before it ended, agreed about the importance of investing in addiction treatment and supportive housing.

"I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I've been talking about the whole issue of mental health, addictions, trauma, brain injury, homelessness, and the crime that goes with feeding an addiction for a very long time," Krog said.

"People just get really frustrated — they don't feel safe. ... You've got a whole range of folks who are upset by the current situation."