Rally calls for increased policing, services in Happy Valley-Goose Bay

People held signs at a rally in the EJ Broomfield Arena parking lot in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Friday, calling for increased policing and services for the vulnerable.  (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
People held signs at a rally in the EJ Broomfield Arena parking lot in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Friday, calling for increased policing and services for the vulnerable. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)

About 80 people gathered at a rally in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Friday to share their concerns over public safety in the community and call on the provincial government to act.

The central Labrador town is dealing with a number of issues arising from a homeless and transient population that is primarily living on the trails throughout the area. The town council estimates 80 people are living on the trails.

"I worry about the safety of children in the community, I worry about the safety of vulnerable people in the community," said Sacha Fraser, one of the organizers who put out the rally call on Facebook on Thursday.

"We're in a very serious public safety crisis and we need help. And we need their help in terms of putting immediate solutions and strategies in place," Fraser said.

The rally was in response to The Telegram reporting the Minister of Justice and Public Safety was going to be in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Friday. Minister John Hogan told CBC News Thursday his trip was delayed until next week because of the legislature schedule.

Fraser said the provincial government is focused on long-term solutions and that while those are important, the community needs immediate help. She says there needs to be enough police to respond to incidences and put preventative measures in place.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

"The illegal and indecent behaviour and aggressive behaviour escalated quite a bit over the last number of months. And if the resources aren't there to deal with escalating behaviour, then one can only draw the conclusion that things will get worse and something will happen," Fraser said.

"They need more attention and they need immediate attention. Because without those things sort of being resolved, we won't have the foundation we need to put the longer term solutions in place," Fraser said.

Fraser said she hopes Hogan hears from people who are concerned, like the ones at the rally, and takes the issue seriously.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

Many of the six dozen people shared stories at the rally, including one woman who said she was chased on the trails by two men while walking her dog.

Another woman, Jill Elson, said she grew up walking around the trails with friends, but it's different for her children.

"Typically I should be worried about my teenage daughter going out and partying and that type of thing. That doesn't even have to cross our mind because she doesn't go out anywhere because she's scared," Elson said. "I'm scared of her getting harassed by intoxicated people or assaulted."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

Elson said she wasn't going to speak up, until she heard the Minister's comments in the House of Assembly.

On Tuesday, Hogan said the issue is complex but that the province will not police their way out of it, especially when the people being talked about are Indigenous. He said that is a past colonial way of thinking.

Elson said it's not a colonial way of thinking to arrest people doing illegal acts in public.

"This isn't an Indigenous issue or the colonialized way of looking in the lens. This is safety for us all, including those who are in the woods, and we're just trying to get our town back," she said.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

Her young child's daycare group can no longer go on walks outside because of harassment concerns as well, she said.

"They should not be scared to go outside and play," Elson said. "But there's people going around assaulting, traumatizing the children, bumming them for money."

Elson said there needs to be safety and mental health supports in the community. She said while the mental health of those committing illegal acts is important, the mental health of those being assaulted should be considered as well.

"We all have to abide by the law and right now the valley is lawless."

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