News » Whistler

Community plans meeting to fight weekend rowdies

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By Clare Ogilvie and Andrew Mitchell

News of Whistler’s woes over Lower Mainland youths coming to the resort to party and cause trouble may have a silver lining for the community.

"What is good and really positive is that I am getting a lot of people e-mailing me, phoning me, and giving me further suggestions about how to deal with this," said Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly.

"This is a really, really a positive attitude. This is a community-wide issue and we recognize that just putting on more police, or what have you, isn’t the answer. There is no silver bullet here."

The community is definitely coming together on this issue.

Nightclubs, the taxi company, the police, bylaw officers, municipal leaders, and representatives of the accommodation sector all plan to meet early next week to strategize on how to deal with the issue.

First and foremost will be talk of how to keep workers and customers safe and maintain Whistler’s international reputation as a great place to come to have a good time all year round.

While the resort has been dealing with the issue of rowdiness in the village for several years the problem was ratcheted up a notch this month with the seizure of a gun and live ammunition from an Abbottsford teen, and the stabbing of two young men from Surrey.

One of them was stabbed 14 times, though none of the wounds were life threatening.

Other weapons’ related charges handed down in past weeks include a youth caught running through the village with a large butcher knife after running out on a cab fair, and an intoxicated man found in the day-skier lots with a pair of lead-lined gloves.

"I am really pleased that people are stepping up and saying this is a shared problem and all of us are at risk here if we don’t manage it as a community and really get hold of it," said O’Reilly, who is committed to tackling the problem.

"We are not going to take this. We are not going to let this get out of hand. If we have to we will keep putting more resources into it."

There appear to be two main groups causing the problems – exuberant grads and gang-like youths who come up to party.

Both take advantage of the resort’s cheap hotel rates in the shoulder season.

This week Tourism Whistler circulated information to the media pointing out that you can stay in the resort for as little as $69 a night.

Mayor O’Reilly believes getting the accommodation sector on board is key to addressing the issue.

"You really have to educate the property owners," he said.

"There are a significant number of large ones but there are even more small ones and a lot of them are not based here in Whistler and they don’t have anyone on site.

"They get the phone call, it seems legitimate, and so they take the booking. And revenue is slow at this time of year.

"So it is going to take a lot more work on the communication strategy because for the few dollars that people are making they are really jeopardizing the good face and the good name of Whistler."

The resort is also communicating with high school principals and Parent Advisory Councils in the Lower Mainland to remind them that while the grads are welcome here hooliganism is not. And youths will be asked for identification at clubs, at the liquor store, and anywhere else that it is appropriate.

"We are somewhat of a magnet here," said O’Reilly.

"And it seems like they come to Whistler and forget there are any rules."

Buffalo Bills general manager Dale Schweighardt believes a united front by the clubs will help calm the problem down.

All nightclubs ask for two pieces of identification if they think someone is under 25. They also maintain radio contact with each other during the evening so they can warn each other of troublesome groups.

Some of the clubs plan to use metal detectors as needed and most have video surveillance at the door which can be used to get still pictures of trouble makers.

"We communicate very well amongst each other, that is the bars, the restaurants, the hotels, the taxis, and the RCMP," said Schweighardt.

The problem can get out of hand if the groups get inside the clubs.

"They tend to outnumber you so now you have a really big problem on the inside," said Schweighardt. "So it is a lot easier to just stop them at the door and say, ‘no we don't need your business today and we are not interested in dealing with you in the future.’

"That is what is going to stop them from coming up here.

"If they come up here and they can't get in anywhere and they are not having any fun then they don't come back.

"That is what has happened in the past."

Schweighardt believes a strong relationship with the RCMP is also helping.

"The RCMP are great about this," he said.

"They come to us first thing in the evening and they say, ‘if you have a problem call us. If you have any issues with anyone just don’t let them in.’"

There are at least 10 RCMP officers in the village on weekend nights. Some are brought up from the Lower Mainland on a special program to help keep the village peaceful.

And the RCMP liaise with other detachments to keep tabs on any trouble that may be coming our way.

According to Staff Sergeant Hilton Haider of the Whistler/Pemberton RCMP, the combination of cheap accommodation and Whistler’s reputation as a party town sometimes do attract "less desirable" elements to the community.

To handle the situation, he has been given the authority to call up extra members from the Lower Mainland and a seven-member auxiliary police force from Whistler and Pemberton to help out. During the Victoria Day long weekend, he estimates that there were up to 25 officers, including himself, in the village.

Extra officers augment the local Whistler/Pemberton RCMP detachment from the World Ski and Snowboard Festival through to the fall, said Haider. On long weekends the size of the police presence in the village is increased even further.

"These incidents in the village are not unique to Whistler. You’ll find that they are dealing with exactly the same issues in Vancouver and Richmond, and Kelowna and Coquitlam. That’s where society is right now. Our young people like to go out and party, and for some reason they have to take knives and (lead-lined) gloves, and pepper spray with them.

"The only reason we get so much more attention is that we’re an international resort."

Haider says the bars have generally been excellent in turning away trouble makers and diffusing situations, and says the number of incidents in the village is down from even two years ago.

He is looking forward to sitting down with the municipality and representatives from the hospitality industry and expanding on the programs they have been putting in place over the last few years.

Still, the recent discovery of weapons is troubling, but Haider says his members undergo regular training to deal with these issues.

"We read of reports about officers being shot and stabbed around the province, and we are very aware of the weapons that are out there," he said.

As for the rowdiness, Haider said that it’s a community problem that will require a community solution.

"Unfortunately," he said, "that’s the legacy of being a resort town."

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