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Meeting on village violence viewed as a positive step

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Stakeholders discuss possible solutions for recurring problem

By Clare Ogilvie and Andrew Mitchell

It was only an average weekend for Whistler’s night owls last week – eight people picked up for being drunk in public, more than 20 tickets handed out for open liquor, and one person arrested for assault with a weapon.

It is graduation time, and as has happened for the last few weeks, most of the trouble came from high school age students, but not all of it. Short-term resort employees, youths from the city, and adults who should know better all contribute to the problem.

It seems to be Whistler’s fate that the combination of cheap shoulder season accommodation and a reputation as a party town will always bring out the bad apples. The result is vandalism, noise, drunkenness, and occasional bursts of violence. A few weeks ago a Vancouver man was arrested with a handgun in his possession.

While most businesses in town are focused on staying afloat through the slow periods, they are also looking for ways to curb incidents in the village because they could tarnish Whistler’s reputation in the long run.

To share information and come up with ideas to help mitigate the problem, the Food and Beverage Association has been holding meetings every spring.

Wednesday, June 4, members of the Food and Beverage Association met at Buffalo Bill’s to discuss the issues. They were joined by Staff Sergeant Hilton Haider of the Whistler/Pemberton RCMP detachment, Bill Barratt of the RMOW’s Bylaw Department, council member Marianne Wade and representatives from the accommodation industry and taxi company.

One of the steps being taken is an RCMP-hosted security training program for Whistler doormen.

Other suggestions made by the group include a designated police presence at the taxi loop, more taxi stands around the village, better screening of guests at the booking stage, different methods for handling large groups of customers, a dedicated phone system that links local nightclubs and the RCMP, and more green buffers to absorb noise in the village.

One particular suggestion was well-received by all who were present – more regular meetings between stakeholders, at least twice a year.

Haider said it was a positive meeting for the most part, but did reveal a few cracks in any solution to the problem.

"There are some differences in opinion from some of the bars, different philosophies, which is a challenge right there. Equal partnerships (in handling the issues) can’t be accomplished," he said.

As for the RCMP, Haider said the detachment will continue its bar liaison program, which assigns members of the local detachment to local bars and nightclubs.

"They are there to assist bars and staff in dealing with changes (to the provincial liquor laws), deal with problem clientele and other situations, and help with training," Haider explains.

As far as the village patrols go, Haider says the RCMP is not making any changes as a result of the meeting.

"We will continue to take a proactive approach, keeping a high visibility and patrolling the bars," he said.

As for the suggestion that there should be a police presence at the taxi loop, Haider says members can and do patrol the area any time they can, and do have a presence in the area on busy weekends "providing we don’t have higher priorities. If there is a serious incident, our people will be drawn away.

"We cannot place people to act as doormen at bars, or have them standing by playing taxi host," said Haider.

According to Haider, this year is really no different from last year. The only change is that the people arrested or ticketed in the village are getting younger every year.

"I am encouraged that (stakeholders) are taking a positive approach here, but if we don’t all work together it’s going to be difficult for one segment to deal with problems in the village. We have to do that together," he said.

Staff from most of the clubs also attended the meeting.

"I was definitely encouraged at the number of people who were there," said Job Tischuk, general manager of Tommy Africa’s.

He wants to see swift action on some of the issues discussed to ensure the safety of the village.

"I would like to see a little faster movement on all the things we have discussed," said Tischuk.

One item he would like to see implemented right away is the introduction of multiple taxi stands.

Right now people file out of clubs at 2 a.m. and congregate at the taxi loop, which is practically on Tommy’s doorstep.

"Just having that one location is causing huge problems," said Tischuk.

"That is where you consistently have problems and can end up with violent situations.

"So to have different locations for all the clubs would be fantastic."

Tischuk said there was even mention of having a locals-only taxi stand.

Tommy’s is working on a plan to move its front entrance to the village-side of its location for security reasons. Patrons and staff alike got quite a shake-up last month when Tommy’s doormen realized a youth trying to get into the bar had a gun.

A youth was later picked up and charged with possession of a firearm for a dangerous purpose.

"For me what happened in the past with the whole gun issue means that I am looking for some immediate solutions," said Tischuk.

"I am looking for a solid joint effort to stamp out violence in the village. I think it is really damaging Whistler’s overall appeal in the village."

Part of the solution said Tischuk is a joint understanding amongst all the bars of having a zero tolerance for trouble-makers or gang-like groups getting into the clubs.

He believes that if this type of patron understands they are not going to get into clubs here at all they will stop coming up from the Lower Mainland.

Eric Larsen, one of the co-owners of Whistler Taxi, said he has been to at least three of these meetings in the past, and while there is no shortage of good ideas, there is usually very little action.

"People have a lot of ideas, so long as they don’t have to do them," he said.

One suggest Larsen made was to follow Vancouver’s example and allow bars to open until 4 a.m. on a trial basis. That would allow bars to empty out more gradually, and ease the nightly crush at the taxi loop.

"Not all of the fights are over cabs, it just seems that whenever you get a big group of people together in one place with a little alcohol, there are going to be a few fights. A lot of things do happen when there is a conflict over who gets what cab, and people accuse each other of butting in," said Larsen.

Another suggestion of his was to put an officer at the taxi loop. Whenever there is a police presence, he has noticed that the number of incidents drops off dramatically.

The idea to increase the number of taxi stands in the village to spread out resort visitors could also work, but unless people know to go to those areas, drivers won’t go there – especially in the shoulder season. Until the summer tourist season gets underway, Larsen says his drivers make virtually all of their money on the weekends.

During the week, the company gets by with about three cars on the road, down from more than 42 insured cars during the winter months.

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