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One year later: Whistler comes to grips with May long weekend murder

Police presence, hotel crackdown undertaken to try to curb unruly guests


Photo by David Buzzard / www.media-centre.ca

Photo by David Buzzard / www.media-centre.ca

Photo by David Buzzard / www.media-centre.ca

Everyone knows his name. And when he was killed.

It was May 17, 2015 during the May long-weekend celebration that is Whistler's infamy.

Luka Gordic, 19, was in Whistler last year with friends when he became separated from them. What is known is that after he exited a Whistler convenience store just after midnight, he was swarmed by a group of older kids and stabbed multiple times. RCMP officers found him lying in a pool of blood. He died of his injuries. And less than 24 hours after Gordic was stabbed, there was another stabbing. That young man was taken to Vancouver with injuries and he survived.

Dr. Clark Lewis was on call that night. He is the doctor who pronounced Gordic dead in those early morning hours at the Whistler Health Care Centre.

"It was a mess. It was terrible. The worst professional experience of my life, by far," Lewis said,

Almost one year later, Whistler is seemingly set with the family-oriented, jam-packed Great Outdoors Festival (GO Fest), an increased policing presence at a cost of $30,000, and hotels on alert for kids who may try to check in by themselves.

"You try to attract people you want to be around so they're trying to do this GO Festival family-oriented thing, but it seems a little high-risk to me," said Lewis. "Seems like you're just in the line of fire until things really settle down."

Asked if he would take his two young daughters to any GO Fest activities, Lewis said: "Oh, god no. None of our friends are. Everyone's leaving. This is the honest truth. I don't know any of our friends who are sticking around for the weekend."

Is Whistler its own worst enemy?

Lewis said the pressure for occupancy trumps all. And with that comes caveats.

"You can't not let people come up, especially here," Lewis said. "We've kind of brought it on ourselves, in a way. We're so desperate to fill our beds all the time, just take anyone and turn a blind eye. That's the unspoken part that no one wants to talk about.

"We kind of live in Disneyland, in a way, and this place will fall apart if people stop coming," said Lewis.

Resort Municipality of Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says taking back Whistler is a work in progress.

"We've had some success in refocusing the weekend to a family-oriented celebration and festival and away from a weekend of hooliganism from undesirables from the Lower Mainland," she said.

"And we knew when we took the approach a couple of years ago to try to take back this weekend, we knew it was going to take more than a year or so to do so because we used to have the same problems with New Year's Eve," she said.

"Quite frankly some of this goes so far as parents coming up, checking their kids into hotels, and then leaving them and going back to Vancouver for the weekend.

"The hotels, generally speaking, are doing a very good job. They're not allowing people who aren't holding a reservation to actually go into a room."

Lewis said wryly: "But it's not illegal to be bad parents." As well, he said it's a demographic that the resort municipality seems uncertain how to handle.

"It's not typical high school students — it's high school students that no one around here has a lot of experience with," said Lewis. "They're sort of bad-ass kids. And they're doing stuff that we didn't do when we were that age. We just have no clue what they are into and how to entertain them."

The trouble is compounded, said Wilhelm-Morden, when some properties on the periphery of the village don't have a front desk or onsite property management to monitor kids checking in.

Give them something to do

Whistler resident Andrew Mitchell was in the village for several days and nights last year taking in the GO Fest activities with friends from out of town. He said Whistler is doing everything it can.

"There's lots of great ideas, there's lots happening, and it is getting safer, it is getting better, this police presence is having an effect," he said.

Mitchell was in Olympic Plaza last year watching kids and families dancing to a music performance when the mood suddenly changed.

"A bunch of drunk kids came by — they're on a different wavelength — and it really kind of changed it, made things uncomfortable. The dads were positioning themselves between the kids and their families — you could sense that people weren't comfortable. And they didn't stay long — they went and yelled and screamed and swore elsewhere."

In a letter to the editor of Pique last year, Mitchell suggested a local command centre, where people could text to report intimidating and suspicious behaviour.

"If you had a snitch line you could just text — they would have sent police officers over and they would have made these guys feel uncomfortable, and just keep doing that all night until they just give up," he said.

Mitchell says local efforts have been partially effective.

"I think we're always going to get some of that element here. So instead of trying to deny it or kick it out, we're thinking that we can actually stop it completely," he said. "I think we have to offer something for that group and that demographic to do. They're not the kids in the bike park, or up skiing, they're drinking and they need some kind of a concert, DJ show or a rave to keep them in one place where they can be watched and policed."

Brenton Smith, general manager of O&R Entertainment, which runs La Bocca Restaurant & Bar, La Brasserie des Artistes, Hot Buns Bakery, Amsterdam Pub, and Maxx Fish Lounge & Bar, applauds the local efforts to try to refocus and rebrand a long weekend that historically welcomes the carefree days of summer.

"With the exception of a couple of tragic incidents — and one tragedy is one too many — I understand the crime rates have decreased over the last five years. As business operators, we've noticed that there are more, large groups of underage kids in the stroll. They can't seem to get into the bars, and even those who can get into the bars are hanging out with underage kids," he said.

"So there appears to be a disconnect between our demographic coming in and enjoying themselves, spending money and having a good night — and the ones who are out on the stroll causing trouble," he said.

"Where it's kind of gone sideways in recent years is that under-20 demographic who are either having stags or stagettes, or often end-of-high-school grad parties, and they just have got out of hand. They don't stay in their own hometowns and misbehave — they come up to Whistler and it's just not acceptable," said Wilhelm-Morden.

Lewis said: "It's a co-ordinated thing among them. Kids from the city come up and everyone knows that, and the police know that and they've been really good with the roadblocks and stuff — they know who they're looking for.

"But you can't stop them from coming up. They can try to stop them from coming up with guns and stuff. But guns haven't been the problem — it's more just the brawling," said Lewis.

Police presence

Whistler RCMP doesn't release details of their strategy for the weekend.

"We never talk about numbers with respect to these events. We have an operational plan in place," said Sgt. Rob Knapton with the Whistler RCMP. "Historically, I understand there has been a gang component up here in years past... We've had our gang task force up for many years and, in fact, they've stopped coming up because for many years there's been no evidence or anything to suggest any gang activity associated with this weekend."

More officers on patrol. Business owners on alert. Is it enough?

"I think that the thing to remember is that we've had fewer calls and violent incidents. They've been decreasing over the past several years at this point," said Knapton. There were 169 calls for service last year, down from 200 in 2014.

"Unfortunately, we had one of them that resulted in a death last year. No matter what, it's a tragedy and it's just unfortunate how this one worked out," he said.

RCMP Sgt. Steve LeClair told Pique there is a zero-tolerance policy for this year.

"If you're walking around with open liquor, you're going to get a ticket. That's the way to ensure that you get compliance. No warnings are going to be issued on the May long weekend," LeClair said.

Knapton said he's been involved in other jurisdictions where weekend events present policing challenges, such as the sandcastle completion in White Rock, which returned in 2008 after a 21-year absence. The infamous Kelowna Regatta was cancelled in 1988 after a riot in 1986 and then it morphed into Wakefest, rebranded as Centre of Gravity and now is held in mid-July after it was moved from the August long weekend.

"Essentially, we want to make sure the community is a safe place to be... We are adequately resourced to deal with any issues — as we were last year when we had this situation happen," said Knapton. "It didn't translate into any other problems or our inability to handle anything else that was going on."

Lewis said he's not on call at the health care centre for the upcoming weekend. But he cautions there will be issues despite the best of intentions.

"Even if no one gets stabbed in the heart again, there's still a ton... to deal with. Lots of drunk kids and tons of fights, crap like that," he said. "It's going to be awful."

"We'll see what happens this year," said Lewis. "Hopefully, no one dies."

Meanwhile, Arvin Golic, 19, originally charged with Gordic's manslaughter last year, has had the charge upgraded to second-degree murder. His trial date has yet to be set. Another suspect is also charged with second-degree murder, but because he is a minor, he cannot be named. Two other teens who were 17 at the time of the incident have been charged with manslaughter.

Efforts to reach the Gordic family were unsuccessful.

With files from Brandon Barrett