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Whistler gears up for May long weekend

Officials hope for repeat of 2016's quiet holiday

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Although there were no major incidents and a steep drop-off in calls for service in 2016, Whistler RCMP isn't taking any chances this year when it comes to the resort's long-troubled May long weekend.

"Our objectives this year have not changed," said R. Const. Steve LeClair while presenting to council on Tuesday, May 9. "We want to have a highly visible police presence, we want to ensure police and public safety, protect the peace and public property, enforce the law and enhance the Whistler experience for our residents and visitors alike."

Local police will once again be out in full force on a holiday that had become something of a blemish on Whistler's event calendar. LeClair said all members of the Whistler detachment will be on duty through the weekend, bolstered by additional officers from Squamish and the Lower Mainland, including police dog teams, bike patrol and plainclothes detectives. Police will also set up roadblocks on Highway 99 making use of an license plate reader camera that proved "very beneficial" last year.

"As vehicles approach, it automatically reads the plates and tells us if this is an uninsured vehicle, if this person has a warrant or if this person is a prohibited driver, and that worked very well," LeClair said.

Vigilance is key to the RCMP's operational plan, LeClair added, with officers working to identify "problem groups" early in the weekend in order to intervene before things escalate.

Whistler has always been a popular getaway for high-school students from the Lower Mainland celebrating their impending graduation and the May long weekend has seen its fair share of black eyes as a result. In 2013, thousands of dollars in property damage was done to businesses around the resort, while in 2015 Burnaby teen Luka Gordic was stabbed to death near Marketplace.

Last year's holiday, however, was a welcome change of pace, with no violent incidents reported and only 87 calls for service, compared to 141 the year before and 155 in 2014.

While weather may have played a role last year, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden believes a cultural shift has begun to take place.

"I do think there's been a change in attitude," she said.

"It's a little difficult to pinpoint any one thing, but I think the word has got out to people about the nature of the weekend who might be thinking of coming up here."

The hotel sector has played an important role in curbing the unruly behaviour May long weekend had become known for. Hotel Association of Whistler president Saad Hasan said hotels take a three-pronged approach during the weekend by ensuring credit-card holders who book will actually be staying in the room; recording the names of all the guests in a room; and beefing up security.

"There's always a presence, and just having the presence means people look around and think, 'oh yeah, people are watching' and they are generally more careful," Hasan said.

The challenge, Hasan added, is with smaller accommodation providers that don't have their own front desk or security staff.

"Unfortunately, what happens is, when you have properties where people have remotely rented, then a small issue can become bigger and bigger purely because there is no follow-up," he explained.

The municipality has reached out to known "problematic" properties as well as strata managers to ensure those particular accommodation providers are "operating the way we'd like to see them operate," said Wilhem-Morden.

This is also the fourth year of the Great Outdoors Festival, which was launched by the municipality to celebrate the transition to summer and attract a family-friendly demographic. The festival, set for May 19 to 22, features a range of sporting and music events and recreational workshops.

"I think the work that's been done over the last four years is a really important evolution of the May long weekend event," said Coun. Andrée Janyk.

For the full schedule of events, visit www.greatoutdoorsfest.com.

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