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B.C. Ferries moves public consultation online after threats of violence

At a recent Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee meeting, a woman said if B.C. Ferries didn’t make changes, she would ‘take a gun’ to everyone. Also cited: keying of vehicles, shouting, foul language and a disrespect for personal space.

B.C. Ferries is moving its advisory committee meetings online and postponing drop-in sessions after an incident where it said an individual made a threat to “take a gun” to everyone.

The company has paused all in-person events while it implements a safety and security plan for community engagement activities, Brian Anderson, B.C. Ferries vice-president of strategy and community engagement, said in a letter to ferries advisory committees.

“Over the past several months, our team members have noted a rise in aggressive, threatening and abusive behaviour while out in the community, including the keying of vehicles, shouting, foul language and a disrespect for personal space,” Anderson wrote.

During a recent ferry advisory committee meeting, he said, a member of the public “uttered a threat to the effect that if B.C. Ferries didn’t make changes the individual would ‘take a gun’ to everyone.”

The RCMP and B.C. Ferries security personnel are looking into the situation, Anderson said.

Moving to online meetings and postponing some meetings was recommended by the company’s corporate security personnel, he said.

B.C. Ferries enforces a zero-tolerance policy for abusive behaviour, Anderson said. “The safety of our staff and community is always top priority. “

New measures are also designed to protect the safety of advisory committee members, he said.

The company intends to meet with chairs of advisory committees to look for ways to create a peaceful setting during meetings, he said. “It our goal is to resume face-to-face meetings as soon as possible as guided by the safety plan.”

Diana Mumford, who chairs the Southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee, said the gun-threat incident the company and police are looking into took place at a meeting of that committee on Sept. 20.

She said she’s not sure exactly what happened because her back was toward that part of the room. “I think she just wanted to make a point and she thought this was a good way to do it, which it wasn’t.”

Feelings were running high at the meeting, attended by advisory board members, about 40 community residents and B.C. Ferries officials, Mumford said, adding people were fed up with service disruptions at Horseshoe Bay and Langdale and hours-long waits in lineups on some days.

“They’ve taken 32 sailings away over this month,” she said. “Our residents are really upset.”

Mumford gave B.C. Ferries staff at the meeting credit for listening to what residents were saying and trying to come up with some ideas.

In some cases, travellers at the Horseshoe Bay terminal are parked for hours in an area without sufficient facilities, she said. Portable toilets are at the top of a hill and drivers can’t leave their cars because they might have to move them.

Parents will walk toddlers across a busy road so they can relieve themselves outdoors, she said.

Eric McNeely, B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union president, said staff on ferries have seen a rise in frustration among travellers this summer as sailings were cancelled and vessels were pulled from service, leading to long waits.

Ferry workers have been subjected to abusive behaviour such as swearing, yelling and spitting, and there have been a few instances where people have intentionally swerved their vehicles toward employees, McNeely said.

B.C. Ferries has put up signs outlining expectations around behaviour and some people have been banned, he said.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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