Victoria city council is coming to the aid of downtown businesses hard hit by a rash of vandalism in recent days.
Mayor Lisa Helps received unanimous support Thursday for a motion calling on staff to work with the Downtown Victoria Business Association on ways to assist businesses.
The move followed an incident Wednesday in which Victoria police arrested a man in a glass-smashing spree. Police said the same man was apprehended in connection with the theft of a harbour ferry the previous morning.
Investigators identified at least 14 locations with smashed windows. Some, but not all, of the locations were downtown businesses.
Helps didn’t specify the type of relief being sought, but suggested a grant program, administered by the DVBA, might be one way to support store owners already struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city gave the association $20,000 last year to help businesses with graffiti removal.
Helps urged unanimous support for the motion, saying it would “send a strong signal to our small businesses that we care, that they matter and that we’re going to do what we can with our small amount of resources and very, very limited legal authority to support them coming out of this latest senseless act.”
Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe echoed the mayor’s comments, noting that January is often a month when businesses have to decide whether to remain open after the Christmas season.
“So it was very upsetting to read and hear about the senseless vandalism that happened the other night,” she said.
Jeff Bray, executive director of the business association, expressed appreciation for council’s support.
“I think the fact that council endorsed it unanimously is a good sign of support for not just our downtown small businesses, but small businesses throughout the city,” he said.
Bray said it’s too soon to know how much money might be needed to assist businesses. One option might be to help owners cover their insurance deductibles, while another might be to install security features to prevent further incidents.
He said the vandalism has had a devastating impact on already struggling operations. “January, February, March are always the slowest time of the year for most businesses,” Bray said. “You add the fact that we’re 10 months into a pandemic — even a $1,200 deductible to replace your window, you’ve got to sell an awful lot of hamburgers to make up for that.”
In addition to the promised financial relief, Helps said Victoria Police Chief Del Manak has pledged to increase police visibility in the downtown core.
Victoria police Const. Cam MacIntyre confirmed that the department will have additional patrols over the next few weeks. Due to resource constraints, the patrols will be staffed by officers working overtime on special duty assignments, he said.
As to why the suspect in the harbour ferry theft was already back on the street and allegedly smashing windows a day later, MacIntyre said federal legislation requires that police exercise restraint when holding people in custody.
“The suspect was released after the boat theft based on a number of factors, including the severity of the crime, his criminal history, his ability to attend court, the lack of violence involved in the offence, and the perceived likelihood that he would reoffend,” MacIntyre said in a statement.
Given those factors, “we typically would not hold someone in custody over theft charges, as the courts would deem that unreasonable,” he said.