Editorial: City councillors need to show support for the police and the people

Criminal behaviour and dysfunction have become intolerable in Beacon Hill Park, once the jewel of the entire region but now somewhere that, in places, many see as a dangerous no-go area.

Victoria’s city council members need to admit that, and to protect everyone — tenters, the surrounding community and, not least of all, the city’s own employees — from lawlessness. They need to show that they understand, assuming that they do, the misery and pain and fear.

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But will they?

Over the past year, there have been too many stories of violence in and near the park to ignore: Threats, assaults, a murder, a woman held captive in a tent, an attack on a young man with Down syndrome on Friday.

It culminated Tuesday night when paramedics were called to the park and discovered that a 15-year-old had been choked and assaulted in a tent. The teenager, who is developmentally delayed, had been reported missing earlier in the day.

The paramedics called Victoria police. When officers arrived, they found several campers interfering with the medical treatment being given to the young victim.

“When officers attempted to speak with the victim, numerous people who are camping in the park began to intervene, urging the victim to not speak with officers, to not go to hospital for medical treatment, and to leave the area,” the department said in a statement.

“They began confronting the officers and paramedics and continued to urge the 15-year-old victim to leave the area, physically grabbing the victim and pulling them away.”

Two officers were assaulted by campers. One officer was bitten, while another was spit upon.

Police called for backup as a result of the struggle involving officers, campers and the teen.

Officers took the teenager into custody under the Child, Family and Community Service Act. The victim was carried to an ambulance and taken to hospital. The teen’s injuries have been described as “potentially life-altering.”

Even if the physical injuries heal, the emotional toll could be huge.

A 38-year-old man faces several recommended charges, including assault, assault by choking, assault with a weapon, sexual interference and sexual exploitation. He was arrested on Wednesday afternoon in Beacon Hill Park.

Enough is enough. The notion that a disparate bunch of people — some poor, some addicted, some with mental illness, some eager to prey on all the others — could be given effective control of the park without problems arising is utter nonsense.

Yet Coun. Sarah Potts sees it differently. She took to Twitter to say that she had proposed several motions that had not been supported by other councillors, and that we need more supports across the board. And this:

“Terrible violence happens every day, whether people are sheltering in parks or living in mansions.”

In other words, look away. Nothing to see at Beacon Hill Park.

But it’s worse than that.

Potts could have shown some empathy for the victim, but she chose not to. She could have shown support for Victoria police officers as well as paramedics, but she chose not to. She could have acknowledged that to many, Beacon Hill Park is no longer a safe place.

Instead, she tried to deflect attention away.

VicPD officers and other front-line staff are putting themselves at risk as they do all they can to keep the city safe. That they do not get support from city councillors is appalling.

And it goes beyond Potts. Coun. Ben Isitt complained on social media Wednesday that “corporate media outlets” are creating a false impression that funding for policing has been cut. (We know he was not referring to the Times Colonist, because we have not said that.)

Isitt is right about police budgets rising, and he is right to say that the number of criminal charges laid per capita has been falling. But let’s not be selective with statistics. VicPD officers have the highest case load of any municipal department in the province. It’s a tough grind for all of them. They deserve respect, not abuse.

We are fortunate that VicPD is led by Del Manak, and fortunate that Manak sticks around despite the nonsense he gets from some members of city council — though, notably, not from Mayor Lisa Helps, who as co-chair of the police board has a clearer view than those who have been blinded by ideology.

Trying to wish away the reality of Beacon Hill Park because it doesn’t fit with a political perspective isn’t good enough. The city is crying for help. Councillors who are selective in choosing which voices they hear aren’t doing their jobs.

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