Downtown concerns

Education and collaboration will be essential parts of addressing downtown Fort St. James concerns around loitering and public drunkenness.

Education and working together will be essential parts of addressing downtown concerns around loitering and public drunkenness.

Local Staff Sergeant Paul Thalhofer has been in meetings with various stakeholders and said the solution will have to be a collaborative one.

“Really, at the end of the day, it’s a social problem,” he said. “We’ll do our part, but (the community) has to do theirs as well.”

His comments were echoed by Sina Elrick, the Hops Cold Beer and Wine store manager.

“That is a social issue,” she said. “Right now, we’re feeling like people are pointing fingers at us because we moved.”

She doesn’t feel this is necessarily fair, because the problem was always there, only it was not as much in the public eye, but it still impacted the store’s business. She hopes the higher visibility of the issues around public drunkenness will help the community come together to find a solution.

The problem will require a lot of discussion and education, according to Thalhofer, including rights education and education about the law, as sometimes there are case laws which can have a direct impact on how the Criminal Code can be implemented.

“Everybody thinks you can just go arrest people, but you can’t,” he said. “My way of dealing with it is to bring everybody together.”

Thalhofer said he conducted some training and education with the Hops Cold Beer and Wine Store staff this week, which helped clarify the staffs’ responsibilities under the Liquor Act and when they should be calling the RCMP.

He hoped the education would help to develop the relationship with the staff and management and so everyone understood the different responsibilities.

Elrick said the meeting with Thalhofer  was helpful for her staff and she’s also looking forward to the meeting  with other business owners, RCMP and stakeholders. The meeting will take place Tuesday, October 23 at the high school at 6:30 p.m..

“I think that meeting is going to be important,” she said. “We all need to come together as business owners.”

Elrick said she has had meetings with members of the Chamber of Commerce and with the building owner to discuss problems in the downtown.

“We’re all on the same page here,” she said.

Elrick hopes people at the meeting will come forward with ideas and solutions to move forward.

“We’re not hiding from this,” she said.

She said since she started her position as the manager last year, the business has been working on trying to improve the environment of the business and make changes to help all of their customers feel welcome and safe.

She said management-wise some of the change may not be visible, but there have been changes with regards to how they are doing things, including limiting empty returns and not allowing some customers back who continually break the rules and show up intoxicated.

She said customers who did not feel comfortable going to the store before are now returning.

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