RCMP to stiffen prosecution for village fights
Bars and restaurants welcome the tougher rules
By Andy Stonehouse
Whistler's plentiful village bars and nightclubs have always been a big draw for fun-seeking summertime visitors looking to let loose.
But those same clubs are increasingly becoming a regular target for groups of people who've come to Whistler specifically to pick fights with the post-bar crowd — and the presence of Lower Mainland gang ties is an disturbing possibility.
Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Frank Shedden said he hopes Whistler's reputation as a good place to cause trouble will come to an end as the local police begin efforts to prosecute everyone involved in village street fights.
Shedden said he has met with the provincial liquor inspector and Crown counsel in an effort to resolve the on-going problem of fighting. Charges of causing a disturbance by fighting will now be laid on a regular basis, a get-tough measure Shedden said he hopes will curb some of the concerns.
"Our new policy simply is that enough is enough... we're not willing to let it slide any more," he said. "Most times, when people are involved in a consensual fight, there are no charges laid, and that seems to have become a game. We want people to know that if you want to fight, we're going to lay criminal charges."
Shedden said the police hope the tougher stance will also help curb the action of groups of people who have been purposely coming to Whistler to look for fights, a distressing recent trend.
The new policy comes as a welcome relief to local bar and nightclub owners, who say they have long requested the additional assistance from the local RCMP.
Dale Schweighardt, spokesperson for the local Food and Beverage Association, said he hopes the increased police effort and the threat of criminal charges will help rein in the testosterone amongst some patrons.
"It had gotten to the point where it started to seem like a gang influence was starting to occur in the village," Schweighardt said. "People were coming up and treating it like a resort, where they knew they'd never get into trouble if they got into fights."
Schweighardt said the recent appearance of several figures allegedly linked to Lower Mainland crime interests at local clubs necessitated some fast action on the part of the businesses and the RCMP.
"We tried to make is as uncomfortable as possible for these people when they came to town," he said. "We're also hoping that the new rules will mean a bigger presence by the RCMP in the village."
Schweighardt said he believes the fighting problem partially stems from too many bars skirting the rules in order to compete in a bloated market.
"I think it's a little bit of a symptom of over-licensing and too much competition. I've seen bars advertising two for one drinks, which is illegal in B.C., and others are allowing minors in the bar or overcrowding. It's irresponsible, but people will do anything to compete."
Shedden said the RCMP will continue to be diligent in their nightly liquor enforcement at local clubs, but said that alcohol only appears to be one of the contributing factors in the on-going fighting problem.
"Fighting may also be noticeable at the moment because we've had such a huge change in RCMP staff. Whenever a new officer comes on, they instantly notice the number of fights we have in the village, and they suggest that it's something we should be looking at. Maybe a different style of enforcement will lead to a reduction in the incidents."