Take back the village 

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Many years ago the May long weekend in Whistler was all about cleaning out the cabin, the Great Snow, Earth, Water Race... and parties.

Things have changed some. The Great Race hasn't been seen for about 20 years and the end of winter is now celebrated in April, during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. The Victoria Day weekend is more about kicking off summer than closing up the cabin after a long winter.

But people still come to Whistler on the long weekend in May expecting a party. If there was any doubt, a few minutes in the village anytime last weekend provided the evidence.

Gaggles of youth wandered the stroll, tossed footballs, hung out on balconies and gathered at bars and clubs. Many were celebrating the end of the school year, some the promise of summer. Some were just here to celebrate.

And that may be fine. Not a few of Whistler's founding fathers and mischievous mothers were known to party in their day. Why should their children, or their children's generation, be denied the same opportunity? As long as no one gets hurt.

And that's the key point.

Our personal definitions of "party" may change with age but a few of the people in town last weekend seemed to have a completely different interpretation of the word. They came to intimidate, looking for a fight.

The only reported assaults with weapons last weekend involved bear spray, but there was a level of unease in the village. Some people felt intimidated. Some avoided the village after dark.

Many residents choose not to go into the village on weekends generally, so they may be indifferent to the issue. But we can't afford to be. This is our village. It was built as a hub for residents and visitors.

There are two issues here: partiers and gangs.

The party situation is better than it was a few years ago. The windows of the village liquor store are no longer boarded up for New Year's Eve. There are far fewer hotel rooms used for dorm parties on the May long weekend. The RCMP, hotels, bars and nightclubs have worked co-operatively to a) check that people coming to Whistler have accommodation, as they did on the highway south of Function Junction Friday afternoon; b) rooms aren't stuffed with drunken youths and; c) other bars and clubs are alerted when troublemakers are evicted and on the prowl for a new location.

But that doesn't address the fear that has developed among some on weekends like Victoria Day. Those people many not call it "fear" — "uncomfortable" is the term some use — but it is like most other problems that we refuse to confront: it grows.

It's a difficult subject to broach in a tourist town, so we usually avoid it. A former head of the Whistler RCMP detachment was criticized for speaking openly about the chaos that ensued one New Year's Eve. RCMP reports are now straightforward and factual with little comment about the overall situation on these types of weekends.

But there is another level of concern beyond the partiers. It's the Lower Mainland gangs that follow the partiers to Whistler. The fact that the RCMP regularly sends members of the gang task force to Whistler for weekends like Victoria Day speaks volumes.

Fortunately, the gang rivalry and violence that periodically makes headlines in Metro Vancouver has rarely spilled over to Whistler. However, there is a concern in some circles that the party weekends in places like Whistler could act as a recruiting ground for gangs.

The gang problem is not something Whistler is going to solve on its own. It's an issue the Lower Mainland has been grappling with for years. The fact that gang members show up in Whistler some weekends is the other side of one of Whistler's greatest assets: it's proximity to Vancouver.

That, in turn, leads to a related side issue. Whistler's vision is to be "the premier mountain resort community — as we move toward sustainability." That suggests that there is an undefined "mountain culture." Partying may be part of that mountain culture, but on certain weekends Whistler's mountain culture is overwhelmed by Lower Mainland culture; in effect Whistler becomes a suburb of Vancouver.

That may or may not be important. What is important is that on certain weekends the village has become a place some people avoid out of fear or intimidation. This is not an issue that can or should be left to the RCMP to deal with.

Years ago New Year's Eve in Whistler Village was an unregulated free-for-all and no one was quite sure what was going to happen. Whistler changed that. Rather than letting partiers and hooligans run rampant it reclaimed the village for everyone. We need to do something similar with the May long weekend.


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