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Violence casts shadow over Whistler's May long weekend

Two teens released on bail following Burnaby's Luka Gordic's stabbing death, fourth person charged and held in custody
MAY LONG WEEKEND An officer patrols the village on Saturday, May 16. The violence continued on Whistler's notorious May Long Weekend when two men were stabbed in altercations, including 19-year-old Luka Gordic, who succumbed to his injuries. Photo by David Buzzard /

The community is looking for answers after another May long weekend in Whistler was marred by violence, leaving a 19-year-old man dead.

"I'm just really saddened by the events and my sympathies go to the people in the families involved," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

The municipality's May Long Weekend Task Force, which was formed following a particularly rowdy 2013 holiday that left thousands of dollars in property damage to local businesses, will head back to the drawing board next month to try and improve a weekend that has become notorious for its unruly behaviour.

That reputation has been tainted even further by the May 17 stabbing of Burnaby's Luka Gordic, who was found with life-threatening injuries on a section of Main Street at approximately 12:30 a.m. He was later pronounced dead at the local medical clinic.

"This was a situation where a group of young people who knew each other had a dispute which turned deadly," said Sgt. Stephanie Ashton, media spokesperson for the RCMP's Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, in a release.

Manslaughter charges have been laid against three 17-year-old Lower Mainland males in connection with the stabbing. The accused appeared in court on Tuesday, May 19 — two were released on bail and under nighttime curfew. The third is being held in custody. None of them can be identified as they are youth. An 18-year-old, Arvin Golic, has also been charged with manslaughter. He made a brief court appearance in North Vancouver on Thursday, May 21, and is being held in custody until he applies for bail.

Ashton confirmed there was "absolutely no indication" the suspects are associated with gangs.

Now, a distraught father wants someone held accountable for the tragic death of his son, who he believes was the victim of a "calculated" attack, possibly for speaking out about drug use in his community.

"Honestly, people are going to start suing," said Mitch Gordic from his Burnaby home. "And they should be, not to get anything financially, but to make (officials) aware that this is not acceptable."

A second stabbing took place less than 24 hours after Gordic's death, this time on Whistler Way. The victim, a 19-year-old Surrey man, suffered multiple stab wounds and is now recovering in a Vancouver hospital. Police have no suspects in custody at this time. (See related story on page 24.)

Also of concern is that the Whistler Health Care Centre is unequipped to deal with the volume of calls it typically sees over the holiday weekend.

"The health care centre is really not staffed to deal with this type of thing," explained Janet Hamer, the centre's acute care clinical coordinator, who believes "something drastic" needs to be done to transform the Victoria Day weekend.

"We're closed from 10 o'clock at night until eight in the morning, and there is one doctor and one nurse on call. Very quickly anything overwhelms them. We're not set up for this."

Although this year's holiday will surely be remembered for its violence, by most accounts, the weekend was otherwise relatively calm.

"Certainly those two incidents are both concerning, and one was tragic, however, you take those two out of the equation and overall the weekend wasn't that bad," said Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair, who credited a "beefed-up" police presence for maintaining order.

While he said it was too early to discuss next year's operational plan in detail, LeClair did note that much of the problematic behaviour took place on the outskirts of the village, where police presence wasn't as strong, and pointed to increased bike patrols as a possible solution.

The mayor echoed LeClair's feelings that, outside of the two "isolated incidents" of violence, the weekend was a positive one, crediting the Great Outdoors Festival for creating a vibrant atmosphere around the resort.

But is the event, developed in part to attract a family-friendly demographic, having its intended effect?

"I think it certainly attracted a good demographic, but it also didn't deter the less-than-desired demographic from attending," said LeClair, noting that young adults from the Lower Mainland aged 17 to 25 remain the most problematic group on May long weekend.

Creating late-night programming modelled after the municipality's New Year's Eve program, which offers several ticketed, alcohol-free events and gated entry to certain areas of the village, is another consideration.

"There does seem to be a bit of a 'witching hour' thing going on and certainly that will come into play in our discussion on how to discourage these kinds of incidents from occurring late night," said Wilhelm-Morden. "Whether a ticketed event will do the trick, I don't know. Certainly that will be something we consider."

Reaching out to community leaders across the Lower Mainland is an option as well, Wilhelm-Morden said. She'd also like to continue the dialogue with the accommodation sector to ensure the right kind of guests fill up resort hotels for the holiday. The best way to achieve that, according to Stephen Webb, GM of the Hilton Hotel and head of the Hotel Association of Whistler, would be to promote GO Fest's programming further in advance.

"Ideally, what we would like is to see GO Fest become more successful, but it needs to be promoted further in advance so we can secure more rooms from a different type of business," he said.

The municipality's hands were tied to some extent this year, however, by the timing of the release of Victoria's RMI funds, which were not confirmed until March this year.

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