Getting ready to face the music 

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO - waiting and watching Whistler residents can now only hold their breath that May long weekend will be a safe one.
  • Shutterstock photo
  • waiting and watching Whistler residents can now only hold their breath that May long weekend will be a safe one.

Does anyone else feel like the resort is holding its collective breath as we head into another May long weekend?

The shock of last year's unrelated stabbings is still raw for most of us. The fact that one stabbing left a teenager dead of multiple wounds still feels unbelievable.

But believe it. It happened in Whistler — and if we are honest with ourselves we know that unacceptable rowdiness, vandalism and violence has been happening for years.

Of course most people don't want to talk about it — and I will no doubt get emails next week naming me part of the problem for not upholding the brand of Whistler as perfect to the outside world.

But, sorry, we are not perfect. But what we are is a community trying very hard, as creatively as possible, to host all our visitors for the May long weekend in a way that is fun, memorable and, above all, safe.

We don't have all the answers about how to make it the perfect weekend, but we have committed political will, police expertise, an accommodation, bar and club sector that is on board and residents who want the village to be fun the way it is most other weekends of the year.

It is perplexing as to why this one weekend remains the perfect storm of trouble year after year.

In 2005 I wrote this for Pique as a reporter: "For the last two years the resort has captured news headlines thanks to stabbings, assaults, and seized weapons, including knives, baseball bats and even a gun.

"In the past the problem has been exacerbated by cheap hotel rooms that are often base to more than the allowed number of people per room.

"The spiral into violence has prompted the RCMP and the municipality this year to draw up a three-year operational plan to turn the May long weekend into a peaceful event."

More than a decade has passed since that was printed. We now have a fledging festival, yet the same stories are still being reported.

In 2006 the Respect Whistler Task force was formed and came up with a series of recommendations that were given to council-of-the-day in 2007. The task force members were thanked and sent on their way after suggesting a festival amongst other things.

The problems continued.

The 2013 May long weekend was another doozy and so another task force was formed and today's Great Outdoors Festival — GO Fest — is one of its recommendations. Its inaugural budget was $290,000, which came out of the Resort Municipality Initiative funding. This year the budget is $120,000, with the festival being produced in house by the Festivals, Events and Animation Program. Local marketing costs have come out of this global budget as well, with Tourism Whistler spending $25,000 on a regional marketing plan.

Last year Tourism Whistler conducted a survey on behalf of the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) to find out more about what visitors thought of GO Fest. Eighty-two per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with the festival, while 90 per cent said they were happy with "the overall vibe" of the resort. Notably, 99 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with their overall "Whistler experience."

This year will also see private security hired — four security guards to patrol from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Police are bringing in reinforcements as usual and are budgeting $30,000.

Police calls for service over the 2015 May long weekend were down compared to 2014 — from 200 to 169 — and police put about half as many people in their holding cells last year, about 20, compared to 2014.

Officers responded to 125 calls for service in 2013, markedly fewer than in 2007, the first year that RCMP provided data, when there were 172 calls. The range of incidents for which individuals were arrested and detained include public intoxication, causing disturbance and assault. Officers also issue bylaw or provincial violation tickets for a wide variety of offences, including open liquor, nuisance, public urination and swearing. Nearly all the tickets handed out go to Lower Mainland residents. There are usually several hotel evictions as well.

It's infuriating that the numbers keep going down but the problems persist and have even escalated in seriousness.

Whistler is not putting its head in the sand about the problem and visitors and locals alike are advised to call police if they see any disturbing or suspicious behavior this weekend. Better to be proactive than respond to an escalating problem.

But honestly, if things don't start to change, perhaps we should consider a reader's suggestion last year to invite the police, firefighters and first responders to hold a set of international games here!


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