McDonald’s abandons downtown Kamloops after one violent incident too many

McDonald’s has pulled out of downtown Kamloops following a series of violent incidents, prompting a conversation about public safety in the Interior BC city.

On Sunday, March 27, video was posted to YouTube in which a man could be seen yelling obscenities and knocking down display cabinets.

The video quickly circulated through the community on social media, along with news that owner Brandy Gozda-Sekhon was permanently closing the restaurant, long an anchor tenant in the city’s downtown core.

Gozda-Sekhon did not respond to CBC’s requests for interviews but told the newspaper Kamloops This Week that incidents of violence and drug use had become “too much” for her to handle, citing two incidents of employees being attacked by members of the public along with other problems.

When CBC reached out to McDonald’s Canada for a response, it was sent a written statement attributed to Gozda-Sekhon stating that the closure was a “business decision based on the viability of this specific site.”

‘Can’t arrest people for being poor’

The incident also prompted a statement from Mayor Ken Christian who said there had also been an overdose in the public washroom of a popular department store that same weekend, which he attributed to the province’s toxic drug supply.

“Sadly, persons addicted to drugs are dying at an alarming rate, and last month, Kamloops had the third highest number in the province,” he wrote, adding, “Drug addiction, poverty, and mental illness are health issues, not criminal issues .”

In an interview with CBC, Christian said it isn’t possible for the city to “police its way out” of the social problems facing not just Kamloops, but BC as a whole.

“You can’t arrest people for being poor,” he said. “There are certain individuals on the streets that really can’t navigate their own journey and they really are struggling.”

To that end, he said, the city’s focus is on opening supports for people dealing with mental health and addictions in the city.

Daybreak Kamloops2:42Kamloops mayor pens open letter on actions city is taking to address crime and social issues

The city of Kamloops is doing what it can to help address issues of crime in the downtown according to Mayor Ken Christian. 2:42

Downtown response

Howie Reimer, the executive director of the Downtown Kamloops Business Improvement Association, called the incident at the McDonald’s “very disturbing,” in part because of how similar it was to other events that had happened around the city.

“It shouldn’t be up to McDonald’s employees, 16-year-old kids [to deal with safety issues],” he said.

The McDonald’s restaurant in downtown Kamloops closed permanently this week following a violent incident that the owner says is the latest in a string of problems causing safety concerns for staff and customers. (Marcella Bernardo/CBC)

But, he said, he believes there are other reasons for the closure that go beyond safety — such as the inability to open a drive-thru or children’s play area at that particular location, due to its size and local zoning rules.

He also pointed to new businesses opening downtown, saying he is still confident in the neighbourhood’s future.

Daybreak Kamloops11:44Head of Downtown Kamloops on issues of crime and social issues

The video shows a disturbed man smashing a display counter at the McDonalds in downtown Kamloops. The owner says enough is enough – and the restaurant is now permanently closed. We got reaction from the Downtown Business Association. 11:44

Increased policing

While Christian focused on the social aspects of the problems facing downtown, the city is also increasing its police force.

Earlier this month, city council approved an RCMP budget request to hire at least five more front-line RCMP officers over the next year.

RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky said his officers are having to constantly assess how best to respond to incidents as they unfold.

“It’s always having to triage,” he said, responding to complaints from some in the community that police don’t arrive soon enough when an incident like the one at the McDonald’s is reported.

“If your loved one is missing or your loved one has been murdered or your loved one has been a victim of a sex assault, you all want me to dedicate resources to those efforts. So how do I prioritize?”

Growing breads

In this case, he said, the person causing the disturbance had already left the restaurant by the time police were called, which meant “the threat is gone” and a fast response is “no longer a priority.”

“We attended. We investigated. We got the statements and we have the suspect identified,” he said.

Christian says, while ongoing concerns about safety in the downtown core are valid, he’s also confident in the city’s ability to move forward.

“I have no doubt and I feel sorry for those employees and those patrons that kind of relied on it. But we evolve and we change, and that’s just part of a growing city,” he said.

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