THUNDER BAY – The city’s mayoral candidates have wide-ranging plans to tackle the issue of crime in Thunder Bay, which for many is the No. 1 election issue in 2018.
Most agree that long-term, putting an end to the root cause of crime, addiction and poverty, is the way to eliminate the problem.
But that doesn’t help the here and now, with gangs and guns flooding Thunder Bay’s streets in recent months, heightening the fear of residents from one end of the city to the other.
Shane Judge, a second-time mayoral candidate, said it’s time to look for help from the experts.
“It’s a scourge in the community. People are not feeling safe walking in their neighbourhoods and they’re not feeling safe in their homes,” Judge said, adding people he met with are demanding more officers on the street.
“And I can’t disagree. My particular plan, I want to reassign officers who are now currently with the police department tied up with specialty groups, like the emergency task unit and guns and gangs intelligence units. What I really want to see is closer co-operation with the Ontario Provincial Police to provide those very high-end exotic services, that for the City of Thunder Bay sees officers taken off of their regular routes and put into these specialty units.”
First-time mayoral hopeful Iain Angus said first and foremost he’ll take his seat on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, a duty Mayor Keith Hobbs removed himself from early in his first term in office. Angus promised to help city police to first fight for the funding needed to eradicate the gang issue and then go after the underlying issues.
If need be, that means finding the cash to do it themselves, he said on Thursday prior to a mayoral forum hosted by the Thunder Bay Real Estate Board.
“When neighbourhood policing was instituted in Thunder Bay, it wasn’t the initiative of the police department, it was an initiative of council, that they said they were willing to pay extra for this kind of service,” Angus said.
“I want to bring that to the new council to say we’ve got these type of problems, let’s sit down with the police services board and figure out what we need to do, what kind of dollars that are attached to that, and if necessary, create a separate fund.”
Former MPP Bill Mauro, who has called for a pause on the hiring of a new police chief until after the Oct. 22 election, said he’ll go after the province to help fight the problem.
“The premier has provided significant further financial assistance to the city of Toronto to deal with their crime problem, and it’s my belief that will have the effect of just pushing some of the crime to other parts of the province,” Mauro said, acknowledging the city has a serious crime issue and it won’t be an overnight fix.
“So we need to do our best to be treated in a similar fashion.”
Fifth-time mayoral candidate and current city councillor Frank Pullia said going after the root causes of crime is the best solution.
“We need to find a way to support our police service to fight gangs, drugs and crime. We also need to look at the causes of the problem, like mental health and addiction, the socio-economic determinants of health that are driving the demand for drugs and gangs,” Pullia said.
“If I’m elected mayor, I’ll work with the mayors of Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa on establishing a common front to fight the infestation of gangs in our cities, because we can’t do it alone.”
Ron Chookomolin said he’ll lobby for a court-mandated treatment program to help fight the city’s growing addiction problem, which in turn will help lower the crime rate.
“We need to start tackling the real issues. Crime is high and it’s not getting better every year. Thunder Bay Police need more funding. We need to start advocating at the municipal level to get provincial dollars,” Chookomolin said.
Marian Sawicki said more police is the likely best solution.
“We need to have police out on the beat again. We have to have them walking the streets in the communities – and I’m not saying they haven’t done that – but I do think we need to increase that,” Sawicki said.
Peter Panetta said it starts with the youth, adding there needs to be more services to help the city’s youngest demographic feel like they belong.
“We need to hit it at the beginning,” Panetta said. “You catch it early and then in one generation you’re going to change the whole atmosphere in Thunder Bay.”
Four mayoral candidates – Kevin Cernjul, Jim Gamble, Ed Hailio and Wolfgang Schoor – were not present at Thursday’s real estate forum.