On a rainy Friday afternoon last week, Joel Gaetz was making his regular rounds as a security guard at the Qwanlin Mall and Yukon Centre.
Gaetz works for Sirius Security, a company that handles site security at various locations around Whitehorse. His job is to patrol the parking lots at the liquor store and Extra Foods, and do what he can to enforce a no-loitering policy the stores have put in place.
It’s not easy work, particularly because Gaetz has no legal means to enforce the policy.
“We’ve been looking into lobbying the territorial government into putting something in place,” Gaetz said.
“Right now, these no loitering signs aren’t actually enforceable. The only way we can enforce it is if the individual is actually intoxicated. Otherwise they pretty much have every right to be here. They’re not trespassing because there is no trespassing law,” Gaetz said.
Sonny Grey is Gaetz’s boss and the owner of Sirius Security. He’s been working hard to pull together a case for why the territory needs such legislation.
Right now, the Yukon is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada that doesn’t have a trespassing act, said Department of Justice spokesman Dan Cable.
“There is such a thing as criminal trespass, but that’s a separate kettle of fish. You have to prove criminal intent for that to apply,” Cable said, adding that the government is always interested in hearing proposals from citizens but hadn’t yet seen anything from Grey.
It’s not just a problem at the downtown locations. Sirius also patrols at Yukon Housing buildings, where Grey said evicted tenants cause a serious issue.
If a tenant is evicted, they get kicked out of their unit, but there’s nothing to keep them from returning to the property, he said.
“They come back and just crash on their neighbours’ couches, or hang out in the stairwells and hallways. There’s nothing we can do to make them leave except getting a peace bond against them,” Grey said.
He pitched his ideas on Thursday to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce’s Partnering For Success steering committee.
“It was well received. There were landlords there who understood it from a landlord’s perspective, and shop owners who understood it from their perspective,” he said.
Grey said trespassing legislation would also help keep his workers safe on the job.
Earlier this summer, one of Gaetz’s coworkers was cornered by a group of about 10 intoxicated people in the alley behind the liquor store.
“They threatened him and scared him quite badly, and he ended up resigning,” Gaetz said.
“I’ve been threatened a bit, but he was a bit smaller than me. Because of my size, I have a bit of an advantage. We were also very quick to call the cops,” he said.
Grey said a good model for legislation would be Ontario’s trespassing act. Considered one of the country’s strictest, it allows guards to arrest people for trespassing on property where no-trespassing or no-loitering sings have been posted. Once a person is arrested, the guard can call the police to have the person taken away.
“We could see things like fines or up to a 30-day jail sentence for repeat offenders,” Grey said.
Over the course of his shift at the liquor store, Gaetz would approach anyone standing around, explain that there was a no-loitering policy in place and politely ask them to leave.
Most people whom Gaetz spoke to were respectful and moved along promptly. Others, however, weren’t so accommodating.
One woman in particular spent the afternoon shuffling around the parking lot, clearly intoxicated. When Gaetz first approached her, she was drinking open alcohol, and had nearly been run over in the parking lot by a hasty liquor store customer.
Gaetz repeatedly asked her to leave, eventually threatening to call the police. After about three hours, she was convinced to wander across 4th Ave. Gaetz kept an eye on her, checking to see that she crossed safely.
Other people were more aggressive in their refusal to leave. Towards the end of his shift, Gaetz settled for herding most of them around the corner to the alley behind the liquor store.
“They often hang out there,” he said. “They’re out of sight, and they’re not causing a safety concern anymore, so we just let them stay there.”
During the height of summer, Gaetz said that people would congregate under the big tree near the liquor store, visibly drunk. It’s a safety risk, he said.
“I once counted up to about 20 in one group, and sometimes we get five or 10 groups. It would have been intimidating for someone to walk by them,” he said.
Grey said he’s gotten support from his clients and a number of local businesses.
“I think that type of thing would be helpful for us in the retail business,” said Craig Hougen, who owns a string of sports stores along Main Street. “We do have individuals that we know for a fact shoplift within our stores, and we have no ability to deny them access to our stores.”
“Our only recourse is to follow them around the stores when they come in,” he said.
But not everyone is on board with the idea. Patricia Bacon, the executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions, said she is concerned such legislation would only serve to criminalize people already struggling with homelessness and addiction.
“What we have now, in Canada, we have people who are homeless or living in poverty, and on the face of it, we don’t like it. It’s one thing for us as a society to not do enough about it. Passing anti-loitering laws, all it’s going to do is try to conveniently make us not have to see something that is difficult for us to see,” Bacon said.
She pointed out that there are already laws in place to forbid public drunkenness and to address safety concerns – the very laws that Sirius guards use to deal with people who are posing a risk.
Nils Clarke, the director of Yukon legal aid, shared similar concerns.
“One thing I would suggest, somewhat facetiously, is for a certain percentage of the Yukon Liquor Corp. profits to be plowed back into health, education and justice services. Because we know if there were no alcohol in the territory, at all, a lot of problems would be solved. Not all, but some,” Clarke said.
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