A businessman is in hospital after a dramatic shooting that saw bullets fly across Nanaimo’s Terminal Avenue Sunday afternoon.
The Nanaimo man and supporters had arrived at an encampment located down a steep slope next to the Millstone River to retrieve stolen property spotted at the site.
“They chased us across the highway shooting,” Jeff Callaghan of the Van Isle Cleanup Team — who was part of the group — said on social media.
The businessman was shot three times. He has undergone emergency surgery and is expected to have more, representatives of the Newcastle Community Association said Monday.
RCMP said the man is believed to be in stable condition. Another person was injured and a weapon was found. Two people are in custody on unrelated warrants.
Callaghan, who was not injured, said the group went to the area to retrieve stolen property taken from a friend’s shop.
“They were not happy we were there and we gathered up the stolen property and things went sideways — first punches were thrown and then one pulled out a gun and began shooting.”
Another individual then also began shooting a rifle.
The group crossed busy Terminal Avenue while being shot at, he said.
At some point, the businessman was shot, Callaghan said. “So our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
RCMP Reserve Const. Gary O’Brien said police were called to the encampment about 3:30 p.m. on Sunday in the area of Mill Street and Barsby Avenue and came across a group of adults in a Terminal Avenue parking lot, including the injured person.
Ambulance paramedics took the victim to hospital.
The encampment was secured while the scene was investigated.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said it was “highly dangerous” for the group to have gone to the encampment, saying there are “desperate people” living on city streets. The incident was like a “wild west movie,” he said.
Krog said it’s time for the provincial and federal governments to focus on the consequences of 30 to 40 years of failed social policy around mental health, addictions, trauma and brain injury.
Half the city’s budget increase this year is related to public safety, he said. “[But] you can’t hire enough police or community safety officers or bylaw officers to prevent this kind of street disorder that is the root of what’s happened here.”
Moving people out of encampments to another location is like a human game of “whack-a-mole,” he said, adding it doesn’t solve the problem and is a waste of resources.
Only senior governments can provide the long-term and expensive solutions needed, he said.
“The people get it. They know what has to be done and they want it done.”
Krog said he understands the frustration around theft of personal property and the enormous disruption it can cause. If someone’s tools are stolen, that threatens their livelihood and ability to meet mortgage payments.
The province announced last month that major spending is coming for mental health, addictions and recovery beds. Krog said he is grateful for that commitment, but secure involuntary care is still needed for some people.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth was asked by a reporter during a news conference on bail reform Monday about “a business person [who] confronted an unhoused person at some sort of camp and tried to recover items that were allegedly stolen and ended up getting shot.”
Farnworth said he was aware of the Nanaimo shooting but couldn’t comment on the details while it’s under active investigation. “But obviously, it’s very concerning when something of this nature happens,” he said.
Representatives of the Newcastle Community Association said campsites on the slope have been a concern for four years, describing them as a major source of crime, violence and social disorder.
Karen Kuwica, association president, and Fred MacDonald, vice-president, are calling on governments to immediately address “safety and security issues and protect us from the criminal element that has been allowed to camp out and lay siege to our community.”
Residents want the province and city bylaw staff to remove the campers, she said.
Kuwica said area residents are in shock about the shooting, calling the businessman who was shot a “helpful community member.”
“When the snow hit, he went out in his all-terrain-vehicle and he plowed the shops, he plowed the sidewalks, he plowed by the schools. He’s neighbourly and he’s a helpful community member and business member.
“He cares about his community and he gives back.”
Kuwica said thefts have become so commonplace in Nanaimo that residents are increasingly looking to retrieve their items. She noted that she saw three of the campers returning to the encampment on Monday afternoon.
“This is about innocent people paying the price of failed policy and we are not safe,” Kuwica said.
At a news conference Monday, Collen Middleton, interim chair of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, described what happened on Sunday as “street level warfare.”
Nanaimo residents have staged public safety rallies in recent months to highlight problems in the city.
“[People] need to be able to run their businesses without being constantly under threat of having the tools of their trade stolen,” Middleton said.
Police are asking anyone with information or dashcam video to contact them at 250-754-2345.
— With a file from Cindy E. Harnett
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