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Growing calls for Maritime police to help businesses deal with increasing social problems


Some Maritime businesses are pushing for front-line police officers to start patrolling neighbourhoods on foot as they once did.

"I think what everyone agreed on is what we would like to see downtown is just an increased police presence, right?" said Paul MacKinnon, the chief executive officer of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. "You think about the old days of the 'cop on the beat.'"

MacKinnon says businesses quietly held a couple of town hall meetings with Halifax Regional Police this year, and while the force was unable to provide hard statistic, groups were told shoplifting offences seemed to be on the rise, along with far more serious offences.

"Assaults with knives, or edged weapons seem to be something that we're seeing more of," said MacKinnon. "Again, it's not super prevalent, but obviously, if that's growing, that's a huge concern."

It certainly was for 56-year-old Steve Bellefontaine, who survived multiple stab wounds in an apparently random attack Friday evening.

His 80-year-old father offered some advice to CTV News Monday.

"Just stay away from areas that have these reports of shootings and stabbings, until they have maybe a police patrol by foot," said Joe Bellefontaine on Monday.

"It wouldn't hurt. It would be a big improvement to what we have now."

The business community in Moncton has also expressed growing concerns about issues surrounding members in the downtown core.

More than 200 people turned out to discuss the problems last Friday.

"This province has not invested in social housing since 1970 in any sort of significant way," Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold told reporters. "That's 52 years ago."

John Wishart, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton, told CTV News Sunday things have changed since a Community Task Force on Homelessness and Downtown Security.

"About a year ago, the estimate was, we had about 250 homeless individuals in Moncton, and the latest estimate is over 500.  So, a doubling of those individuals in one year indicates that whatever we're doing is not working," said Wishart, adding that the issues are wide-ranging and serious.

"We've had vandalism, property damage, used needles outside our business doors, aggressive panhandling and our staff and our customers are increasingly afraid of shopping there, or of leaving there to get to their cars after dark."

Some businesses have already left the area, according to Wishart.

"There was a Starbucks right on the corner of Main Street, [and] they told us that one of the major reasons they left was because of 'social issues.' And this is obviously a chain that operates in every major city in North America, and I think we fear there might be others who are thinking likewise."

However, a spokesperson for the coffee chain disputed the claim.

"This store was part of our accelerated store transformation strategy, which was compacted in to 18 months from five years, beginning in 2020," said Starbucks Coffee Canada Communications Manager Leanna Rizzi in an email. "In Canada, that included accelerating the number of drive-thru locations last year, expanding mobile order and pay and Starbucks® delivers services and exploring other new convenience formats to best meet our customers where they are."

"This included a review of up to 300 stores most impacted by changing customer preferences, which the company permanently closed by the end of our second quarter in fiscal 2021. We have opened additional stores in neighbouring locations and we continue to grow and diversify our store portfolio to meet the needs of our customers," said Rizzi.

Wishart insists more needs to be done to protect downtown businesses in Moncton.

"Downtown represents only one per cent of the landmass of Moncton, but 15 per cent of the property tax," he said. "It's crucial that we keep businesses operating there." Top Stories

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