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Chamber sending crime concerns to Lac La Biche council

LAC LA BICHE - Officials with the Lac La Biche and District Chamber of Commerce will be sending a letter to municipal councillors regarding local crime concerns.

A half dozen local business representatives at last Wednesday night's general meeting approved the idea to send a letter after a discussion on crime and its effects on local business, tourism and the economy.

While the meeting was held overlooking the scenic vista of Lac La Biche's lakeside golf course from the Stan Tkachuk outdoor shelter, stories from the business people painted a less attractive picture of the Lac La Biche downtown area, just a few kilometres away. From vagrancy, substance abuse issues, petty crimes, vandalism — and an area of concern referred to as a 'tent city' — members at Wednesday night's meeting shared growing frustrations.

Chamber executive director Karen Collins said she has spoken with officials from the RCMP and municipal peace officers about the concerns.

"They really want to hear from businesses about what the issues are," said Collins. "Then they can start addressing them."

Creating a united front on the issue is key, says Tarrabain Motors owner Tammy Tarrabain.

"I have been talking to a lot of other downtown business people," she said during meeting. "We have a lot of concerns."

In recent months, Tarrabain said her business has been affected by vagrancy and vandalism. In one instance a special edition Dodge Challenger was "keyed" and needed extensive repairs — while it was parked outside, waiting for servicing.

"It's those kinds of things that add up," she said, pointing specifically to an area directly behind her business known as "tent city" where several groups of people have been living in shacks and tents.

That area has grown in recent months — and has been the origin of several police complaints. Tarrabain and other business representatives at the meeting say they have linked the uptick in the crime to people in the "tent city".

Lac La Biche County councillor Lorin Tkachuk is familiar with the complaints about the area, and says the owner of the land — a man who lives in Edmonton — has been contacted many times about the growing issues. Tkachuk says the landowner, however, had given permission to the people to occupy that land. Municipal officials have recently served the owner with another notice to clean up the property and remove the people and the tents. Tkachuk said the recent notice will effectively close down the area as of the first week of August.

Awareness can bring help

Closing the area, he admits, doesn't close the issue. Tkachuk said for those suffering from mental issues and dependency to drugs or alcohol, more needs to be done for treatment. He realizes the complexities of the issues relating to crime, addictions and homelessness, and thinks the general public — as well as local business owners — have a big role to play in making positive changes.

While he said the complaint volumes for vagrancy, loitering and mischief coming to municipal peace officers have dropped in recent months, he feels that doesn't mean the troubles are any less.

"Perhaps people aren't calling because they've called so many times already," he said, adding that the residents have to continue to play a role in creating a safer community, and finding help for many of those who have fallen between the cracks.

"The amount of call volume is really going to drive where our peace officers go and where the help can begin," said Tkachuk.

The letter from the chamber supporting efforts to curb local crime is expected to be presented at the next county council meeting.