THUNDER BAY– Editorial – Many business owners in the downtown Fort William Business District are concerned about their businesses. Unlike the downtown cores in vibrant cities like Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, and Winnipeg, in Thunder Bay once 6PM hits, almost every business closes. There are two Chinese food restaurants, and one Italian restaurant that are open. There are two bars open into the evening.
The only retail shop that is open into the evening in the downtown core is Trixx on May Street.
The Youth Centre inside the Chapple Building is open, and so is the Martial Arts School. Both operations are behind secure locked doors.
But the Victoriaville Centre is locked up at 6PM, and the entire core is very quiet.
A Vibrant Downtown Thunder Bay Needs Help
Many business owners have expressed serious concerns over the degree of crime in the area. The concerns are focused on issues related to drugs, alcohol, and a general concern that has grown across the community over the problems related to those concerns.
Mayor Keith Hobbs has expressed concern that the area is starting to look like “a ghetto”. Business owners are faced with many challenges to make their businesses grow and succeed. The local real estate market in Thunder Bay is very hot, but there are many empty shops, and lots of for lease, and for sale signs in the Fort William Downtown business improvement area.
The BIA has stepped forward offering banners, baskets of flowers, and benches. There are young entrepreneurs who have moved into the area. There are also businesses which have closed. In the summer, when tourism should boost the revenues, a number of businesses are closed for the summer on Saturdays.
Newfie’s Pub on Victoria and Brodie Street has recently installed Thunder Bay’s first metal detector at the door so that patrons can be safer. The move came weeks after a tragic homicide in the area and where a young man was stabbed over an alleged drug deal gone bad.
The Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission state, “As of July 20, 2007, all liquor licence holders must have reasonable measures in place and make reasonable efforts to prevent or minimize the harm caused by their patrons outside their licensed premises”.
Specifically, section 45.1 of Regulation 719 of the Liquor Licence Act states: “The licence holder shall ensure that reasonable measures are in place and reasonable efforts are made to deter disorderly conduct on the property adjacent to and in the vicinity of the premises and to minimize damage, nuisance or other harm to such property arising out of disorderly conduct engaged in by patrons of the licence holder or persons attempting or waiting to enter the premises or leaving the premises.”
There is not as much crime in the area as many might have you think. There have been about 90 calls for service in the area over the past sixty days. There are uniformed police officers walking the beat in the downtown during the day.
In a primer for liquor licence holders in Ontario, the AGCO state, “You are therefore responsible not only for misconduct and resultant damage caused by your patrons on the street and sidewalk adjacent to your premises, but also in the vicinity of the establishment after they leave your premises, such as indecent acts, drug use or fights in parking lots, damage or vandalism to property of adjacent residents or other businesses. The licensee is responsible for the above even after the establishment has ceased service of alcohol”.
There could be a remedy for businesses
Perhaps if the AGCO is not set to step up, there is a liability issue identified in the Act which could offer remedy to long suffering business owners.
The Liquor Licence Act states that a licensee or a Special Occasion Permit holder may be held liable for damages if liquor is served to a person whose subsequent intoxication causes harm.
Section 39 of the Act reads:
“The following rules apply if a person or an agent or employee of a person sells liquor to or for a person whose condition is such that the consumption of liquor would apparently intoxicate the person or increase the person’s intoxication so that he or she would be in danger of causing injury to another person or the property of another person:
1. If the person to or for whom the liquor is sold commits suicide or meets death by accident while so intoxicated, an action under Part V of the Family Law Act lies against the person who or whose employee or agent sold the liquor.
2. If the person to or for whom the liquor is sold causes injury or damage to another person or the property of another person while so intoxicated, the other person is entitled to recover an amount as compensation for the injury or damage from the person who or whose employee or agent sold the liquor.”
For businesses facing broken windows, property damage, and clean up bills, the could be legal avenues to go. From what a number of front-line police officers are relaying to business owners, they can barely keep up with the alcohol related crime, especially in the downtown Fort William Business District. It could be an effort that the local Business Improvement District could be exploring on behalf of a majority of its members?
There are lots of positive solutions for the downtown core. It will, in my opinion take co-ordinated action by all of the parties involved in the situation to work together. Either that or perhaps it might take business owners stepping up to take care of the situation impacting their businesses.
Raising the issue with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the Premier recognizes the need for change. Ontario has recently added an additional AGCO Inspector. That is a good start.