Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Sept. 8, 2008)


Surrey mocking Chilliwack


  By John Martin

It takes me about 20 minutes to walk from my home to downtown. Along the way, depending on which route chosen, I'm likely to see a couple prostitutes, public drug use, three or four people sitting in a parking lot passing the paper bag, a drug deal in broad daylight and more recently, someone sound asleep in a church doorway. Other times there's some excitement going on. Police cars surrounding an apartment building, a screaming match on someone's porch--always something new.

I spent most of the '90s living in East Vancouver, a couple blocks south of Hastings, so none of this particularly fazes me one way or another. Much of Chilliwack's downtown core is reminiscent of my former stomping grounds. Pawn shops, one liquor store after another, "for lease" signs, and a commercial exodus to greener pastures.

Community disorganization and social decay are hardly unique to Chilliwack, but I really have to shake my head about the issue this community has chosen to prioritize.

The backlash against The Vault's decision to become an exotic dancing lounge is completely disproportionate to any real or imagined impact it's going to have on the neighbourhood. Tony Lecce's business decision is not, contrary to some alarmists, going to attract undesirables to the downtown core--they're already there and have been for some time. This is shaping up to be very much like the recent war against pull tabs in bars: an enormous waste of time all about nothing.

Coun. Sharon Gaetz's suggestion that Lecce should "go back to Surrey" is probably the least helpful piece of commentary made on the issue to date. Surrey, unlike Chilliwack, has implemented a crime reduction strategy that stands alone in its ambitiousness. Their anti-crime initiatives are having a significant impact in tackling that city's problems; at this point I cannot say the same about Chilliwack.

A little bit of Surrey bashing may get a chuckle or two--but a factual comparison of the crime picture in Surrey versus Chilliwack would prove embarrassing for Gaetz. Surrey's mayor, Dianne Watts, is rewriting the rules regarding the role of civic governments in combating crime and she's a premier-in-waiting should she choose to go that route. Gaetz's cheap shot is pathetic.

It would be welcoming to see a fraction of the attention Lecce has been getting directed toward gang activity, drugs, prostitution, homelessness and other social woes that dominate the downtown area. But of course these are complex issues with no easy answers. It's much more convenient to make The Vault the bogeyman rather than confront a host of poor decisions and failed policies.

I can fully understand citizens up in angst about a nudie bar in their neighbourhood. I get sick to my stomach every time yet another sports bar opens with signs promoting Tuesday Karaoke Nights. Pretend Irish theme bars with  leprechauns and shamrocks painted on the windows nauseate me.

But I have a solution that others might want to consider. I stay away from places I prefer weren't there.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008