Fifteen ByWard Market businesses post letter comparing ByWard Market to Vancouver Downtown Eastside
Ottawa Life Magazine has received a copy of the open letter by the Merchants of Murray Street that was sent to various city officials outlining their frustration with the city's response to illegal activities and vagrancy in the ByWard Market.
Already suffering from the decline of tourism and in-store shopping due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the signatories feel a lack of an adequate response to the neighbourhood’s addiction crisis and the homelessness issue that they say is hurting business. The frustrated vendors compare one of Ottawa’s main tourist and cultural areas to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Below is a copy of the letter.
An Open Letter To:
Mathieu Fleury, Councillor, Rideau-Vanier
Diane Deans, Chair, Ottawa Police Services Board
Carole Anne Meehan, Representative, Ottawa Police Services Board
Rawlson King, Representative, Ottawa Police Services Board
Tom Burrow, Chairman of the Board of the Shepherds
CC: Jim Watson, Mayor of Ottawa
On the early evening of Sunday June 6th, a young woman was confronted in her second floor apartment at the corner of Murray and Dalhousie Streets by a robber who ransacked her apartment and barricaded her and himself in her bedroom. The robber was in search of money for drugs and was high at the time. She was forced to exit onto a very narrow ledge outside the window to seek help. Ottawa Fire Services brought her down. While police did arrive promptly, the intruder was not apprehended until he left the apartment and broke through the front window of an adjacent business. As harrowing as that was for the young woman this is only one in a long list of similar crimes occurring daily in the Byward Market. [Video of this hostage-taking is attached below].
Dear Councillors, Dear Chairman:
Merchants on Murray Street in the ByWard Market are increasingly worried about the personal safety of ourselves, our neighbours, our clients. We also fear for the safety and viability of our businesses.
This has been a difficult year for small business. The Market saw a number of closures due to the pandemic. For those who held on, we have done so with great tenacity. But it is not over simply because lockdowns were lifted; the rebuilding now begins. The multi-million-dollar revitalization planned for the Market will only be successful if businesses thrive. It is the energy created by restaurants, boutiques, salons, spas and produce vendors that makes the Market what it is: a vibrant neighbourhood that is Ottawa's hub for residents and tourists.
To this challenge we now face increasing after-hours break and enters; daytime robberies in stores and on the street; aggressive panhandling; public displays of aggression, masturbation, and other sexual gestures; and the disgusting detritus of garbage, faeces and needles left behind by drug addicts. These crimes are now daily occurrences.
We believe the less fortunate should be helped. We believe in safe injections. We believe a coordinated effort such as Shepherds of Good Hope is required. All of that is agreed upon. However, these services must be all-inclusive to ensure that business owners feel safe while they work and confident that business will rebound, residents feel safe, and customers are eager to return. While we are our brother's keeper, we are not our brother's babysitter. Business owners in the Market cannot be expected to deal with addicts who are high or desperate to be high, people faced with mental instability, or homeless/penniless in need of money. We have no resources, nor training to do so and it is simply not our responsibility. If you are prepared to support the needy, if you are prepared to expand services to the needy, be prepared to see that through fully and completely.
We note the Shepherds' best-defence-is a-good-offence letter in The Ottawa Citizen, (Freiheit: This project to help the homeless will help the ByWard Market too, July 6, 2021, Deirdre Freiheit, CEO/President of the Shepherds) in which you colour us NIMBYs. We note Director of Philanthropy David Gourley's assertion (There's a Lot of Love in Lowertown thanks to The Shepherds of Good Hope, Ottawa Life Magazine, June 10, 2021) that "[The Shepherds] work really hard to dispel stigma. People see police cars and they think, 'there's a crime, there's violence,' but that's not what's happening." But it is what is happening Mr. Gourley. It is very much crime, it is very much addict-related, and it is very much on the rise.
And, in searching for real support from the above addressees to ensure not just safe injections but safe interactions in our Market, we note your cut-and-paste platitudes and inaction responding to our letters and the exclusion of businesses from meetings on this subject. We conclude, Councillors and Chairman, you do not have the back of small business in the ByWard Market.
Other readers of this letter should know this: the expansion of the Shepherds' services responds to the needs of addicts in the Market, but it has had the additional effect of attracting more addicts and, in turn, drug dealers. Build it and they will come. And they have.
Again, to ensure we are clear: merchants on Murray Street are empathetic to the homeless and addicts (there but for the grace …), but your plans must include clear and effective solutions to make our Market safe again. "Building this facility will help ease the pressures in the ByWard Market…", Freiheit states. Residents, visitors and businesses are not convinced. Show us the evidence and detailed plans that support this assertion.
Mr. Fleury, under your watch we have seen the Market become an area that tourist guides warn against visiting. It is time for you to be the community leader you were elected to be. With the tenuous re-opening of business and with the Market revitalization project you must ensure solutions for safety are immediately addressed.
Councillors, under Section 31 of the Police Services Act, the primary role of the Police Services Board is "…. the safety and security of citizens…". It is now essential that safety and security of all citizens in the Market be established as it is quickly becoming Ottawa's equivalent of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Mr. Barrow, you cannot make it the Shepherds' mission to save from harm people who are vulnerable and then by consequence make your neighbourhood vulnerable and bring harm to its residents, businesses and visitors. This is not a solution to a problem, this is a transference of a problem. Your service delivery model is incomplete. If you are helping the addicted then you help them right through and not leave it to the neighbourhood to bear the brunt of the consequences.
Together, Mr. Fleury, Mr. Barrow, Councillors, you need to fix the crisis brought to the Market by the Shepherds good intentions but incomplete programming.
Sincerely, in alphabetical order, the following Merchants of Murray Street, Byward Market:
Amaze Ottawa Escape Room
Cricket & Company
Disegno Fine Jewellery
Fat Boys Southern Smokehouse
La Crystal Nail & Spa
L.A. Pai Gallery
Mantovani 1946 Café
Modmop Hair Salon
Piccolo Grande Gelateria
The French Baker
(additionally, a number of merchants who wish to remain anonymous)
Attached in the letter are two shocking videos from Murray Street showing separate incidents cited in the letter.
To learn more about the issues facing Lowertown residents and merchants, read Lowertown be damned — we're reducing harm by Michael Bussière.
Photos: Courtesy Merchants on Murray Street