The explosive sound of flashbang grenades rang through the halls of the Abbotsford School of Integrated Arts (ASIA) North Poplar on a recent Wednesday afternoon.
“Put yourself in an elementary kid’s position: You’re in class and all of a sudden (there’s) the flashbang. You don’t know what’s going on outside and you’re scared for your life and you’re not with your parent. It’s not right,” said Vanessa Fleury, whose daughter attends Grade 4 at the school.
Fleury said the Nov. 29 incident that put the school under a shelter-in-place was the most dramatic in a series of troubling police incidents across the street at the Alpine Inn.
A man had barricaded himself in a room after allegedly stealing a cellphone and bear-spraying another man in the face, police say. The ordeal ended with two arrests but no charges were laid, said Const. Ian MacDonald of the Abbotsford Police Department.
Fleury said there is a near-constant presence of first-responders at the budget motel.
“It’s happening around the clock. There’s always a cop there, there’s always an ambulance there,” she said “There’s something going on.”
Fleury is among a group of parents who started a petition calling on the City of Abbotsford to “clean up this hotel.” She said she believes it’s only a matter of time before the safety of ASIA North Poplar students are put at risk as a result of criminal activity at the motel.
More than 350 people have added their name to the petition, both in person and online.
“When will the city stand up for the innocent children whose school has not only become a dumping ground for needles but (who) also witness officers with guns, (are) instructed to hide under tables and be dismissed crying an hour later?” Rebecca Giesbrecht commented on the online petition.
“The city should be protecting the children not the crimes. Let’s take a stand and take back our school because this is getting out of hand!”
But the City of Abbotsford has no real power to address their concerns, and spokesperson Tracy Boudreau said any complaints about such issues are forwarded to the police.
MacDonald confirmed that there has indeed been an increase in police activity at the Alpine. In 2015, he said, police responded to 43 calls to the motel. The next year that number rose to 70. They had attended 98 calls to the Alpine by Oct. 30 this year – on pace for nearly 120 by year’s end.
He said the types of calls “really run the gamut.”
“It can be disturbance, it can be mayhem, it can be unfounded or it could go all the way up to robbery,” MacDonald said.
Most calls, he said, don’t involve violence.
But some do.
“Last week, when we had a man get bear-sprayed in the face, that certainly is an act of violence,” he said “We have arrested parties in and around who definitely had warrants for violent crime.”
MacDonald said he respects the perspective of concerned parents but that the increase in police presence can be seen as both a negative and positive.
“We’re there more, we’re enforcing the law more, we’re arresting people more and that is a response to make the place and the area safer,” he said.
MacDonald said there is no easy permanent fix to a problem location like the Alpine, other than to maintain a regular presence and enforcing the law when it has been broken.
He said the responsibility falls, in part, to the management of the motel not to rent to criminals but that, too, is challenging.
“When push comes to shove, how would a person know, just based on the appearance of the individual, that they are a criminal?” MacDonald said.
The Alpine Inn’s manager, Nur Lakhani, said improving security is his “major focus.”
He said he has been training staff, keeping an eye on security cameras and calling the police himself on several occasions. The majority of guests are working people who don’t cause problems, he said.
Lakhani said Alpine staff keep a blacklist of known troublemakers and require photo ID when someone checks in.
“We don’t allow these people to stay with us,” he said. “We are being very strict on enforcing, with taking IDs and getting the correct people in.”
Lakhani said most of the problems have not been caused by paying guests. He said visitors are able to walk into the motel’s open parking lot.
“It’s hard to control,” he said.
Lakhani said the guests who caused the disturbance on Nov. 29 had booked through a third-party website and he didn’t know they would cause trouble.