Increased police presence in the downtown core should help problems faced by business owners, like those experienced recently by the owners of B Mini Mart Convenience Store on Carden Street, says Mayor Cam Guthrie.
Last week, a post on the Instagram account of local photographer Kevin Konnyu caught the eye of Guthrie.
The post introduced Konnyu’s followers to Sarah Niazi, who owns the B Mini Mart, a convenience store directly across from the city bus terminal and in the same building as the apartments in 90 Carden St.
In 2016, a CBC investigation found that police are called to the apartments at 90 Carden ‘hundreds of times a year’, but Niazi told Konnyu about three assaults she and her husband received within the last year.
To add insult to injury, Niazi told GuelphToday, was the response of one female police officer to an assault on her husband by several men outside the store.
No effort was made to even get the names of the men involved in the attack, said Niazi.
GuelphToday reached out to the chief, deputy chief and other members of the Guelph Police Service for comment between Friday and Monday but did not receive a response by press time.
In addition, said Niazi, the police officer said something to the effect of ‘“a lot of people are angry in this neighbourhood. It’s maybe because you are an immigrant.'"
It’s not the first time Niazi has faced racism since immigrating to Canada.
“But from a police officer — it was the first time,” she said.
Niazi said she used to wear a head scarf for religious reasons, but decided to stop the practice because of problems she has faced with people opposed to it.
“When I go to my parent’s country, they say I am Canadian. When I am in Canada they are telling me I am an immigrant. So which is it?” said Niazi.
A lot of problems occur because of the tenants of 90 Carden St., said Niazi. Fights and drug deals are a common sight outside the doors of the store, she said.
“I had one guy who was trying to deal inside the store,” she said.
The city police are often quick to attend when called, said Niazi, but she would like to see them make a more consistent effort to patrol the area — especially considering the problems occurring in the area.
Even when officers do arrest people, said Niazi, they are often released and back on the street within a day.
“I don’t blame the police for the system — they follow whatever they are told to — but because it’s a busy area, they should watch over it,” said Niazi.
She said her family has talked about leaving the area.
“I asked my parents if I should move somewhere with more brown people,” she said.
Konnyu said he decided to make the Instagram post after speaking to Niazi. He lives nearby and is a regular customer.
“I go in the morning and grab some fruit and yogurt, oatmeal and milk. It’s an essential service for the neighbourhood — including the people in the apartments,” said Konnyu.
He said it’s not fair for the family to have to deal with harassment and assault.
“The drug-dealing addict who is angry in her store, yelling hate at her, shouldn’t be what she has to deal with for the failure of us not having social housing, addict support and a proper community police response,” said Konnyu.
He doesn’t want to see the family move.
“I need her business there, same with the rest of the people in the building — where are we going to get our T.P.?” said Konnyu.
After seeing the post on Instagram, Guthrie showed up at the shop Thursday to speak to Niazi.
He said he is sympathetic to her problems, including what he called the ‘catch and release’ of people arrested.
The blame for that failure in the system is not the police, said Guthrie.
“Police will find the same people they arrest not only the next day, but the same day, that are out right away through the justice system,” said Guthrie.
He added, “because most of them are struggling with substance use, they are right back to the same routines or activities that got them arrested in the first place.”
Guthrie said the city's 2018 budget, which was passed in December, includes money for the hiring of four additional police officers, two of which will be dedicated to the downtown.
The problem is not isolated to Guelph, said Guthrie.
“I speak to many other mayors that are going through this exact same situation in their cities, too. We are all dealing with the opioid crisis, with alcohol abuse and meth and other drugs that people are taking everywhere,” he said.