The city’s chief of police says he will look into allegations of member of the Guelph Police Service alleged comments to a local businesses owner and spoke to the addition of two new officers dedicated to patrolling the downtown core.
Chief Jeff DeRuyter of the Guelph Police Service was responding to questions regarding an alleged assault on one of the owners of the B Mini Mart convenience store on Carden Street, after which a female officer allegedly said the business owners are frequent targets because they are immigrants.
“It’s inexcusable to me to believe if crimes occur, that somebody is victimizing someone because they are an immigrant or perceived to be an immigrant. That too is inappropriate,” said DeRuyter.
If a criminal act occurs and involves hateful speech, DeRuyter said it could meet the definition of a hate crime.
Store owner Sarah Niazi said the officer that attended the alleged assault made no attempt to gather the names of the men involved in the attack.
The police service will be getting further information from the store owners, said DeRuyter, to determine the nature and context of the comments and to make sure they are followed up on.
“We have an expectation on behaviour and conduct and civility as well. I can’t say whether it’s the context or the communication, but at times what we say and how we say it is important. Certainly we will get that information from Sarah and hopefully identify and speak to the officer so we can assess on our own what took place,” said DeRuyter.
It is premature to speak before the assessment is completed, said DeRuyter but the chief offered the following assessment: “if the officer said something inappropriate, expressing their own views, obviously that is concerning. We provide police services to our entire community and we value each person that lives in our city. It’s important that we can be approached by all members (of the community) and provide the same services to people, wherever they have come from,” said DeRuyter.
A total of 16 hate crimes were reported by the Guelph Police Service in 2017. DeRuyter said the majority were related to graffiti around the city and on the University of Guelph campus.
“They are all inappropriate and there is no place in our society (for them). When you look at events that are occurring around our world in terms of division, I think we are far better off in a community where we are accepting of one another,” said DeRuyter.
Police are frequently called to some of the apartments located within 90 Carden St., said DeRuyter. The entrance to the building is directly adjacent to B Mini Mart and across the street from the bus terminal and VIA Rail station.
“We work closely with management about the ability to gain access, but we have had various unwanted activities that have occurred at that residence,” said DeRuyter.
He added, “we are aware a number of people that do hang around the transportation hub and outside of 90 Carden.”
DeRuyter addressed another concern of Niazi, that people charged with a criminal offence often end up back on the street within days — and even sometimes even the same day they are arrested.
He was hesitant to be critical of other parts of the justice system, but DeRuyter admitted it is a challenge faced by many police services, not just in Guelph.
“(Accused) do get out of custody more than in the past. Part of it is the challenge the system has with holding people in custody and the amount of spaces that are available,” said DeRuyter.
Guelph is also not alone in facing the challenges of substance use, addictions, mental health, poverty and housing, said DeRuyter.
“We have had increased challenges, many of them around substance use and mental health, which in some ways is not surprising when many of the services that are provided are in and around the downtown area,” said DeRuyter.
The Chief said he spends a great deal of personal time in downtown Guelph, which he called vibrant and a great place to be.
DeRuyter said the intention of adding two officers dedicated to the downtown area — approved in the 2018 budget — has more to do with addressing that growing part of the city than solving the problems of 90 Carden St.
The additional officers will join the existing downtown liaison officer and will be doing foot patrols or be on bicycles, said DeRuyter.
When police are visible, said DeRuyter, it may give the perception of safety.
“Even if we had four officers walking the downtown, that doesn’t mean we would be in all places at all times,” said DeRuyter.
He added, “we continue to have a safe community. When you make a comparison to other communities in terms of violent crime it is a safe place to be.”