The horror of the addictions crisis in Campbell River hit employees of the city’s Dairy Queen restaurant particularly hard Wednesday, Oct. 25.
That’s when a 13-year-old child overdosed in the restaurant in front of the staff, many of them young people themselves. The incident was brought to public attention by Mayor Kermit Dahl.
“I’d like to recognize that the somewhat new owner of the local Dairy Queen is here and let him know that this council is very supportive of the businesses in our downtown and doing what we can to help and recognize the tragic event that his assistant manager and young staff had to deal with last night of a young child overdosing in his restaurant,” the mayor said at the Oct. 26 city council meeting. “I can’t imagine what that would be like.”
The incident occurred around 9:40 p.m., just before the restaurant’s closing time. The individual was revived and the incident reported to the RCMP, DQ owner Rob Bigelow said.
Dahl’s statement came as another neighbour of Campbell River’s downtown Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) – and a neighbour of the Dairy Queen – asked the city designate the facility a nuisance property.
Ryan Sundquist, manager of the Campbell River Lordco Auto Parts is the fourth business making that request after years of dealing with disturbing and criminal behaviour arising from the clientele of the OPS. Bigelow also requested the OPS be designated a nuisance property in late September; sending a letter to council outlining the issues he and his staff are forced to deal with due to the proximity of the OPS.
“The Dairy Queen has been subject to countless thefts, threats of violence, and a place to abuse drugs on a daily basis by the patrons of the OPS,” Bigelow said in his letter. “We’ve had to put a barrier up on front of our washrooms to make them only available to customers.”
Two years ago, Bigelow says, the DQ’s assistant manager, who was pregnant at the time, asked a crowd of people abusing drugs on the patio to move along. She was threatened by a person with an illegally-obtained taser. Last spring, there was an incident involving someone waving a stolen sawed-off shotgun around the restaurant’s side door.
Bigelow said his restaurant has long been a first job for many young people in Campbell River but now parents are refusing to let their kids work there.
Dahl said that he worked in a Dairy Queen when he was “young guy” in Alberta.
“I couldn’t imagine having been at potentially your very first job you’ve ever taken and having to deal with someone who’s younger than you … overdosing in the restaurant,” Dahl said. “The psychological impact of that on kids; I don’t think that most people can imagine. Or most people even take the time to think about what that’s like; if it was your son or daughter, your grandson, your granddaughter that’s working in that situation.”
“The things that my team are exposed to on a daily basis include dealing with shoplifters, having people walk through our parking lot checking our cars to see if they are unlocked so they can break into them, finding tons of needles and human faeces in our parking lot is a regular occurrence, let alone the cost to Lordco for all of the vandalism we deal with on a regular basis,” Sundquist’s letter says.
He adds later, “On several occasions we have come in to find unresponsive people in our parking lot or on the front curb, which is very traumatic to anyone who thinks they just found someone dead on the ground.”
In September, city council requested a report from staff on the nuisance property designation. City manager Elle Brovold said she will bring an update on that report to the next city council meeting, which is Nov. 9.
Dahl expressed his assurances to Bigelow and other downtown businesses that council is “paying attention” to their concerns.
“We hear what’s going on,” the mayor said. “And we’re trying to do everything that we can to support the people suffering homelessness and addiction but also the businesses that are trying to operate within our downtown.”