Business owners dismayed by inaction on drug crime

Andrew Dawson, owner of Wired Nation and Jennifer Arsenault, owner of the Village Pet Shoppe.

Pam Wright

Things get busy in the Five Corners area of Mitton Village when government ‘cheque day’ arrives at the end of each month, says Andrew Dawson.

That’s when drug addicts with money in their pocket descend on known drug houses, said the owner of the Wired Nation computer shop on Mitton Street.

“Somebody’s going to get hurt here. It’s disgusting and embarrassing,” he said.

“I don’t even bring my son down here.”

Dawson is among a group of business owners in Mitton Village fed up with the erratic and sometimes dangerous behaviour of people on the street struggling with addiction.

“If I am downtown drunk and act like this, I’m going to the drunk tank,” Dawson said. “Why is this not happening here?

“Why are there two sets of rules?”

Storeowners say street incidents include smashed windows, stolen park benches, trashed flowerpots, public displays of sex, urination in broad daylight, death threats and vehicles being broken into.

At night, addicts gather behind abandoned houses and sort through metal and other loot, searching for what can get them more drug money, they say.

“We have endless stories,” said Jennifer Arsenault, owner of The Village Pet Shoppe on Mitton Street. “There are syringes everywhere. It’s a free-for-all.”

Arsenault said one business owner, who wants to remain anonymous, even installed a sharps needle disposal container behind the store.

“I’m scared of some of them,” said Arsenault, who said she sometimes locks her door when “the regulars” appear.

“We want this cleaned up so we can run our business,” she said.

Dawson said one user entered a local shop and asked for a cigarette. When the owner didn’t have one, the woman threatened to burn down the business, went behind the store and started a fire in the alley.

Sarnia Police were called but no action was taken, he said.

“We just want the police to do something.”

Sarnia Police Chief Norm Hansen said officers are ready to respond to reports of crime in Mitton Village or anywhere else in the city.

“Our COPS and VICE units are extremely proactive, and they are aware of drug house activity,” Hansen said.

But it takes time and evidence to build a case and get warrants issued, he added.

“We can’t just arrive and kick a door in.”

Hansen said police want to hear from the public, either by calling the station or through Crime Stoppers.

“We encourage people to call police and we can build a database around that,” he said.

Sarnia does have a drug problem, the Chief said, but it isn’t different or worse than the problems being experienced in other Ontario cities, he said.

Unfortunately, the Chief added, a transient drug user behaving erratically on the street is often long gone by the time officers arrive.

And though police can lay charges for public drunkenness there is no law against being stoned in public on drugs, he said.

“People can’t be arrested for being high.”