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EDITORIAL: Dark underbelly of tourism, visitation deserves community-wide focus

With international travel restrictions somewhat loosened, Banff and the Bow Valley can get ready for a busy summer.

With international travel restrictions somewhat loosened, Banff and the Bow Valley can get ready for a busy summer.

Though tourism is mostly beneficial – with the greatest issue mostly coming from increased traffic and frustrations in finding a parking spot, along with impacts of increasing visitation and development on treasured wildlife – there can be a dark underbelly to being a destination region.

For every person or group that comes to catch a glimpse of wildlife from a safe distance, enjoy the scenic sites or take advantage of an infinite amount of outdoor adventures, it also means an active – and at times – unsafe nightlife.

Assaults, sexual assaults and drink spiking are an unfortunate part of any community and it’s one that is on the radar for residents of Banff. It’s not uncommon for Banff – and all towns and cities – to experience the issue, but 2021 brought forward an increase in drink spiking for Banff.

The issue drew significant attention after reports going back to August, which led to a public warning from Banff RCMP.

A Facebook post on March 19 in the popular Overheard in Banff group warned of another such incident taking place, with such information alerting the community not uncommon.

Social media can be a toxic and hazardous world at times, but residents have used it to give awareness on when such events take place.

Symptoms of drink spiking can be confusion, nausea, dizziness, loss of memory or loss of consciousness.

The concerns have been taken seriously with bars beefing up security, some introducing drink covers and Banff Bar Watch and Banff Hospitality Collective working together with the Banff YWCA to create the Safe Night Out campaign that looks at consent and safer drinking behaviour.

The Town of Banff is also advocating the province for increases in police funding. While a 16-member detachment may be sufficient for a town of 8,300 people elsewhere, with more than four million tourists rolling through the region annually, it’s inadequate and places undue stress on the existing officers.

Some people may say the onus is on the person to watch their drink at the bar – attune to blaming a person who gets hit by a car when safely crossing the street – but the attitudes are changing in putting the focus on the perpetrator rather than blaming the victim.

In working together, community services, people and organizations have taken steps to move towards a supportive approach.

Forms of violence have also seen a spotlight shined on them once again.

In February, an 18-year-old man was beaten on Banff Avenue outside Park Distillery, leaving him with significant facial injuries and hospitalized, and this month, another man was badly beaten, landing him in hospital with serious injuries, including a fractured skull.

Much of the assault in February was filmed and put online in an attempt to help find the suspects. Police are continuing to investigate.

On Halloween night on Oct. 31, 2021, a group of teenage girls was walking near the pedestrian bridge when one was assaulted. It prompted locals to ask for security cameras to be put at both ends of the bridge along with signage, high-level lighting and messaging. Town staff will bring forward information on this proposal at a later council meeting.

The Banff YWCA’s Harmony Project helps to bring Bow Valley-based service providers together to work towards ending sexual violence in the community.

The Harmony Project also assists businesses to help train and support employers and employees to promote a culture of consent and reduce workplace harassment.

The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services estimated in a 2020 study that 1.48 Albertans of the age of 18 have experienced a form of sexual abuse, which is two in three females and one in three males.

While easy to blame local politicians, police or public workers, it takes an entire community to make a difference.

Restaurants, bars, businesses, residents and visitors all play a role in ensuring the safest possible community.