Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 03/8/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 03/8/2014 12:45 PM | Updates
It's been nearly a week now since a former University of Manitoba Bisons offensive lineman was forced to play defence when he was stabbed and beaten Sunday by three would-be robbers while cross-country skiing at The Forks.
The next day, The Forks North Portage vice-president of marketing and communication seemed to downplay the overall significance of what happened to the 6-3, 300-pound university student and Health Sciences Centre security staffer.
Clare MacKay characterized it as an "isolated" incident when she spoke with a reporter Monday.
"In 10 years," MacKay said on camera, "this is the only time we've had something like this happen."
The only time in 10 years? Really?
How about the second time in just over a week? Or doesn't a gunpoint robbery at The Forks Market count?
-- -- --
"I was exactly who they were looking for."
The 55-year-old North Kildonan woman was speaking over the phone Friday, recounting how she had gone to meet a friend for coffee at The Forks the afternoon of Feb. 22. She was alone, climbing the stairs of the observation deck with her iPad to take a photo of the ice where the Winnipeg Jets would hold an outdoor practice the next day.
It was the iPad the armed robbers wanted.
And it's what they got at the point of what turned out to be an air gun but looked like the real thing.
Susan, the name I'll give her, wasn't going to say anything publicly about what happened, but reading how Sam Nemis was left to fight for his life on the river ice last weekend made her feel guilty for not coming forward earlier. Even though -- in hopes of improving security at The Forks -- her husband had called and alerted MacKay to the incident the morning after it happened two weeks ago today.
In Susan's email to me late Thursday night, she suggested the nature of what she and Sam experienced within eight days of each other may not be as isolated as The Forks would have us believe.
"I believe that there are probably others who have experienced similar incidents who have also not come forward and are experiencing a sense of guilt for what happened to Sam on Sunday night.
"Perhaps if I had gone to the media there might have been more police surveillance of the area and his incident would have been avoided."
"My feeling is that these incidents probably occur with regularity but are kept out of the media and the public eye."
But it was what happened after she ran down the stairwell yelling "thief" that bothered Susan even more.
The Forks Market was full of people but she couldn't locate a security officer.
In fact, the only one her husband located when he arrived was a guy in a back office looking at security camera screens. Same thing when they returned last weekend to check. Only one in the back office.
"My hope," Susan concluded, "is that you will be able to use your influence in our city to affect some change in this situation. My husband and I have been at The Forks every weekend for years. We love our city and promote it to all our friends and relatives as a wonderful, safe and heart-filled place to live. These thieves stole not only my iPad but also my trust and feeling of freedom."
-- -- --
When MacKay returned my call Friday morning, she began with a familiar refrain.
"I want to start by saying these are two incidents we take very seriously. But are also very isolated."
She followed with more of the same-old, same-old.
"We work really closely with the Winnipeg Police Service..."
Maybe, but they need to work even closer with police.
The Forks is reputedly our No. 1 tourist destination, and a mecca for family outings. Security, such as it is at The Forks, isn't equipped to handle people with knives and guns. Police did an excellent job of responding quickly to both incidents, arresting suspects in both. But this is a high-traffic public place in need of the highly visible presence of police on the property, not just drive-by policing.
At the very least on weekends.
That was my pitch to MacKay.
I asked her if The Forks has ever made that pitch to police.
"We haven't asked before. But we would be open to it. Very."
When I contacted police Friday, their response didn't suggest they were open to that, though.
In any event, they should consider they've been warned twice in the last two weeks. We shouldn't have to wait for someone to die in another "isolated" incident before the city finally gets it and puts police boots on The Forks footprint.
Personally, I don't want to be the one to say I told you so. And neither does Susan.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2014 A15
Updated on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 12:45 PM CST: adds missing word
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