An increase in youth violence and mischief in downtown Victoria has forced the city’s police to set up a task force and work more closely with schools and community groups, and has led to educators imposing a curfew on students from overseas.
The Greater Victoria School District’s Victoria International Education, which provides a Canadian school experience for international students, sent out an email last week to its host families and students banning students travelling into the downtown core, James Bay or Beacon Hill Park after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
The email, sent by homestay manager Shandi Clague, said: “Police continue to have problems downtown with large groups of young people and have identified a number of these youth as international students.”
In the email, Clague said the ban had student safety in mind.
“We do not take this lightly and it is very unfortunate that we have to put these restrictions in place,” Clague wrote.
“Students, if you are acting in a way that causes danger to yourself or others, you will be asked to leave the program.
“I am hopeful that this time away from downtown will give those that need it the time to refocus on their positive overseas experience.”
The email was greeted with outrage by the parent of one international student.
A lawyer based in Turin, Italy, whose son is a student in the region, wrote to the district saying he was stunned.
“While I understand that precautions the city and the school are taking might be necessary due to recent incidents, I would like to express how appalled we are at these restrictions on international students which, in addition to limiting the fullness of their stay experience, are, frankly, racist and discriminatory in nature,” Enrico Maria Picco wrote in an email obtained by the Times Colonist.
“Especially outrageous and concerning is that this email has been sent internationally, poorly reflecting on Canada’s image and its principles of democracy and inclusiveness.”
The letter suggested the district ought to identify specific individuals or groups of troublemakers rather than issuing a blanket ban on all international students.
In recent weeks, groups of youth from around the region have caused problems in downtown Victoria on weekends and some weeknights. According to Victoria Police Chief Del Manak, what might have started as a chance for kids to socialize and congregate after two years of an isolating pandemic, has turned into a significant problem.
“We’re seeing significant levels of youth violence and vandalism downtown,” Manak told Victoria city council on Thursday during his quarterly update. “I want to be very clear that when I speak of youth, there’s a small group of youth, about 150 sometimes up to 200, that are coming downtown regularly that are causing a significant concern.”
There has been mischief, vandalism and increasing incidents of violence, leading to 14 arrests over the past two weekends.
“Youth are actually telling us that they feel that there’s a level of anonymity and that there are little consequences for their behaviour, even criminal behaviour, and that is troubling,” Manak told councillors. “So part of this is also an education to let them know that there is a sense of accountability here and the police department will use enforcement as a tool where it’s warranted.”
The incidents have included an attack on a 70-year-old man and the harassment a homeless couple. Manak said his department has created a youth task force, but police had not recommended a curfew.
Greater Victoria School District said the directive from Victoria International Education was a proactive initiative.
“This email regarding curfew was sent to international students who participate in the district’s international education homestay program,” said district spokeswoman Lisa McPhail.
“These students are under the custodianship of school district international education staff members. This email did not go to all international students.
“As custodians, the International Education staff members have the legal responsibility to protect students from potential harm or injury, and will take cautionary measures to protect the well-being of their students.”
McPhail said the staff have legal responsibility for the students as their parents do not live in Canada.