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'Kids are fearless': Bullying, crime among hot topics at Ward 5 meeting

'I know there have been some recent events that may make you question that, but trust me when I say that this is a great neighbourhood,' says police chief

Tuesday night’s neighbourhood meeting at the Lampman Lane Community Centre saw a small group of people in attendance who wanted to hear what was being done to improve the perception of Barrie's west end, eliminate school bullying and deal with ongoing vandalism.

The event was hosted by Deputy Mayor Robert Thomson, who represents Ward 5, members of the Barrie Police Service, including Chief Rich Johnston, and about 20 people from the hilltop neighbourhood. Mayor Alex Nuttall and other members of city council were also in attendance. 

And while the initial reason for the meeting was to discuss graffiti and bullying in schools, it also talked about the recent shooting that happened about five minutes from Lampman Lane.

Just before 10:30 p.m., Saturday, April 22, a man in his mid-40s was walking along the catwalk from Leacock Drive toward Kipling Place when he became involved in an altercation with a group of people and was shot. Six days later, city police announced they had arrested three suspects and were searching for a fourth.

Thomson started last night's meeting by reminding everyone they were there to talk about bullying and graffiti, but that people were also welcome to bring up the concerns of recent events.

One parent asked if there was anyone from the Simcoe County District School Board at the meeting, and no one responded.

BarrieToday emailed the school board's communications manager, Sarah Kekewich, on Wednesday to ask why no board officials in attendance.

“Unfortunately, we learned of the meeting late and had a board-wide event scheduled last evening at the Education Centre,” Kekewich said. “We continue to work with our police partners and families in response to incidents that occur in the community.”

An email to the ward's school board trustee, Dana Powell, was not returned by publication time.

Marion Baxter has been living in the area for 38 years and her kids went to Andrew Hunter Elementary School. Her grandchildren now go there, too. She says she has watched the bullying get worse with her kids and grandkids and believes something needs to happen immediately to stop it.

“Police need to get back into the schools so they can help out these kids who are being bullied," Baxter said. "There needs to be some sort of order because the bullies aren’t being dealt with. (The schools) do the Pink Shirt Day, but I think that's more for show and I don’t think that really works at all.”

More than one parent spoke of the bullying inside the schools and that groups of kids are getting away with it while the victims are being the ones seemingly punished.

Amanda, who didn’t want her last name used, spoke to BarrieToday and said she doesn’t understand why the school board couldn’t have sent someone to the meeting some of the kids being targeted, her son for example, have learning disabilities and need help fast when it comes to dealing with bullying.

“I am very concerned they weren’t here. Kids are struggling because nothing is being done to help them," she said. "My son keeps getting sent home for 'cool-down days' when another student is bullying him. He has been diagnosed with many different disabilities and they send him home, but the other kids teasing him, hitting him, get nothing."

Other parents at the meeting also complained about “cool-down days,” where the child being bullied gets sent home or removed from the situation.

Meanwhile, the topic of what's happening outside the schools came up as well, with parents saying groups of rowdy teens are taking over the kid-friendly park outside Lampman Lane. Parents say they feel helpless when their little ones are just trying to play.

“The kids are fearless and when you approach them to tell them to stop swearing and littering, they use obscenities and threats at you," said one parent. 

`Police Chief Rich Johnston said that while police can’t be there for every incident, when something crosses the legal line, residents need to call police.

“You may think it's a small thing and you’ll stop and ask if you should call us. The answer is yes, call us,” Johnston said. “We need to be able to track incidents as they go and find out the main problems and issues.”

With regards to overall safety of the neighbourhood in the Letitia Heights area, Johnston assured residents they live in a safe area.

“I know there have been some recent events that may make you question that, but trust me when I say that this is a great neighbourhood,” said the chief. “When we look at crime statistics each year, this is not considered a problem area.

"There is always work to do, but overall, this is a great place to live and you showing up today shows you care," he added. 

Many ideas were floated, such as extended gym use at the local schools, to give kids a place to go and have fun.

Thomson said there were plans to cut the wifi at Andrew Hunter Elementary School, which is in the same building as the Lampman Lane Community Centre, at a certain time so as not to attract too many older teens. Better lighting is being discussed as well.

A follow-up meeting is expected to be held at a later date for further discussion on the issues, but nothing has yet been scheduled.