Osoyoos business causes social media stir over fruit pickers

The owner of Unity Skateboards in Osoyoos caused a stir over transient workers in Osoyoos, and is hoping to make a positive change.

An Osoyoos businessmen is hoping to garner attention towards the issue of transient workers after causing a social media stir around the issue last week.

The police were made aware of a Facebook post started by Unity Skateboards referencing concerns around the wave of out-of-town workers who come to Osoyoos in the summer.

Osoyoos RCMP announced in a response Tuesday that the annual boost to patrols will start on June 18 and continue periodically throughout the summer.

The June 11 post on the Unity Osoyoos Facebook page, posted by owner Jamie Elder, said he saw a man asking for money to buy gas and food at the local Tim Hortons when a passerby gave him $20. Afterwards the man came into Unity Skateboards and asked to buy a new hat.

“It sucks that people like that exist … but they do — and it seems like every summer our beautiful little town fills up with them. Take a look at the number of absolute scumbags that who have totally taken over ‘Community’ Beach’,” the post reads.

Inflammatory comments towards transient workers, and prejudicial Facebook comments towards French people soon followed, but Elder has since taken them down.

There was also a picture posted of a sign taped to a street light asking to boycott the store and quoting the initial post adding “Unity doesn’t know the first thing about unity”

Elder says he has found out the posters are the work of one individual.

“The larger part of what’s happened here is a very positive thing. The percentage of negativity and irrational comments were on the very minimal side,” Elder said “I hope that isn’t an overall reflection of what went on here because it was a really important thing for the town of Osoyoos and the community is going to really notice a change.”

“The overall situation is just below the boiling point and it has been for years and years,” Elder said.

“That’s why it was such an easy thing to spark such a giant response to because the feelings were there in the community and they were very strong feelings that people are absolutely fed up with this issue. I think ultimately what came out of this was a very, very positive step forward for the community of Osoyoos.”

Cpl. Jason Bayda says the statement issued by the RCMP was coincidently timed with the annual boost to local patrols.

“The Facebook page hasn’t changed anything it’s just a matter of waiting for the right time to use that funding for the patrols rather than using it too early before the transients and other people are here,” Bayda said.

It has been three years since the annual $10,000 of extra funding was announced by the Town of Osoyoos to put additional patrols in the needed areas, as well as a bylaw that was introduced essentially giving offenders a three-strikes-your-out rule.

“They are for the repeat offenders, the ones that are causing a lot of problems for the bylaw officers, for the locals, for other tourists and just not abiding by any of the laws,” Bayda said, adding that only two or three expulsion letters are handed out per year on average.

Bayda said both the expulsion letters and the extra patrols have made an “incredible difference” and that a man who received an expulsion letter last year is now advocating that transient workers to respect the bylaw officers if they would like to stay in town.

“Our calls for service have gone way down compared to what it was. We used to, a few years ago, we would go down and have to have a multiple-member response because we’d be swarmed. Members would be circled by numerous people and it would get really dangerous,” Bayda said. “Now it’s totally different.”

Bayda and Elder discussed the issue last week, however their views on the situation differ slightly, with Elder saying that the issue needs to gain more attention.

“I think there will be a new level of focus and a new realization that the people of Osoyoos are fed up and they want to see action taken,” Elder said.

Bayda said he feels the situation is improving since the additional patrols have been added and the bylaw put in place.

“It’s actually been much better. Yes, there is still a group down there but it’s a public beach and people can’t pick and choose who is using it. It’s just how it’s being used and we’re trying to help control it so it’s being done in way that’s enjoyable for all,” Bayda said. “His (Elder’s) impression is that it was much worse, but it’s just not the case.”

While the negative comments have been taken down, Bayda warned that even on social media, hate speech is still criminal.

“There’s obviously a lot of comments on there towards the transients and when  people start getting the ball rolling on these Facebook pages or social media. A lot of times you get people who wouldn’t normally act starting to act on different frustrations,” Bayda said. “In a sense, it’s almost like they are starting to incite violence and that’s what we can’t have.”

Elder said he doesn’t support the negative, inciting comments and that Facebook is a relatively new tool to be used for community outreach and change, and he hopes to use the outreach for the good of the public.

“Public pressure is probably the most powerful thing that I’ve seen take effect in politics and in a community,” Elder said. “Even in the last 24 hours there has been a huge change in police presence at that beach and feedback from the general public on how much police presence they saw at the beach yesterday.”

Elder said he is in full support of a bigger budget for police dealing with the issue. He spoke with the Mayor of Osoyoos, Sue McKortoff, briefly on Tuesday.

“Just through discussions within the community, community members, business owners, I told her we could easily double that amount. If the manpower is there as far as police goes I would put the effort in and see that amount is doubled,” Elder said.