Earlier this month St. Sgt. Grant MacDonald of the Burns Lake RCMP detachment made a presentation to the Village of Burns Lake council that highlighted a 233 per cent increase in calls to respond to domestic violence since the closure of the Babine Forest Products mill. “Some of this is linked to the results of the displacement of workers from the Babine mill [fire],” says MacDonald.
‘Domestic violence’ covers a wide range of incidents. While the dramatic image of physical spousal abuse first comes to mind MacDonald cautions against sensationalizing the facts. “A lot of those calls were for interventions in verbal domestics. They could have been boyfriends and girlfriends or husbands and wives getting into verbal arguments.” In these situations there is no physical abuse.
The biggest spike in numbers involved arguments between youth and parents where youth are defined as any children living in their parent’s residence. “A lot of our homes in the Burns Lake area have youth in their early to mid-twenties still living at home,” says MacDonald.
Other media have reported that there’s been no increase in hospital visits in Burns Lake as the result of domestic violence, but a spokesperson for Northern Health was unable to confirm that unsourced report.
From a policing perspective this increase in calls creates a unique strain on local resources. “When we get calls for domestic violence it requires a multiple member response”, says MacDonald. “Depending on what time of the day it is, we don’t have a lot of members on the street… so we may need to put other members on call or require them to be called in on overtime.” This not only strains the budget but it affects the readiness of officers to respond to other incidents.
While MacDonald stresses how effectively all levels of government and First Nations have been working together to care for those that have lost their jobs as a result of the mill fire, he is concerned about the effect that the end of employment insurance benefits will have locally. With unemployment benefits expected to begin running early in the new year, “we are anticipating a busy month of December through Christmas,” says MacDonald.
The recent announcement of the intention of Hampton Affiliates to rebuild the mill will not result in local employment until 2013 at the earliest in terms of construction employment, and the mill itself will likely not be ready to process timber until 2014.