Following reports on social media of women being attacked and harassed on Calgary streets, staff at a 17 Avenue brewpub will now be walked to their vehicles and homes after work.
“They are always going to be escorted out to their car, Uber or taxi and none of them are going to be walking home alone,” Trolley 5 owner Ernie Tsu said.
Employees at the restaurant and brewery said they’ve become more aware of alleged incidents targeting women due to posts on social media in recent weeks.
“Honestly, it’s terrifying,” Trolley 5 marketing manager Lotus Sikina said.
“For someone who works in the Beltline and lives in the Beltline, it’s scary not knowing if you’re going to make it home.”
On Friday, Calgary police confirmed they continue to investigate two separate incidents in the Beltline area where women were allegedly attacked.
However, in a statement posted to social media earlier this week, the Calgary Police Service maintained its most recent data shows there has not been an increase in offences by strangers against women.
“Any offence is one too many. We strongly encourage anyone who is a victim of harassment, threatening behavior or assault of any kind, to report it to police.”
In a statement Friday, the Calgary police said they had received a number of media inquiries about the social media posts, with Supt. Nadine Wagner saying the police force is “deeply troubled by the reports of various incidents circulating on social media over the last week or so.”
“Every woman has the right to live free from the fear, threat or experience of violence and sexual harassment,” Wagner wrote.
“We recognize the impact and trauma these events have on survivors and the general public, and we are committed to addressing and preventing gender-based violence.”
Wagner said because these kinds of attacks are historically under-reported in Canada, and because it sometimes take survivors time to come forward with their reports, the police service “strongly urges anyone who has experienced or witnessed an incident to report it to the police.”
“We will support you in reporting and we investigate every case with the full context of any other reported incidents,” she said.
“For example, it was the reporting of incidents, followed by a thorough investigation, that led us to charging a man in February after several incidents where women were touched in a sexual manner in various communities.”
Not all of the reports that have been circulating on social media have been reported to police, however, Wagner said investigators are looking into them and where possible, collating reports and gathering CCTV footage and speaking with potential witnesses. Officers are also “being extra vigilant” to look out for suspicious activity that could be linked to the incidents.
“We are also asking the public to be vigilant and to please call 911 immediately at the time of the incident. Officers will be dispatched to the area to help locate the suspect in a timely manner,” Wagner said.
“If you are a witness, offer aid to the survivors where it’s safe and possible until police arrive.”
Ward 7 Councillor Druh Farrell said she’s also received multiple emails from women over the last few months who said they’ve been harassed.
“Women are afraid to walk the streets alone,” Farrell said.
“It’s been a problem, probably forever, but the problem is getting worse and so it’s time to act.”
One tool Farrell hopes will tackle this issue is a motion she brought forward in December to develop a bylaw to curb street harassment.
“There’s a bit of a gap in the law on this that could be bridged by a bylaw,” Farrell said. “What bylaws do is identify a line in the sand.”
While the possibility of a street harassment bylaw is researched by city administration, Farrell is highlighting the work being done by Calgary organization NextGenMen and is encouraging more men to come forward to call out bad behaviour.
“This isn’t a women’s issue; this is a men’s issue,” she said.
“Men need to talk to each other about it, about how this is not acceptable behaviour.
“I’ve been hearing reports of girls as young as 11 being harassed by men, but also by their peers at school. This is not OK.
“It’s a historical concern that women don’t report when they’ve been harassed, they often don’t report when they’ve been sexually assaulted,” Druh said. “I hope that police reach out and recognize this is a growing problem and talk about what those solutions are.”
At Trolley 5, Tsu said even after his employees concerns subside, the new policy of making sure staff get home safely will remain.
“This time we’ll be sticking to it,” Tsu said. “Servers and bartenders who get off work need to feel safe when they leave.”
-with files from Jenna Freeman