British Columbia

Recent spate of violence on Vancouver's Granville strip triggers calls to improve safety, revitalize area

The Granville Entertainment District in downtown Vancouver has seen a shooting, a stabbing and a bear spray incident all within days of each other, raising concerns from people in the area.

Nightlife is no longer sole reason for crime, police say, as council prepares to consider redevelopment

People congregate, cars go by and people cross the street on a busy city road.
Granville Street is pictured in Vancouver, B.C., on Jan. 25. A recent survey of adults in the city found the vast majority felt unsafe in the area. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It's typically seen as an area for tourists and Vancouver's nightlife hotspot, with eight blocks of venues, bars, shops and restaurants.

But these days in the Granville Entertainment District (GED), garbage lines the streets, unpleasant smells hang in the air, and violence is on the rise, say police.

In the span of a few days, officers responded to a stabbing, a shooting and a robbery involving bear spray and a gun in the area.

Many say it's long overdue for revitalization — and the city agrees, with council voting soon on devising a planning project that would focus on development, preserving heritage and, ideally, keeping the district safe.

"I don't walk down this street very often," said Kelly Bennis, who lives in the neighbourhood. "It's not safe, it's dirty, you don't really know who you're going to run into."

She says she's been chased home multiple times and has had to duck into stores and restaurants out of concern for her safety.

"It's very unpredictable."

Megan Mitchell, who works in the area, says she's seen the Granville strip change in recent years. It was once a place she'd visit on weekends and evenings, but she now avoids it when she's not at work. 

"It doesn't feel particularly safe," she said.

Majority feel unsafe in GED: survey

A recent survey of adults in the city found the vast majority — 89 per cent — felt unsafe in the GED. 

About half of those said it's because they had witnessed violence on Granville Street, while 36 per cent said they had experienced harassment first-hand.

The online survey of 231 adults was conducted from Nov. 16 to Dec. 30, 2022 by Good Night Out Vancouver, a non-profit that works to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault. The organization says the survey has not been statistically weighted.

A man dragging a suitcase walks by boarded up shops
Police say recent incidents along Granville Street, pictured here on Jan. 25, were related to mental health, addiction and social issues — rather than the nightlife. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The GED has historically seen a lot of public safety issues, usually related to the nightlife in the area, says Sgt. Steve Addison with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).

But recently, there have been several incidents unrelated to that scene, he says, pointing to mental health, addiction and social issues as reasons for the increase.

Granville Street is home to the second-largest concentration of single-room occupancy (SRO) housing for low-income people in Vancouver, after the Downtown Eastside.

A report from city staff to council suggests the city should work with higher levels of government to replace those SROs.

Revellers walk down the Granville strip in December 2018. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

Addison says since the Howard Johnson Hotel on Granville Street was converted into an SRO in 2020, police calls to that block have doubled. 

"Just a few minutes ago, as I was standing out here, I broke up a near fight between two people. They were fighting over a lighter," he told CBC News on Monday afternoon.

"It's definitely a problematic area."

Councillor, police say safety a priority

Improving safety is a priority for the neighbourhood, says Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung.

"We want to make sure that people feel that they can go out and enjoy themselves, whether it's during the day or the night time," she said.

"The best way to do that is really through redevelopment."

Two people sit on a bench in front of a sex shop display, with the words 'Get your heart on' and 'XXX" visible in neon lettering.
Two men are pictured on a bench outside Fantasy Factory Adult Store on Granville Street in May 2020. A Vancouver city councillor says improving safety is a priority for the neighbourhood. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

According to Addison, new funding for police and re-allocating resources could help. In November, city council voted to fund 100 new officers and 100 new mental health nurses. 

However, according to the survey, some people actually feel less safe because of police presence.

Either way, Addison says, something has to be done to make the area safer for everyone. 

"Whether it's 3 o'clock in the afternoon or 3 o'clock in the morning, people should be able to come out here, feel safe and enjoy themselves," he said. 

"They shouldn't have to look over their shoulder. They shouldn't have to feel like somebody's going to assault them."

With files from Janella Hamilton and Akshay Kulkarni