Welcome to Detroit North: Visit Winnipeg at own risk
Gutter-level terrorism has Calgary couple's family hiding out
By MICHAEL PLATT
There's unclogging sewers, gutting chickens and cleaning up after elephants.
And then there are really brutal jobs, like working for the Detroit tourism authority: Imagine trying to lure visitors to a town rich in culture and history, yet tainted with a bloody reputation for violence and crime.
Winnipeg may never match Detroit's annual 300 murders or 10,000 assaults, but like the Motor City, it's fast becoming stained with the kind of reputation that scares visitors away.
Today, a Calgary family remains at the centre of a national news story, of the kind that leaves tourism and marketing executives weeping into their glossy brochures.
It started with a pool ball being smashed into a Calgary tourist's mouth, and has developed into a horrifying tale of uncontrolled crime, after the Calgarian's adult son was set on fire outside his Winnipeg home.
"I asked the mayor, why are you allowing these people to take over your city?" said Calgarian Susan Sanderson, whose stepson is now recovering in a hotel from first-and-second degree burns to his legs and torso.
"I told him, this has got to stop."
Susan has Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz's personal cell-phone number, because the mayor gave it to her following Round 1 of their holiday from hell, which still isn't over.
Last week, 58-year-old Ralph Sanderson ended up in the emergency room after a gang of youths attacked him outside his son's Winnipeg home, because he asked the teenage thugs to move away from the property.
A mouthful of stitches later, courtesy of a billiard-ball stuffed in a sock, Ralph and Susan were returning to their hotel when they discovered their truck had been stolen, along with a box of family photos.
Mayor Katz tried to make it right, offering to buy the battered and bewildered Calgarians dinner, but the Sandersons chose to go home instead, preferring to leave Winnipeg behind.
If it had ended there, Winnipeg might have escaped with a minor black-eye.
A gang of thugs, apparently the same group with the penchant for pool balls, returned to the scene of the earlier crime in the middle of the night, armed with lighter fluid.
It seems they were probably going to torch the house or garage, but they woke up Derek Sanderson with their noise. He confronted them, so they used the lighter fluid to set him ablaze, fleeing when police arrived.
And so Ralph returned to Winnipeg, and has since been staying with his injured son and his wife, along with their two daughters, in a hotel.
They're too scared to return home, in case the gang returns.
"We've got to get these guys off the street," Ralph Sanderson told the Winnipeg Sun yesterday.
"I fear for my family."
Indeed, Derek's wife went back to fetch some clean clothes, but was forced to flee after some punks with knives chased her car.
And so a Calgary grandfather and his Winnipeg family remain refugees, because no one is able to protect them from the crime and violence around their own home.
"They have to stay in a hotel for their own protection -- no one else is helping them," said Susan.
"It's obvious the city and the police aren't in control."
That Winnipeg's mayor hasn't ordered a 24-hour police watch on the neighbourhood, for the sake of appearances in a limelight of national attention, boggles the mind.
This is about more than one family and a few visitors being picked on -- it's about risking a multimillion-dollar tourism industry, because the police in your city can't handle a gang of young savages.
Already holding the record as the most violent city in Canada, Winnipeg's failure to deal with this ongoing epic of gutter-level terrorism will leave a lasting impression on the whole country.
When a family is forced to hole up in a hotel because the police can't protect them, the result is an image that all the glossy tourism brochures in the world can't change.
At least the hotel room is getting some use now. It'll soon be empty, if crime is allowed to overshadow everything else Winnipeg stands for, like history, culture and music.
Fear takes forever to fade -- just ask Detroit.