By: Dave Dale, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The rash of thefts and break-ins that hit the Corbeil area came after tighter requirements for federal COVID-19 relief payments, East Ferris council was told this week.
North Bay OPP Staff Sgt. Bill McMullen said they noticed a drop in calls for service when the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) “were going out to everybody who basically applied whether they deserved it or not.”
After CERB transitioned to other benefit programs with tighter requirements in October 2020, McMullen said there was a jump in calls for thefts and break-ins.
“Obviously the community has been impacted during the late stages of 2020 and the early stage of 2021 with theft of motor vehicles and break and enters,” McMullen told council as part of a presentation on OPP efforts in the municipality. “I can definitely sympathize with the community members and how this is alarming and definitely a violation of safety when it that is occurring.”
“I would suspect a lot of these types of crimes are unfortunately kind of the remnants of COVID,” he said. “There was a lot of money influx within the community from individuals who may have addictions issues, so at that point there was a noticeable decrease in calls for service and some of these property crimes.”
But McMullen said calls for service began to climb again once the benefit was less universal.
“As CERBS started tidying up, who was getting it was entitled to it, we definitely noticed a marked increase in property crimes and these types of occurrences so I do believe there’s a correlation between the lack of CERB for COVID and people with addictions looking for easy money to feed their addictions.”
McMullen said East Ferris residents became targets, especially those along Highway 17, Highway 94, and major branches off Corbeil-Astorville Road.
“Unfortunately the East Ferris community kind of bore the brunt of that in addition to the Powassan community as well,” he said, noting the suspects they are watching live in North Bay and another community’s outside the city.
Residents have taken to posting incidents on a Facebook Page called East Ferris Let’s Post It, which Mayor Pauline Rochefort has described as an effective “Neighbourhood Watch” program.
Members have posted photos, video,s and descriptions of suspicious cars and individuals as well as notices describing thefts.
“Corbeil accounts for 47 of all the occurrences that occurred but ones listed having occurred during night hours … when everybody’s in bed,” he said, adding about 75 per cent of the incidents are during the week and most between 1 and 5 a.m.
“I don’t know why it’s Monday through Thursday but those seem to be the peak days,” McMullen said.
“We do believe this is the work of one individual or two individuals” who target as many residents as possible in certain areas of a community.
The OPP told residents in late fall they should ensure their homes and vehicles are locked and to remove valuable items from sight.
“I guess that works fine and dandy until people start breaking windshields,” McMullen said, referring to incidents where windows were smashed during thefts.
“That was alarming to us but on the heels of that we have to take into account that people are leaving valuables in their cars that are visible,” he said.
Along with advising people to lock vehicles and keep valuables out of sight, McMullen said residents should park inside their garage if they have one and ensure their driveway is well lit.
Other advice, he said, includes the use of video cameras that capture high enough definition and not pointing down to the ground so they can identify faces.
A blitz of nighttime patrols and RIDE programs in the area has also helped reduce incidents, according to a January 25 report, he said.
“I can say we’ve had next to no calls related to this because we have been flooding East Ferris at night very strategically,” he said, describing how Highway 94, Voyer Road, and Taillefer Road was the “hardest hit” area.
“Our officers basically cut off every road going in and out of the community over the course of the last two weeks, when we’re not responding for calls to service, that’s where we’ve been deploying our resources,” he said.
“We’re encouraging people obviously to remain vigilant.”
Deputy Mayor Steven Trahan, a North Bay police officer, said he can attest to the extra effort because he was stopped while going to work at 5 a.m.
Councillor Terry Kelly said the thefts and break-ins have shaken long-time residents who have grown accustomed to not being worried about such things.
“I just want to say thank you for the extra efforts,” Kelly said. “It’s been a wake-up call for a lot of my neighbors because living in the country all our lives we take things for granted and security has quite frankly never been an issue. Now it is because the world is upside down.”
Councillor Erika Lougheed said her property was among those hit and she also thanked McMullen for the OPP efforts.
“We were one of the families” that experience such an intrusion, Lougheed said, adding the thief was bold enough to go through their front yard to the back.
“It was a very gutsy effort on their end, they went deep into behind our house,” she said, pivoting her comments to address the description of who might be involved.
“I know you are mindful of this too, I’m not pointing you out, but I’m cognizant of stigmatizing anyone with addictions during this time or anyone in general, so making that correlation, I just want to make note publicly here that you know to be mindful of that connection,” she said.
Councillor Rick Champagne, who was sworn in as the new member of council at the beginning of the meeting, said his business was also hit by thieves.
“I know the feeling that Erika has because it happened to me at my shop,” Champagne said. “Actually they’re getting very smart … we had two trucks with plastic tanks and then they come over grinders and drills and put holes in them and left with the gas.”
Dave Dale is a Local Journalism Reporter with BayToday.ca. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.