Three days after Paul Schmidt, a 37-year-old dad, was stabbed to death on Sunday, the downtown Vancouver Starbucks where it happened was humming, if not quite bustling. The music was on; people were ordering drinks and snacks; a staff member offered a tray of sample-sized macchiatos to customers who showed up in spite of everything.
Outside, the sun was shining, but on the patio – the scene of the tragedy – the chairs and little round tables remained chained up. A couple of Canada Post workers in fluorescent vests took in the memorial taped to a bare sidewalk tree. “Rest easy Paul,” a note read. “To any bystanders and/or witnesses I’m glad you’re OK. If you rushed in to defend or help Paul there would be another memorial for you.”
(It’s not clear if the note-writer was including the Instagram influencer who not only recorded the whole thing on his phone, but posted the video with commentary such as “man stabbed, bro, right here” and then turned the camera on himself. “He just died, bro.”)
Outside the Starbucks, at the corner of Granville and Pender, you could see the glory of the snow-capped mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
I checked myself: did I feel unsafe? No. Did I feel unnerved? Oh, yes.
Mr. Schmidt was stabbed after asking a man not to vape near his toddler, the victim’s mother told the Vancouver Sun. He was outside with his three-year-old in her stroller while his fiancée was inside getting drinks.
This detail was just so awful. This was a dad trying to keep his little girl safe.
How many times had I asked people at the playground not to smoke when my kid was little? Having survived a 1970s childhood with my parents puffing away in our Pontiac, I am vigilant about not exposing my son to the second-hand smoke I found so gross as a kid.
These kinds of thoughts – there but for the grace of God go I and my family – are plaguing the households of Toronto right now too, following the shocking stabbing death of 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes at a subway station.
Of course, these were rare, random attacks. But beyond the shock and sorrow ignited by these killings, how many such incidents need to happen before they feel pervasive, and threatening to your urban life?
There is a lot to love about Vancouver, which consistently makes the lists of the world’s most livable cities. It is beautiful, temperate, and easy to navigate by bike, transit (if it’s not snowing) or car, should you choose. You can ski and sail on the same day (although try to find someone who has actually done that).
But boy, does this city have issues.
A Facebook friend posted a real estate listing this week: a 1930 bungalow on a narrow lot on Vancouver’s west side, offered at $2.48-million. Rents are astronomical too, if you can even find a place.
On the radio Wednesday, the story about the Starbucks stabbing was followed by a report about Vancouver City Council voting to eliminate a 25-cent fee that applies to single-use cups. The juxtaposition would have been hilarious if one of these stories wasn’t so horrifying: Our leaders are fiddling while Rome burns. (And the Earth.)
Vancouver City staff were also directed by council this week to look into requiring all municipal grant recipients to be non-partisan and to “communicate to, about, and with City officials in a respectful manner.” This amendment came from Councillor Peter Meiszner, who is a member of Mayor Ken Sim’s governing ABC Party. He cited a non-profit that is to receive $70,000 in grants, and then read from a news story quoting an official from that group who was critical about Mr. Sim’s election. “This, to me, is a huge red flag,” Mr. Meiszner said.
Beyond the pettiness, it is undemocratic to tie government funding to support.
Meanwhile, in February, the city approved a 10.7-per-cent property tax increase. Mr. Sim offered reporters this comment about the hikes: “Frankly, they suck.” One might apply such inelegant language to other things about Vancouver.
The city needs some real leadership. Some people are already tempted to leave.
A tragic, random killing at an upscale Starbucks alone will not send people fleeing, but it might just be the final straw for some working hard to make a go of it here. The mountains and ocean never get tired, but juggling two or three jobs just to make rent sure does. And you can get a lot more house almost anywhere else in this country for your hard-earned dollar.
So what is going to keep people here, when housing costs are sky-high, there is a homelessness and mental health crisis, and a city council busy making petty political decisions? I don’t think it will be their untaxed paper cups from Starbucks.