Skip to content

Behind the Headlines: Sask. businessman blasts climbing crime

A former mayor and chamber of commerce chair from Battleford is taking a swing at suggestions that the rising Crime Severity Index should be ignored in North Battleford.
North Battleford Provincal Court overlooks the welcome to North Battleford sign along Highway 4

THE BATTLEFORDS — For Chris Odishaw, a longtime businessman in the Battlefords who served two terms as the mayor of the Town of Battleford and who served as the chair of the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce in the early 2000s, the Crime Severity Index (CSI) means very little to him.

“For a council [to be] … getting together to hide those numbers is insanity. Numbers are numbers. We’re always asking for more numbers as businesses, as people,” Odishaw said.

Whether in school, when assignments are marked, and students are graded, looking at ratios and the return on investment (ROI) in business, or when it comes to budgeting or even choosing financial institutions, he noted that numbers form the fabric of society.

“It’s all about numbers … so when you take a bad number and try to hide it instead of trying to fix it … we can’t say to the bank [as a business,] ‘well, just hide that number.’” he said, noting that he’s one of the stakeholders at the Comfort Inn and Suites, and for the hotel numbers are one of its primary focuses.

“Somebody has to be the worst. But once you’re the worst, you can start working at fixing it,” Odishaw said, adding that there are communities across Canada dealing with the same issue.

“And they can give all the excuses they want … those are opportunities, the metrics that [people can use and that] have to be adjusted.”

Is enough being done to focus on crime and public safety?

Odishaw said that the community knows what needs to be fixed because of the high CSI in the Battlefords. Rather than putting effort into fixing or removing the CSI, the community and the city should spend that energy trying to fix the numbers instead.

He adds that housing is an issue, and boarded-up houses around North Battleford are the evidence. He would suggest raising the base tax (which is the same regardless of the property) rather than the mill rate (based on the value of your property) so that they can get more money out of houses and properties that aren’t doing anything.

“If people are getting into trouble, that means they need jobs; they need something to keep them occupied ... I feel that the people that aren’t represented by council have built this community,” he added.

Odishaw noted that a couple of weeks before his interview with the News-Optimist, a friend of his needed some cash from an ATM but couldn’t because it was after 8 p.m.

“You realize there’s no ATM open at the City of North Battleford after 8 o’clock? They used to have security, and now they’ve closed it," he said.

Odishaw voiced his concerns with Community Safety Officers (CSOs) he alleges were giving parking tickets to people during the early March blizzard that shut down the highways surrounding the city. 

“But as soon as it gets dark out, when all the crime stats are happening, where are the CSOs?”

The nature of the Battlefords 'dangerous' reputation

Though he agreed, to a point, that North Battleford's reputation as a dangerous place is bad press, there is a need to be honest about what’s happening in the community, he said.

“I know the media, you guys, the paper, they pick on you guys. I thank you,” he said.

 “You are the tool. You are the heart and soul of the community. People need to know what’s going on. It’s a sad state of affairs when small town Saskatchewan has lost most of their papers and Facebook takes away all the news.

“But all you have to do is come here and try to get money out of an automated teller at 8 p.m. or you go to a movie and come out and see how many people are asking for a couple bucks, and it makes you pretty uncomfortable.”

When asked when the stigma started in his perspective as a former mayor in the community, he said, "The numbers got worse,” adding that Lloydminster also struggles with these issues of perception.

“[That] didn’t stop anybody from moving there because there were jobs. And that’s my argument. What comes first the chicken or the egg?

“You can’t attract people without jobs, so you better get some big smokestacks to give people jobs ... If you think you’re going to get people to work at minimum wage jobs, in the service industry. Those days are over.

He noted that one of the city’s major reasons for fighting the CSI is because they are struggling to attract growth, as noted by the mayor himself. Odishaw noted that if the food bank is feeding up to 2000 people a year, there’s an opportunity for growth within the community first.

“In the city, they call it smokestacks. They don’t want smokestacks. Kramer-Caterpillar moved out and they came to Battleford. LMG Tank Manufacturing, that was a smokestack, they’re big tax bills,” he said, speaking to the difference between taxes in Battleford and North Battleford.

“Why did they come here (to Battleford) and why did we lose NorSASK [Redhead Powersports] … you tell me one investment that any oil company, Husky, or anybody has made in the City of North Battleford. Zero. It’s all in the RM, and why? Because they look at the business case of it and the taxes are too high.”

Though he said he doesn’t want to create a wedge between the City of North Battleford and the Town of Battleford, he noted that while the mill rate stays down in Battleford, the Comfort Inn and Suites where he’s a shareholder, pays more taxes than any other hotel in Saskatchewan.

“But drive through and see the news houses in Battle Springs, in Battleford West. All north of $500,000.

“It’s the same CSI. We’re the Battlefords … we’re not differentiated, so the only difference is taxes.”

He says the city must do more to make the businesses that are here profitable before looking outwards.

The systemic issues: the burden facing non-profits

Odishaw said that it’s up to municipal governments to make the Battlefords a great place, to live, work, and play the City of North Battleford frequently mention on the radio or in the paper. Should the government be building homeless shelters, he asked. Probably not. But should they be supporting people to build one and make a place that is conducive to investment? Yes.

“One of my biggest pet peeves is the Pfifer Learning Centre [Battlefords Trade and Education Centre]. My friend, Pius Pfifer donated $1,000,000 to that organization. I donated money to that organization throughout my 37 years living here. They run a great program. They give people hope, jobs, a place to go.”

“They pay $90,000 a year in property taxes. When I brought that up to the city’s attention, the mayor in particular, he says, ‘Well, it’s all federally funded, it doesn’t matter.’”

But he says that’s another $90,000 out of their budget to do the things they should do.

“What would 90,000 more for an organization do?” he asked.

The Humane Society moved their new building to The RM of North Battleford. He argued that they moved out of town again, due to high taxes.

“They lost them out of the community. Is that because of the CSI? Not a chance in hell.”

“I had higher hopes that this mayor and council would identify these things. But, again, they’re doing what they can do, I truly believe that. It’s a tough place that we’re in. But it really is frustrating they’re having meetings … to hide numbers.

“And they’re hanging their hat on, ‘once we get rid of that, our problems are going to be solved.’ But we’ll still have the problem we’re just not reporting the problem.”

And Odishaw noted that it’s not just North Battleford that deals with crime like people think. What other city would you want to walk downtown after dark, he asked.

'Everbody's trying to reconcile, but nobody's dealing with the truth.'

As for reconciliation in the community, Odishaw told the News-Optimist that he's spent the last three years serving as a director on the Mosquito Grizzly Bear Heads’ Lean Man First Nation’s Economic Development Corporation board. Odishaw feels that another key is right in front of us.

“You have two tribal councils; you have seven First Nations. If that’s the only issue, and I’m not saying it is … First Nations truly are the opportunity in the Battlefords.”

Odishaw worries that if the city doesn’t look closely at taxation, local first nations like Red Pheasant — who recently broke ground on a new development on urban reserve land along Territorial Drive —  will leave North Battleford behind.

“They’ve invested lots of money into Saskatoon ... finally, they’re coming around to home because the opportunity is there," he said.

"They’re trying to support the people that live here but they’re going to hit a brick wall on taxes because First Nations also pay taxes, they pay a fee equal to what taxes would be.”

But there also needs to be truth and reconciliation, he noted.

“Truth and reconciliation? There’s two words in there. Everybody’s trying to reconcile, but nobody’s dealing with the truth,” he said, citing the lack of awareness around Battlefords own residential school or the death of Indigenous children there.

“'What would you have done?'” Odishaw asked his father once while discussing the residential schools.

“'They took Henry Beaudry out of his house. They shaved him … and they put him into a school,'” Odishaw said, noting that 70 kids died at the Battlefords Industrial School.

'“Nobody contacted their parents. Nobody knew who these kids were. And they got this little wooden cross that in a few years just disappeared. Like, I mean man. ‘What if I was one of those kids, dad?’

“'You never knew what happened to me. You don’t know if I’m up at The Ridge buried, if I ran away, if I got raped, thrown in the river … there is trauma-based around that.'

“We have to be a little bit more compassionate, a little bit more patient, we have to help them,” Odishaw said.

“I’m 58 years old, I have 42 years left,” he said, noting that his grandfather passed at 101 and that his father is still alive.

“He’s coming back to the community. My brother is here, his family is all here. There is lots of opportunity here, so my only thing is, stop chasing all the people who don’t live here … start supporting the people who are here to do more. Because that’s the secret.”