Sunday, January 29th started as any other day in the life of a young girl under the age of 10 in small-town Saskatchewan. There was a hockey game and the girl, and her parents set out for the rink. This scenario could have played out anywhere in the province, but for this girl, it didn’t end with fries and a rink burger. Sometime between noon and 1:30 pm the young girl was sexually assaulted in one of the change rooms at the Lashburn, SK sportsplex and despite the girl immediately telling her parents and the police responding as soon as the parents called, the approximately 40-year-old male assailant could not be found and the investigation continues.
So why is this incident on the other side of the province being discussed in the local paper? The simple fact is that it could have happened here. It could have happened in the next town down the road. It could have been any child in any hockey rink in any town in Saskatchewan. That being the case, this reporter reached out to Wakaw’s Recreation and Community Development Manager Dwane Burke for comment and insight into the safety measures at the arena here.
Wakaw’s arena is like any other in that there are rules in place that only players and coaches are to be downstairs in the change area, with the exception of the U7, U9, and U11 who may need the assistance of an adult to get gear on and lace up their skates. The fact that perpetrators of this sort don’t worry about rules and signage denying them access to certain areas is something that nobody argues, but the hard facts are that there are no resources to have a dressing room co-ordinator or some sort of security personnel to monitor the comings and goings in that area. Wakaw Minor Hockey does require all coaches and assistants provide a police criminal vulnerable sector check, and while they currently don’t have a cell phone policy for inside the change rooms, Burke, who is also President of Wakaw Minor Hockey, said it is “on their radar”.
Getting back to the security of the arena, when asked about cameras on the premises, Burke responded that cameras for the arena were already on his “wishlist” for this year’s budget and this has just ratcheted it nearer if not to the top on his priorities. The elected officials, the mayor and councillors, rely on the team at the Town Office, in particular Dwane and Melissa, to bring to them the needs that are identified and recommendations regarding those needs in order to move forward with the best plan of action. Budget conversations and deliberations are underway for the upcoming fiscal year, and this is another thing that could impact taxes and council will need to look as closely at this as they do other community wants and draw the line between wants and needs.
With the increasing number of out-of-town tournaments that facilities like the arena are hosting, there are a large number of visitors to our town and the value of the arena cannot be downplayed. Even without these hosted tournaments, the arena brings a huge number of people to our town every winter. The Rec Centre, which has security cameras in place, is an important facility as well, but it is not nearly as busy as the arena. The consideration for cameras at the arena has until now revolved around the desire to protect the asset itself from break-in, vandalism and theft, but now it also has to take into consideration the safety of children. However, it involves more than just running out to Costco and buying a camera and plugging it in. The wisdom of the saying, ‘if we’re doing it let’s do it right’ was not lost on either Burke or this reporter. The full security needs of the arena need to be considered so that the correct system could potentially be put in place to do the job it is expected to do. There would be nothing worse than having a system and a situation like what occurred in Lashburn happened, and then discovering that the system wasn’t operating fully and was ineffective in providing the information the police needed. Cameras unfortunately won’t prevent a perpetrator like this one from acting, but at least they could provide police with information to apprehend the individual and give the victim the peace of knowing that he’d been caught and wasn’t a further danger to them.
It’s important not to live in fear of the ‘what-ifs’, but it is equally important not to live in the land of denial with the belief that it could never happen here. It’s a hard and horrible truth the community of Lashburn is coping with right now that it does happen here and it’s not a case of if but rather of when. Reach out to your councillors if you think this is something that is important to you for the children who spend endless hours in the arena every winter.
By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Feb 16, 2023