WARNING: Video contains violence and swearing
A Victoria mother who posted a video of a man being violently restrained by security guards on Facebook says she did it to highlight the bigger systemic issues of poverty.
“If we make it just about a man taking cans, people will say he deserved it,” Kristy Westendorp told the Courier on Thursday.
She posted the video – which has since gone viral – to her Facebook page on Wednesday evening after being mortified by the force used by GuardTeck security to restrain the man outside Uptown Shopping Centre.
Westendorp said her kids were playing in the fountain in the mall’s courtyard around 5 p.m. when she saw a man grab a bag of cans from the recycling bin and security approaching.
“I thought it could become violent so I wanted to document it,” she told the Courier.
In the video, which has been viewed more than 150,000 times, two security guards can be seen kneeling on the man, one sitting on the man’s head while the other kneels on his legs.
The man is yelling “I didn’t do anything” as he struggles under the two security guards. The man becomes increasingly agitated as the security guards try to bring his arms behind his back.
At the time, Westendorp did not know the man had been banned from the shopping centre site and had a history of violence.
“To me at the time I was just horrified it was happening,” Westendorp said.
“I was shaking while filming.
“You can’t know someone’s situation by looking at them. I saw someone who is disadvantaged and vulnerable being hurt.
“I thought it was important to document so people could see how security guards have been instructed to deal with these sorts of conflicts.”
In the video, the man yells repeatedly “why are you doing this?” at the security guards.
The security guard says “you spat in my face.”
“I did not spit in your face, you moron,” the man yells back.
A third man comes in to help restrain the man’s legs. Blood can be seen on the ground.
“Let’s go, I don’t want to hurt you,” one of the security guards said.
Westendorp then says “you’ve already hurt him, over some cans.”
The security guard then asks a witness to call 911.
“Make it clear that they assaulted this man over some cans when you call,” Westendorp can be heard saying on the video in the man’s defence.
Westendorp told the Courier she did not witness the man collecting cans spit or assault any of the security guards.
“Even if he did spit on him the response was disproportionate,” she said.
She said said the incident highlighted Victoria’s “bigger systemic issue of poverty."
“We have to look at the context in which this is happening,” Westendorp said.
“They (security) are trying to clear the space of the reminder that people are going without.
“These people are working all day in the heat collecting cans to make $5 or $10 to get what they need.
“We don’t need to criminalize poverty.”
Having lived in Victoria for 16 years, Westendorp said she had seen a growth in the visibility of homelessness in the city.
She said she understood GaurdTeck were paid to protect the space but questioned why they couldn’t find “a non-violent way to do that.”
Westendorp hoped posting the video would raise discussions about the role of a security guard and highlight the city’s homelessness issues.
“At the minimum I want discussions to happen. What should security officers be able to do?," she said.
“Why are they allowed to do this?
“Is it worth someone getting a concussion and bleeding from the mouth?
“Are we just trying sweep the issue under the rug so we can continue shopping?”
Saanich Police spokesman Sgt. Jereme Leslie confirmed officers were called to Uptown at around 5:15 p.m. yesterday regarding the incident.
“We’re also in possession of the video. The matter is under investigation and, as part of the investigation, we’re attempting to determine exactly what occurred prior to this video starting,” he said.
Seth Fruson, president and CEO of GuardTeck Security Corp., said the company “is committed to creating safe and secure environments. We apologize to those who were upset by the video of an unfortunate incident on Thursday evening at Uptown and we are doing a thorough investigation into what happened.
"We do know that there was much more to the situation than what is shown in the video.
"The person detained has a history of violent action in the mall, including assault, theft, damage to property and mischief. He has been legally banned from the premises. When he was approached by our staff, he immediately became agitated and assaulted one of our officers. The on-going safety of customers and our staff is always a top priority — so he was detained until police arrived. Although things escalated, incidents like this are very rare and we work extremely hard to avoid these unfortunate circumstances.”
Fruson said the company will review the incident and take any action necessary to improve systems and training.
Uptown general manager Kristy Lowes said in a statement: “We apologize to those guests who witnessed an unfortunate incident on Thursday evening at Uptown.
“An individual who is legally banned from our site was asked to leave by Security and subsequently assaulted the security officer and was detained until police arrived.
“Our number one priority is creating a safe and friendly environment for all our guests. We will conduct a thorough interval review into this incident and appreciate the level of concern shown by our community.”
— With files from the Times Colonist