When Mississauga councillor Carolyn Parrish says the sound of drag racing and modified cars coming from a mall parking lot in her ward is like a warzone, she’s speaking from experience.
“Seriously, I’ve been in a war zone, I was in Syria when I was an MP, it’s the same droning noise, and it’s the smoke and the burning tires,” she told Global News. “It’s just it’s a nasty, nasty thing.”
Both the councillor and local police say a regular congregation of street racers and auto tricksters gather in the parking lot of Westwood Square Mall in Mississuga’s Malton neighbourhood. The meetings are characterized by late-night chaos, something Parrish receives reports of most weekends.
One clip she posted to Twitter in late February shows scores of red lights from cars that fill the parking lot. The asphalt and white lines are obscured by the smoke rises from the burning rubber of car tires as they spin in circles.
In the background, a constant droning plays out from their engines.
“Once I got that one video, I went a little ballistic myself, and decided something had to be done about it right away,” she said.
The issue is one that is not uncommon — either in the city or at Westwood Square Mall, according to police.
But it is a problem that Parrish argues is unique to Westwood Square because of an empty Walmart. She said that the blank canvas of asphalt its unused parking lot creates has compounded the issue.
Parrish said that although the grocery store has shut down, it has kept up its lease, leaving a large area of the mall — and around a third of its parking lot — completely vacant.
“It used to be open until 10 o’clock at night, now it’s just dark, closed — nothing,” she said. “So that’s where all the car conglomerates started.”
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A spokesperson for Walmart told Global News they were aware of issues with the parking lot of Westwood Square Mall, outside the space its store used to occupy.
“We are actively working with the landlord to review options for the space and find a solution that benefits the community,” they said.
Despite working to find a long-term solution, the spokesperson highlighted that the responsibility fell to the mall.
“While we continue to lease the building space, the landlord continues to be responsible to maintain and properly police all parking lots and other outside common areas,” the spokesperson said.
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Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 22, 2022, Peel Regional Police received a total of 12 calls for Westwood Square Mall and the immediate area — more than an average of one call per weekend.
A total of three street racing incidents were reported, with seven other complaints that included either the word “racing” or “stunt.” Officers were also warned about “cars driving around aimlessly,” alongside another report of a “reckless driver.”
“We continue to work with Westwood Square Property Management to identify and implement workable solutions on their property,” a Peel police spokesperson told Global News.
Mall management echoed that sentiment.
Jeff Nelson, the property manager of Westwood Square Mall, acknowledged that Coun. Parrish was frustrated. But he said both police and the mall were stepping up.
“Mall management has hired extra security coverage to patrol the exterior of the property seven days a week, eight hours per day during the overnight hours,” he told Global News in an email.
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He said the problem was not only plaguing Westwood Square; a sentiment echoed by Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie at the February meeting of the police services board.
“This isn’t isolated to any one area — we see this everywhere in the GTA,” she said. “(It is) something that we want to discuss: what (are the) next steps, and do we bring all the mall owners together and talk about strategy?”
The issue is only going to increase as the snow melts, Peel police chief Nishan Duraiappah told the police services board.
“We’re about to head into spring, into the summer (and) we know the opportunity for this is going to increase,” he said.
Later, he told the board, “As we know, part of the thrill of it is compromising a place where the public would like to be, whether it is an intersection or a parking lot.”
As spring and summer roll into view, with the chance of more street racing, Peel police have developed a plan specifically for Westwood Square Mall.
Police told Global News details of the plan being proposed cannot be released as it is an “ongoing investigation,” but Parrish said the force was taking the issue seriously.
“When they get a call now, they don’t send one cruiser, they send six and they block all the entrances quickly,” she said of the plan that was shared with her by the chief.
She hopes the new system will crack down on a culture where — as Duraiappah also suggested — part of the thrill is the risk of being caught.
“I’ve had people who’ve been involved in this and outgrown that stage and they’ll laugh and say, half the fun of it … (is that) it’s kind of a cat and mouse thing… they want to cause trouble, they want to stay one step ahead of the police,” she said.
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