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‘Gas war’ in small town Alberta turns violent

 

Gas war in small town Alberta turns violent-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Security footage taken inside Trailside gas station in Walsh, Alta., on Aug. 9, 2020, shows owner Geoff Shoesmith, right, just before he was punched in the head, allegedly by Anwar Kamaran who owns a nearby gas station. (Submitted by Geoff Shoesmith)

 

Twenty-five years is a long time to run a business. During that time, Geoff Shoesmith has seen a lot as owner of Trailside, a family-run gas and convenience store in the tiny village of Walsh on the Trans-Canada Highway, a stone’s throw from the Saskatchewan border.

Shoesmith has seen owners and operators of the gas station just down the road from his store come and go, but he never imagined what used to be a fairly collegial competition for customers would turn to violence, nor did he ever think the RCMP would have to get involved or that he’d be sent to the hospital with a concussion and a black eye.

The man charged in the attack is his main competitor, the owner of Walsh Save On Gas, which is directly across the road from Trailside.

Gas stations in Alberta-Milenio Stadium-Canada
The owner of Save On Gas in Walsh, Alta., has been charged with assaulting his main business rival, the owner of Trailside gas. Both stations are on the TransCanada highway just west of the Saskatchewan border. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

The five-second-long beating was captured on crystal clear, colour video. It appears to show Shoesmith’s business adversary, Anwar Kamaran, run into the store and behind the counter where he punched Shoesmith in the arm and face.

Shoesmith tried to get away by climbing onto the counter near the cash register, but he was struck in the face and fell to the floor. Another camera angle captured at least four more blows.

The attacker, wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans ran out of the store in full view of at least one person who was in the store at the time.

Kamaran has sent several short videos to the CBC that show people expressing their sentiments as satisfied customers, but he has declined several requests for comment about the ongoing rivalry or the charges he is facing in relation to Shoesmith.

Geoff Shoesmith said he and Kamaran were always at odds but he can’t believe their business rivalry has taken such a dramatic turn.

Neither can the tiny community.

‘A crazy situation’

It was hard to convince anyone to talk publicly about this “gas war,” as they said they’re too afraid of what might happen if their names were published.

One woman who was driving through from Swift Current, Sask., said the incident is a hot topic on both sides of the border.

“It’s unbelievable … it’s a crazy situation,” said Bernice Bonneau, who had stopped in to buy some gas and snacks.

“It’s gone beyond anything in this part of the world,” said John Smith of nearby Maple Creek, Sask. He’s known Shoesmith and his family for years and can’t make sense of the battle between the two business owners.

“It’s gotta be tough for Geoff and his family, right?” said Smith.

Anwar Kamaran-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Anwar Kamaran is the owner of Save On Gas in Walsh. He’s been charged with assaulting members of the Shoesmith family, who own a gas station located next to his. (Alberta Liberals)

Adding more interest and intrigue to the story is Kamaran’s background as a one-time candidate for the Liberals in the 2019 provincial election. He unsuccessfully ran for the party in the riding of Cypress-Medicine Hat.

The Alberta Liberals said Kamaran, who was pictured with leader David Khan during the campaign, is no longer associated with the party and refused any further comment.

Kamaran’s bio on the party website at the time said he is an accomplished musician, bodybuilder and kickboxer who speaks seven languages.

According to Shoesmith, Kamaran took over the gas station in March 2019, and tensions between the two men quickly rose.

First encounter

Shoesmith said it was in early March 2019, when he closed up his store and drove over to Kamaran’s gas station to see how much he was charging for fuel because the outside sign was turned off.

He said it wasn’t unusual for his competitor to bump up the price after Shoesmith closed for the night.

Geoff Shoesmith-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Geoff Shoesmith says he was attacked in his gas station by Kamaran, his main business rival, earlier this month. Kamaran has also been charged with assaulting Shoesmith’s wife and son. (Submitted by Shoesmith family)

He said Kamaran came out, told him to get off the property and attempted to spit at him, so he quickly left. Shoesmith said that was the first time the two met. He said Kamaran phoned the police to report the incident but no charges against either man were laid.

“So we just stayed away from there after that,” said Shoesmith.

The family said several incidents continued “every day,” with rude gestures, name-calling, threats and phone calls.

Gas pumps vandalized

Shoesmith said in early February someone vandalized his gas pumps with what he believes was a hammer. He said all of the glass covers were smashed and it took months to get them fixed.

Luckily, he said, the pumps still worked and he was able to continue to sell gas. He said the incident happened during a snowstorm so the footage from the security camera wasn’t helpful in identifying the person responsible.

Shoesmith said Kamaran has been operating as an independent retailer after the Petro-Canada signs were removed from the gas station in late 2019.

Geoff Shoesmith2-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Shoesmith suffered a concussion and bruising after the attack in his gas station earlier this month. The owner of a nearby gas station has been charged with assault causing bodily harm. (Submitted by Shoesmith family)
He said Kamaran had shut down his business for about a month before reopening sometime in March 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared.

Shoesmith said gas prices were already selling between 59 and 65 cents per litre, but Kamaran was offering fuel for 34.9 cents per litre. The low price was tied to a promotion where customers were asked to spend $5 in the convenience store.

Counsel to commit assault, uttering threats

Around the same time, Kamaran was arrested for allegedly uttering threats, however the charge was changed to counselling someone to carry out an assault. Police information stated the incident occurred on or about March 30. It stated Kamaran counselled “[someone with the initials JC] to commit the indictable offence of assault.”

Shoesmith said he was advised by the RCMP on March 31 that Kamaran had been charged and that he and his family were the targets of the plot.

Kamaran was ordered to have no contact with the Shoesmith family and “JC.”

On June 11, a stay of proceedings was entered after the Crown told the CBC the charge “did not meet the prosecution test,” which includes reasonable likelihood of conviction and public interest.

Weekend assaults

On Saturday, August 8, Kamaran allegedly grabbed the arm of Shoesmith’s wife while she was in her vehicle near the two gas stations. Carol Shoesmith reported the incident to the RCMP.

The next day, Kamaran allegedly assaulted Geoff Shoesmith’s son and a short time later was seen on video entering the gas station where he allegedly attacked Geoff.

Kamaran faces a total of six charges including assault, assault causing bodily harm and three counts of breaching court orders that he stay away from the Shoesmith family.

Kamaran has been released from custody with conditions that he stay away from the Shoesmiths and that he surrender a .303 rifle. He is scheduled to appear in a Medicine Hat court on Sept. 16.

Shoesmith said he lives in fear knowing that Kamaran is no longer in custody and is back in their small community.

Kamaran’s residence is located behind his gas station. “We’re in fear for our lives,” said Shoesmith. “We feel the justice system has let us down.”

He said despite court ordered conditions in the past, Kamaran allegedly continues to have contact with the Shoesmiths.

Shoesmith said he’s trying to put that out of his mind.

“I worry about my business, my family. We’re going to be diligent in our security and everything. That’s all I can do.”

CBC

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