Sohi outlines city's efforts to make Edmonton safer, reiterates request for help from province

WATCH (Aug. 15): It's been nearly 100 days since two men were killed in Chinatown, which prompted the Alberta government to ask the City of Edmonton to submit a safety plan. Now, the city is looking to make changes but says the province not doing its part. Sarah Reid reports.

In a letter to Alberta’s justice minister, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi outlined the ways the city is taking action to improve safety in downtown Edmonton and on transit, and asked the province again to do its part to support this effort.

In the letter dated Aug. 16, Sohi provided an update on the Downtown Core and Transit System Safety Plan, which was requested by the UCP government after calls to address violence and crime in certain areas of the city, including Chinatown and on the LRT.

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The mayor said Edmonton has already increased police and peace officer presence, amended the conduct of transit passengers bylaw, increased response to encampments and problem properties, funded business security and community recovery, installed temporary public washrooms, done safety audits, increased cleaning of parks, roads and alleys, increased communication with businesses and social agencies, developed a community enhancement plan, increased funding for community organization to support anti-racism initiatives, implemented the Transit Safety and Security Plan, implemented the Downtown Safety and Vibrancy Initiative and developed the Community Safety and Well-being Strategy.

On Aug. 15, city council also approved $15 million over two years to fund the Healthy Streets Operations Centre, located in Chinatown, the mayor said. That money will increase the presence and visibility of police officers, peace officers, fire prevention officers, community safety liaisons, housing providers and agency outreach workers deployed in the area.

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Sohi said he asked Justice Minister Tyler Shandro’s office for assistance in funding this centre on July 5.

“While I am proud of these efforts by the city and we are doing our part, the actions highlighted above do not address the core underlying issues of houselessness, addictions, mental health and trauma,” Sohi wrote.

“Health and housing are provincial areas of responsibility and right now our city is suffering from a significant lack of adequate supportive housing and wraparound services, addictions treatment, support for those released from correctional facilities, and mental health services.”

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The mayor said the city is doing its part but that public safety is a shared responsibility.

“It’s time for the provincial government to step up and support our community by adequately funding the services it so desperately needs,” Sohi wrote.

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“During our meeting with you, Premier (Jason) Kenney and Minister (Kaycee) Madu earlier this summer, we discussed a number of ways that Edmonton is not receiving equitable support from the provincial government to meet the needs of our vulnerable population.

“We have also stressed this point with various other ministers time and time again. I don’t believe what we’re asking for is unreasonable. We’re simply asking to be treated equitably.”

The mayor proposed several ways the province can help, including:

  • Providing funding to shelter providers to implement the city’s Minimum Emergency Shelter Standards;
  • Fund equitable shelter space (currently Edmonton has 634 permanently funded spaces while Calgary has 1,758);
  • Increase Homeward Trust’s base funding to match with Calgary’s (annual OSSI funding)
  • Develop a comprehensive integrated release plan before discharging patients from correctional facilities, hospitals and persons in care;
  • Establish harm-reduction, treatment and recovery facilities throughout Edmonton;
  • Fill funding gap that reduced city’s share of photo enforcement revenues from 73.3 per cent to 60 per cent (about $7 million to $8 million in police funding annually);
  • Fill the funding gap felt by the city when the province ended funding for DNA testing done by Edmonton police (ongoing $5 million reduction to EPS budget);
  • Address police funding issues/re-establish police funding that was provided through two provincial grants prior to 2021.

“Thank you for your time and I look forward to collaborating with you to ensure we are building a safer Edmonton for all of us,” Sohi wrote.

Global News has reached out to the province for comment. A response will be added to this article when it is received.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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