Edmonton city council has made a landmark decision when it comes to how it handles vulnerable people hanging around transit facilities.
Back in February, a video was circulating online showing Edmonton police officers kicking people out of an LRT station who were trying to stay warm during a cold snap.
The incident was shocking to many and prompted calls for change.
On Monday, council unanimously voted to eliminate loitering tickets for people on transit and at ETS facilities.
“The tickets weren’t working and people couldn’t pay them anyways, so why even have that in the books? (The city was) sending people in poverty into deeper poverty for absolute zero results except for making their lives even tougher,” said Ward 4 councillor Aaron Paquette.
Bear Clan Patrol member Judith Gale was at that LRT incident in February and said she was devastated when it happened but is thrilled to hear progress is being made.
“Decriminalizing this aspect of it is fantastic because it’s going to give better hope to our brothers and sisters and let them know that there is refuge in ETS for them,” she said.
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Paquette said the move is a multi-year motion and that will involve significant research, with the aim being that it does a lot more than simply eliminate tickets.
Instead of a fine, people loitering will receive support.
“Outreach teams, what they are going to do is engage with folks, they’re going to direct them to the services they need — even provide transportation,” Paquette said.
While there has been some backlash on social media, Paquette said this new approach is already being tested and is seeing success.
“The old system simply wasn’t working, if it was, no one would have any issues or complaints, but that has not been the case,” he said.
Gale said she just hopes to never encounter another incident like what happened in February when people were kicked out in the cold.
“It’s going to help our brothers and sisters immensely, because it’s going to help them not feel like criminals and feel like every turn that they make they’re being sought after by a peace officer or EPS,” she said.
Paquette said the loitering bylaw will still exist and loitering will still not be allowed, but the issue will be handled with this new approach in hopes of creating change.
“We’re taking an active approach and a helping approach rather than a punishment approach, because frankly, the punishment wasn’t and isn’t working to solve the problem,” he said.