Action plan, public forum needed to address public safety concerns, Vancouver councillor says

Click to play video: 'Vancouver city councillor calls for public safety prioritization'
Vancouver city councillor calls for public safety prioritization
WATCH: A Vancouver city councillor is bringing forward a motion to try and address the public safety issues in the downtown core. Melissa De Genova is hoping council will vote yes as the first step to renewing a sense of peace. Grace Ke explains – Mar 29, 2022

Vancouver city council is set to consider a motion calling for a city-led action plan and multiple all-council meetings to address mounting public safety concerns.

Coun. Melissa De Genova tabled her motion on Tuesday, saying it was in response to comments she’s heard from residents and police about increasing violent crime — particularly within the downtown core — including random attacks.

“We’re hearing from residents who are afraid to walk down the street, whereas before they would walk to the grocery store with their families,” she said.

“Now they’re getting into their vehicles, they’re leaving Vancouver, they’re leaving their neighbourhoods. And that concerns me. That’s not the kind of Vancouver that we want.”

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The motion calls for a special meeting of council in May that will allow councillors to hear from residents, business owners and community groups about their concerns. Executive staff from the city, the Vancouver Police Department, the Vancouver Parks Board, Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Housing and other departments would also be invited to participate.

It also directs staff to develop an action plan with Vancouver police that would be brought before council no later than June, which will include recommendations to address public safety concerns.

The motion is set to receive a vote on Wednesday in order to hear from speakers.

Vancouver police released data in October of last year that they said represented an “alarming” uptick in violent crime, saying they saw an average of four random and unprovoked attacks on strangers every day between September 2020 and August 2021.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver crime sparks public forum'
Vancouver crime sparks public forum

Incidents that police cited in that report ranged from a woman out for a walk near Trout Lake with her elderly father who was punched in the nose by what appeared to be a 12-year-old girl, to a man having his throat cut from behind while running errands in Mount Pleasant.

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Attacks in Vancouver’s downtown have continued to be reported to police ever since, including as recently as this past weekend, when an 18-year-old exchange student was allegedly sucker-punched by a Coquitlam man. The suspect was later arrested under a Mental Health Act warrant.

SkyTrain passengers have also been victims of attacks, including a 61-year-old man who was pushed down the stairs at Granville Station earlier this month.

“I’m concerned that one of these violent attacks is going to turn into a homicide,” De Genova said.

“I think we need to make sure that we’re creating a family-friendly environment here in Vancouver, where people can feel safe walking down the street. And that’s not something that I’m hearing from residents right now.”

The motion is the third focused on public safety that De Genova has brought before council over the past two years. Since that first motion was introduced, she says the need for action has only become more urgent.

She notes in her latest motion that her first attempt to set up a public forum with council in 2020 was amended to remove the chance for residents to air their concerns. A second motion that passed last October led to a roundtable discussion with the city and local businesses in December, but also did not include the general public.

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Earlier this month, councillors Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung hosted a virtual town hall on public safety with Vancouver Deputy Police Chief Howard Chow, harm reduction and recovery advocate Guy Felicella, and Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association president and CEO Nolan Marshall.

The rising crime has prompted the VPD to launch a public education campaign about safety that includes pop-up tents around the city where officers listen to public concerns and hand out free personal safety alarms.

During that March 3 meeting, Dominato said she, Bligh and Kirby-Yung have requested a meeting with the Vancouver Police Board and city council to look at additional options.

De Genova says she’s hopeful that will translate into public support for her motion.

— with files from Elizabeth McSheffrey and Simon Little

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