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Citizens pack Edmonton council chambers to speak on Chinatown crime, safety and policing

Click to play video: 'Citizens pack council chambers in wake of Chinatown deaths' Citizens pack council chambers in wake of Chinatown deaths
It was an emotional Edmonton city council meeting Tuesday, as people spoke out about safety concerns in Chinatown in the wake of two men being attacked and killed last week. As Kim smith reports, members of the public aren’t typically allowed to speak during council. – May 24, 2022

Edmonton city council voted Tuesday to immediately allocate $300,000 in one-time funding to help address the needs of Chinatown.

“Our Chinatown immediately needs support,” said Councillor Jennifer Rice. “As a city, we need to do something.”

In an unusual move, Edmonton councillors voted to allow members of the public to speak during council, rather than at committee or a public hearing.

Citizens filled the council chambers Tuesday to speak to two items in particular that were on the agenda: the Community Safety and Well-being Strategy and the Edmonton Police Service Funding Formula Policy.

Read more: Edmonton releases community safety plan that would fund Indigenous-led shelter, community micro-grants

Seven people requested to speak about the community safety item and 18 people requested to speak about the police funding formula item.

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Read more: Deaths, violent crimes over 24 hours sees Edmonton police redirect more officers downtown

On Wednesday, two men were fatally assaulted in Edmonton’s Chinatown. The first seven speakers in council on Tuesday spoke about the need for immediate help from the city to improve safety in that area.

Click to play video: 'Police investigating 2 suspicious deaths in downtown Edmonton' Police investigating 2 suspicious deaths in downtown Edmonton
Police investigating 2 suspicious deaths in downtown Edmonton – May 20, 2022

Among the speakers Tuesday morning was the daughter of one of the men killed on May 18.

“Our family will never be the same again,” Christina Trang said. “This changed our lives completely overnight. He’s gone now.

“We do not have a dad to call on.”

Read more: Edmonton auto body shop owner grieves employee who was killed

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She said her father worked at Albert’s Auto Body for decades and planned to retire this year to spend more time with his wife.

“Maybe if things had been different in Chinatown, my dad would still be with us today.”

Trang said some businesses in the area pay out of pocket for private security.

Her confidence in the city has been destroyed, she said.

“How do you guys feel this situation in Chinatown is acceptable?”

Citizens pack Edmonton council chambers on Tuesday, May, 24, 2022. Global News

She said the huge turnout at city council Tuesday displays how close the community is.

“The Asian community in Chinatown is very close-knit and I’m not surprised at all that everyone came out to support,” she said after speaking to council. “It was not surprising but it was very, very touching.”

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton auto body shop owner grieves employee who was killed' Edmonton auto body shop owner grieves employee who was killed
Edmonton auto body shop owner grieves employee who was killed – May 20, 2022

Trang spoke at council Tuesday to “honour the memory of my dad” and said she hopes his death will “open eyes to how out of control things are.”

“The message we want everyone to hear is Chinatown needs improvement. Everyone wants to feel safe going through Chinatown and feel safe and not have to worry about things… We no longer feel safe in our own community.

“We’re hoping that things will start to change. The city has made a commitment today so hopefully we can start seeing some changes.”

Read more: Edmonton police lay murder charges in 2 Chinatown deaths

Police said Friday Justin Bone, 36, was charged with second-degree murder and robbery in relation to 64-year-old Hung Trang’s death. Police said he died of blunt force injuries to the head and neck. The manner of death is homicide.

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Police initially responded to one attack Wednesday afternoon at an auto body shop near 106 Avenue and 98 Street, before quickly discovering another man had also been hurt a block away.

Edmonton police said an autopsy determined Ban Phuc Hoang, 61, died of blunt force injuries to the head and neck and the manner of death is homicide.

Bone has also been charged with second-degree murder and robbery in relation to Hoang’s death.

Bone was not known to either of the victims, police said, adding investigators are not looking for any additional suspects.

Click to play video: 'Suspicious deaths, violence over 24 hours has Edmonton police redirecting more officers downtown' Suspicious deaths, violence over 24 hours has Edmonton police redirecting more officers downtown
Suspicious deaths, violence over 24 hours has Edmonton police redirecting more officers downtown – May 19, 2022

Hon Leong spoke Tuesday on behalf of Ban Hoang’s family.

He said Hoang came to Canada in 1989 at the age of 17 as a refugee from Vietnam. He lied about his age so that he could work and send money home to his family, Leong said.

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He said Hoang owned and operated Universal Electronics and Video and helped bring karaoke to western Canada.

“Not having him around is an incomprehensible loss,” Leong said.

Read more: Deaths, violent crimes over 24 hours sees Edmonton police redirect more officers downtown

Hoang leaves behind a daughter and wife, who stopped going to Chinatown herself in the last two months because she didn’t feel safe.

“We all failed the Hoang and Trang families,” Leong said. “We told you so! We knew this would happen!

“Edmonton is not a safe city for everyone,” he added. “We do have a problem right now and it happens in Chinatown.

“The message is this cannot happen again.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton auto body shop owner grieves employee who was killed' Edmonton auto body shop owner grieves employee who was killed
Edmonton auto body shop owner grieves employee who was killed – May 20, 2022

“There’s really a lot of pain in the community,” said Councillor Anne Stevenson. “It was really meaningful for them to come forward and share that with us today, but it’s heavy for sure.

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“They’ve been struggling for years. They’ve been calling out these issues for years. This isn’t just about the events of last week; it’s the culmination of years and years of conversations and concerns being raised.”

She said this city council accepts responsibility and will respond.

“There’s a call for a short-term response — which is more visibility of uniformed officers, whether they’re peace officers or police officers… but what I also heard is that the community is looking for those longer-term solutions as well.”

Part of that is a conversation around budget and police, Stevenson said.

“It’s always looking at the most effective use of our resources and also understanding if it’s a resource shortage or a resource allocation issue.”

Read more: Edmonton releases community safety plan that would fund Indigenous-led shelter, community micro-grants

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi expressed his condolences for the community and the families affected by last week’s homicides.

“I take my responsibility very seriously. Things must change in Chinatown.

“Chinatown has been neglected for decades and I am committed to working with the community to make sure we’re providing appropriate resources to change the situation as well as working with the other orders of government to fix the longstanding problems that the community is facing from houselessness, to mental health crisis to addiction crisis and we need to work together.”

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The mayor said he will be meeting with community members again on Wednesday to listen more.

“This council is committed to getting to the solutions to make sure that all Edmontonians feel safe… People in Chinatown do not feel safe and that has to change.”

Sohi moved a motion last week to look at using $5 million to build a joint partnership of police, peace officers and social workers “who can work together to tackle these very complex problems.”

After much discussion, city council voted to approve the Community Safety and Well-being Strategy, as well as adjustments to the 2022 and 2023 operating budget that would see millions of dollars of funding from the Edmonton Police Services funds reallocated to fund aspects of the strategy.

The strategy has seven pillars: anti-racism; reconciliation; safe and inclusive spaces; equitable policies procedures, standards and guidelines; pathways in and out of poverty; crime prevention and crime intervention; and well-being.

The Community Safety and Well-being Strategy has 11 projects, including support for an Indigenous-led shelter, additional program funding to drug poisoning response, addressing gaps in mental health supports, an integrated call and dispatch centre, creating Community Safety Peace Officer Training and Professional Standards Centre of Excellence and funding to help Chinatown. Click here to find more information on the 10 projects.

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The $300,000 allocated to Chinatown will come from the 2022 council contingency. The city manager said staff could meet with Chinatown community members immediately to discuss how best to spend the money. City staff are then expected to provide council with a memo on how they plan to use the funds.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton councillors consider how to determine and allocate police funding' Edmonton councillors consider how to determine and allocate police funding
Edmonton councillors consider how to determine and allocate police funding – May 18, 2022

The discussion about the Edmonton Police Service Funding Formula Policy began later Tuesday afternoon. Eighteen people signed up to speak about the police funding formula, some of whom did not end up speaking.

Several of the speakers shared stories of their personal safety being in jeopardy in and around the downtown core.

Stacy Zaidi has been running the city’s Remedy Cafes for more than two decades. She shared a story of a woman coming into one of the cafes recently, pushing a baby stroller with no baby inside. The woman was causing a disturbance, so police were called. Zaidi said the officer told her the woman had a knife in the baby stroller.

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“We have to have some action,” she said.

Ashif Mawji spoke about how his family moved to Canada from Kenya in 1987 because they feared for their safety. Back in his home country, he said he would be mugged every week while walking between school and home. A family friend was killed by someone trying to steal their car.

His family came to Canada with nothing. Mawji is now a successful business owner.

“Why did we move? Safety. We did not have safety,” Mawji said.

He said three years ago, he would recommend to anyone that they should move to Edmonton in a heartbeat. Now, that’s not the case. He said he would have a hard time recommending anyone move to the city.

“I am scared right now,” Mawji said, adding council has a “golden opportunity” to leave a lasting legacy of creating the safest city in North America.

Elke Siebels, who has lived in Spruce Avenue for 37 years, said the area has seen considerably more crime and safety issues recently.

Within the last four weeks, Siebels said there have been three fires within a six-block proximity. She said people are anxious, not sleeping and concerned for their safety. They’re wondering if their properties will be next, Siebels said.

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“We don’t know: is this because there’s an arsonist there creating these fires?” she questioned.

Read more: Alberta Avenue residents tired of living in fear amid ongoing fires in the area

Erick Estrada is the treasurer of the Alberta Avenue Community League. He believes there needs to be more Edmonton police beat officers in the area. He said the officers have done a great job connecting with community members and believes they lead to a reduction in crime.

Estrada believes now is not the time for the city to be changing the way they fund police.

In a news release Tuesday afternoon, the EPS said it is creating a policing strategy called Project Connection that will focus on addressing increased violence, property and disorder-related incidents in the areas of Alberta Avenue, Chinatown, Downtown, as well as on the Edmonton transit system.

The EPS said Phase 1 of the project will see an increased police presence in specific areas within these neighbourhoods, and at specific transit stations:

  • 113 Street to 79 Street along 118 Avenue
  • 100 Avenue encompassing the Downtown core, Chinatown and Alberta Avenue
  • Edmonton transit LRT Stations including Stadium LRT Station, Coliseum LRT Station, Central LRT Station, Churchill LRT Station and the adjacent pedway system

Police hope this will help increase community safety.

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Councillors then asked questions of those who spoke. The discussion on the topic is expected to continue at council on Friday.

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