Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has invoked Section 30 of the Police Act, giving Edmonton’s mayor two weeks to come up with a public safety plan to address the violence downtown and on transit.
On Thursday, Shandro released his letter to Amarjeet Sohi publicly.
In the letter, Shandro writes: “the people of Edmonton deserve better than what this city council is delivering… Public safety should be your priority, like it is mine.
“At this time, I am requesting you take direct action to address this alarming situation.
“Within the next two weeks, I will require a public safety plan from you that will increase police response to this disorder and ensure members of the public can use Edmonton’s public transit safely.
“I look forward to reviewing this plan soon.”
He said Edmonton Police Service data shows crime in the city’s core rose by 11 per cent in 2021 (from 2,382 incidents of violent crime reported downtown in 2020 to 2,665 incidents reported in 2021).
Shandro’s letter also cites that data shows crime severity on the LRT and at transit centres has increased by nearly 60 per cent since 2019. The letter says medical incidents on public transit increased 341 per cent from 2019 to 2021. In 2022 so far, there have been 549 LRT and transit centre disturbances, 130 violent incidents and 42 weapon complaints.
The justice minister says that under Section 30(1) of the Police Act, he can notify city council and request it take the action the minister considers necessary “when, in the opinion of the minister, a municipality that is responsible for providing and maintaining policing services is not:
A) Providing or maintaining adequate and effective policing services, or
B) Complying with this Act or the regulations.”
Shandro has directed the mayor to provide a public safety plan within two weeks.
“I have a responsibility under the Police Act to ensure the people of Edmonton receive the law enforcement protection they deserve,” he said in a news release. “Edmontonians should feel safe and secure when using public transit, visiting restaurants, attending events and walking the streets in their own community.”
The letter also mentions the deaths of two men in Chinatown last week.
Shandro calls the crime levels in Edmonton’s downtown core and on transit “extremely concerning and unacceptable.”
Shandro was not in the Alberta legislature ahead of Question Period and has declined to answer questions about the letter. In response, the UCP told Global News he was not available but a meeting was being scheduled with Mayor Sohi for “early next week.”
The Edmonton Police Service said: “As Chief Dale McFee will be attending the city council meeting tomorrow, the EPS will not be providing comment at this time.”
At a news conference later Thursday, Sohi responded to Shandro’s letter.
“I share the same concerns about the safety of downtown, Chinatown and the LRT that he highlighted,” the mayor began.
“The social issues that are causing these safety issues are nothing new.
“The disorder and crime that we’re seeing in our downtown is directly linked to the lack of provincial investments in ending houselessness, the mental health crisis, drug poisoning and addictions crisis.
“Ever since I was elected, I’ve been raising these issues with the provincial government and have been asking them to step up to help to deal with them. So far, they have neglected these asks.
“But we have been taking actions on our own to improve safety and well-being in Edmonton.”
Sohi spoke about the transit safety strategy (with Bent Arrow Healing Society, Chief Dale McFee and the city manager) approved in February to add outreach workers to transit and peace officer patrols.
He spoke about the $8.4 million approved for 10 projects through the Community Safety and Well-being Strategy and his motion to approve $5 million to increase safety downtown, in Chinatown and on transit by helping social workers and mental health workers respond alongside police to issues in those areas.
Council also voted Tuesday to immediately allocate $300,000 in one-time funding to help address the needs of Chinatown.
Sohi also spoke about increased funds for the encampment response team and the $1.8 million being allocated by the city for day services at the Bissell Centre.
“This investment will fill a void left by a lack of investment from the provincial government.”
The mayor mentioned bridge housing in hotels and 500 housing units coming in the next few months thanks to municipal and federal funding.
“Council is investing in many issues that are the responsibility of the province, and frankly, they are falling short.
“The province is not at the table with us to tackle these issues,” Sohi said. “Sending letters is fine… but actions are more important than words.
“I hope that Minister Shandro and his government will step up and recognize that the safety issues that we have are caused by their lack of investment in social infrastructure.
“The number of houseless Edmontonians has more than doubled in the last two years. This is a devastating statistic for which a lack of action from the provincial government is directly responsible.”
Sohi also pointed out that while some areas of Edmonton are seeing increases in crime, the overall crime rate across the city is down by 17 per cent.
He said he’ll respond to the minister’s letter and has a meeting with him next week. However, he said receiving it surprised him because the city hasn’t heard these concerns from the province before.
“This is not the way to build a strong relationship. I believe in collaboration and I had hoped that if the province had issues, they would notify us and at least sit down and explain.
“I’m glad the minister has finally noticed this incredibly important issue that has been my top priority since I was elected. I have been desperately trying to get the province’s attention on this issue for months now.
“So I ask you, Minister Shandro, will you work with us to provide funding for the houseless population, for mental health supports, for those suffering form the drug poisoning crisis to make our community safe?
“We will continue to ask for funding that would address the root causes of social disorder, and without firm commitment from the province, the city is left to take on the responsibility that belongs to the province, including funding housing, pushing the province to develop minimum standards for shelters and dealing with the end results of chronic underfunding of mental health and the COVID crises.”
Sohi said the province “needs to step up.”
“I will lay out everything we’ve done, including providing the $385 million to our police service, on top of the $22 million that they get from photo radar — that’s declining as well — that’s the provincial government’s responsibility.
“From 2019 to 2022, the Edmonton Police Service budget went up by $28.6 million, which represents an increase of 8.47 per cent over four years. There has never been a reduction in funding to Edmonton Police Service,” Sohi added.
NDP Justice Critic Irfan Sabir agreed that addressing the increase in crime requires a wide range of approaches, including “law enforcement, collaboration with all orders of government, support for mental health and addictions, housing, and court resources.
“However, the UCP has made deep cuts to the justice department budget, wrap-around supports and affordable housing for several years. They have also increased barriers to accessing mental health and addiction support, and failed to hire more prosecutors.
“On every factor that drives violent crime, the UCP has made the situation in Alberta worse,” Sabir said in a statement.
In his letter to Sohi, Shandro said the Alberta government has provided financial support for municipal transit systems hit hard during the pandemic: $79.5 million, which is being matched by the federal government, to support 26 Alberta municipalities, he said.
The justice minister also said Edmonton received a policing support grant of $26 million for 2021-22.
“The government of Alberta also supports a wide variety of initiatives to target the root causes of crime and social issues,” Shandro told the mayor. “This is designed to take pressure off the police and move towards more appropriate effective solutions and management of the issues. Examples of these initiatives include, but are not limited to:
· Police and crisis teams,
· Victims services programs, and
· Drug treatment courts.”