Headlines: May 23, 2023

· The Pulse
  • The city has set up water-bottle filling stations across Edmonton to ensure access to drinking water throughout the summer. The program, which launched in 2021 with five stations, is expanding to up to 20 stations this year, with 17 opened over the long weekend. The stations are attached to fire hydrants and located near public washrooms wherever possible. The city has also installed temporary public washrooms as part of its Public Washroom Strategy. Christel Kjenner, the city's director of affordable housing and homelessness, said the efforts are part of a policy council passed in 2021 to protect Edmontonians during extreme weather, which is becoming more frequent because of climate change.
  • Edmonton experienced periods of extremely poor air quality over the long weekend, which forced the closure of some businesses and attractions and required many people to change outdoor plans. Canada's Air Quality Health Index listed Edmonton as very high risk on May 20, and the World Air Quality Index considered Edmonton's air quality extremely hazardous, behind only locations in China, India, and Burkina Faso. Air quality improved slightly on May 22 and was expected to drop to low risk by the night of May 23. Meanwhile, the city's extreme weather response, which was activated on May 17 due to poor air quality, was deactivated on May 19.
  • Environment Canada issued a heavy rainfall warning for a large area of western Alberta, including Peace River, Grande Prairie, Fox Creek, and Edson, with 50-75 millimetres expected by May 24. Meteorologist Brian Proctor said the rain is coming "a little slower than we were initially forecasting, but it definitely is on the way." As of May 22, more than 945,000 hectares had been burned by wildfires and more than 10,000 Albertans were under evacuation orders. Alberta Wildfire information officer Christie Tucker said the rain could be a "turning point" but added that fighting the wildfires is a long-term project. "Many fires of this size will certainly not be extinguished after a few days of rain," Tucker said.
  • The city announced it is closing its reception centre at the Edmonton EXPO Centre for Drayton Valley and Brazeau County evacuees on May 23 as the wildfire threat eases in those areas. Since opening the centre on May 5, the city said it registered nearly 3,100 Albertans, provided more than 10,000 meals, provided 275 sleeping cots, and helped with hotel bookings and supplying essential items. The city's Animal Care and Control Centre also provided support for evacuated pets. "I hope that the work of our Office of Emergency Management and Emergency Support Response Team has shown Edmontonians both that we are known for our ability to help others, and that we are well-prepared to support Edmontonians in an emergency," said city manager Andre Corbould.
  • The founders of the Jasper Place Wellness Centre announced it is closing its community resource centre due to a lack of funding, although a specific date was not provided. Open since 2006, the facility has supplied essential resources to people experiencing homelessness and poverty as well as support with affordable housing, food, health care, and employment. Elaine Hyshka, an associate professor with the University of Alberta School of Public Health, said the closure will leave a major service gap in west Edmonton, noting that the centre had 10,000 visits from homeless or precariously housed Edmontonians in the past three months. Coun. Andrew Knack suggested the loss of resources will result in more people without any form of support in the city's west end. The centre also said its city-funded emergency shelter space, which opened in January at a former hotel, will close May 29 when its contract expires.
  • Around 100 Edmontonians gathered at 98 Street and 106 Avenue in Chinatown on May 19 to remember Ban Phuc Hoang and Hung Trang, the two men who were murdered in separate random attacks on May 18, 2022. The murders sparked conversations about public safety in Chinatown, prompted then-justice minister Tyler Shandro to demand that the city create a downtown and transit safety plan, and led to the launch of the Healthy Streets Operations Centre, which police recently linked to a reduction in crime severity in the area. Following the memorial, Hung Trang's daughter, Christina Trang, said not enough has been done to improve safety in the area and criticized the city's move to approve a development permit for a new Boyle Street Community Services facility at 107A Avenue and 101 Street, which she said conflicts with the city's goal to decentralize social services. The Chinatown and Area Business Association will also send a letter to city manager Andre Corbould expressing opposition to elements of the city's renewal plans for the McCauley neighbourhood until social disorder is addressed.
  • The legal advocacy group Animal Justice sent a letter to city council asking for the city auditor and the Edmonton Police Service to investigate the Edmonton Valley Zoo for potential fraud. In January, the group filed a complaint with Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) because the zoo's 2022 budget request to council stated that without more funding it risked losing accreditation. This month, CAZA determined there was no evidence to support the zoo's assertions that it needed more funding to meet current enclosure standards and that its accreditation is not at risk. CAZA was also unable to substantiate the zoo's statement that staff had been injured or forced to take time off due to deficiencies with enclosures. Zoo director Gary Dewar denied any allegations of fraud and, in a statement to Postmedia, said the zoo's budget request was clarified to council, media, and the public prior to budget deliberations. Coun. Erin Rutherford said she plans to advocate for an audit of the zoo.