Headlines: Jan. 5, 2023

· The Pulse
  • The number of protests in the city has risen sharply in recent years, according to the Edmonton Police Service. In 2023, police recorded about 570 protests, compared to 501 in 2022, 473 in 2021, 237 in 2020, and 181 in 2019. Last year, Edmonton saw several protests related to the Israel-Palestine conflict, encampment evictions and housing, climate change, health care, and the inclusion of gender and sexuality in school curriculum. In August, police also read the Riot Act after violence erupted at an Eritrean festival. In a year-end interview, police Chief Dale McFee said the police service's goal is "always to regulate and minimize" while giving people the ability to express grief, anger, and frustration.
  • Edmonton continues to have the highest number of opioid-related EMS responses of any Alberta city. According to provincial data released this month, EMS in Edmonton responded to 5,048 opioid-related events in 2023, a 44% increase over 2022. There were 9,299 overdose calls in the city last year, nearly double the figure in 2021. Alberta had its deadliest ever year for drug poisonings in 2023, which also saw the reversal of the downward trend observed in 2022.
  • The Edmonton Police Service created a team of special investigators to probe an alleged extortion scheme targeting members of the South Asian community. At least 18 incidents of arson or demands for money have happened in the Edmonton area since October. Police say the scheme, which has been observed by police across Canada, involves criminals asking for large amounts of money through WhatsApp. Failure to pay can result in property damage, often to new homes, show homes, and homes under construction. Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said nine fires potentially linked to the scheme happened between Nov. 1 and Jan. 2, mostly in developing suburbs.
  • The Humanities Centre at the University of Alberta is closed for the entirety of the Winter 2024 semester following an electrical fire on Dec. 18 that contaminated the building. The building contains offices for the Department of English and Film Studies, the arts students' association, lecture halls, and seminar rooms. A spokesperson said the university is identifying learning and work spaces for students impacted by the closure, while one professor told Postmedia the transition will be a "logistical nightmare." In 2022, the university said it was considering removing the Humanities Centre from its inventory, citing considerable required maintenance, but currently says it has no plans to decommission the building.
  • The city has been installing EPark meters in the North Edge area northwest of the downtown core, including on four streets north of MacEwan University and Unity Square. Chris Lerohl, CEO of the Uproot Food Collective, is worried the changes will prompt customers to find free parking elsewhere and add one more strain on already-struggling businesses. The city said it hopes a combination of paid and time-restricted parking will free up space, reduce average parking durations, and encourage vibrancy. Paid parking on the affected streets comes into effect on Jan. 15.
  • Provincial data shows Edmonton drivers have received penalties for distracted driving about three to four times as often as Calgary drivers recently. Over the past three years, Edmonton has had a yearly average of 3,900 convictions for distracted driving, compared to a yearly average of 1,450 in Calgary, even though Calgary has more licensed drivers. Dominic Schamuhn with the Alberta Motor Association said the discrepancy is likely due to enforcement differences. Calgary police say they emphasize driver education over a specific enforcement target. The Edmonton Police Service said in 2022 that it occasionally assigns officers to watch for distracted drivers, and also conducts enforcement blitzes, which are not specifically aimed at distracted driving. Edmonton police had distracted driving enforcement targets before 2017, but it's unclear if they have similar targets today.
  • Edmonton, like many Canadian cities, has a persistent problem with abandoned shopping carts, and residents and businesses have varying views about how to address the issue. Some municipalities charge retailers to collect and store carts, or have anti-theft legislation requiring retailers to install wheel-lock systems, but Edmonton has no specific bylaw regarding carts. The city sends recovered carts to the scrapyard without penalizing the owners, saying it lacks the resources to return carts to retailers. The city received about 1,300 complaints about abandoned shopping carts by the end of 2023, and city crews had recovered about 3,200. In 2022, there were 2,399 complaints and 3,432 carts collected by the city.
  • The city is offering residents several ways to dispose of Christmas trees. Curbside collection of natural Christmas trees begins Jan. 22 and runs until Feb. 16. Residents are asked to leave trees out for collection by 7am on Jan. 22 to avoid missing their collection day. Apartment and condo residents, or people who miss curbside tree collection, can bring their natural tree to a Community Recycling Depot until Jan. 23 or to an Eco Station at any time. Artificial trees in good condition can be donated, while those in poor condition can be brought to an Eco Station or put in a black garbage cart.
  • Renée Robyn, an Edmonton-based photographer and digital artist, was selected to represent Canada in the 2024 World Photography Cup based on her submission of two fantasy-inspired composite pictures. Her partner, Curtis Jones, was also nominated. More information about her work can be found on her website.
  • Applications are now open for the annual Civic Youth Fellowship, which gives young interns the opportunity to work in the offices of city councillors or deputy managers for 10 weeks starting in May. The program was introduced in 2023 as part of the city's Anti-Racism Strategy. The deadline to apply is Jan. 14.
  • The Alberta government is accepting nominations for the Alberta Order of Excellence, the province's highest honour. The order recognizes citizens who made a lasting contribution to their communities. Nominations are accepted all year, but they must be received by Feb. 15 for the individual to be considered this year.
  • The Edmonton Oilers have made a resurgence after a rough start to the season, which led to the firing of former head coach Jay Woodcroft in November. The team is now on track to reach 91 points for the full season, which would put them near the historic cutoff line for the playoffs. Sports writer Travis Yost notes the Oilers have seen good results against lower-calibre opponents but have generally faltered against elite teams. The team's upcoming schedule, which is filled with games against "minnows and mediocre clubs," puts them in a good position to make up ground in their division.