Transit property 'not a safe place for one to take drugs': city manager

· The Pulse

A proposed amendment to the bylaw governing the conduct of transit passengers is not intended to re-criminalize loitering, says city manager Andre Corbould.

The amendment to Bylaw 19983, which is on the council agenda for June 7, would ban people from being on ETS property if they're not using transit and prohibit them from using drugs there.

"The idea is, if you're in the transit system, you're there because you're using transit, whether it's a bus or a bus station or an LRT or a tunnel that gets you to a transit station. And if you're not in there to do that, then we would rather you not be there," Corbould told Episode 181 of Speaking Municipally, Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

Last July, council voted to eliminate loitering tickets for people in ETS facilities in response to outrage over a video showing police officers kicking people out of an LRT station during a February cold snap. Corbould said the changes his administration has brought to council will only be used to move people out of transit towards services that they need. "It's not designed to ticket," he said. "It's just designed to keep the transit system safe."

Given that transit security guards used Naloxone in response to overdoses 52 times in a six-week period and the city has put $195,000 toward Overdose Prevention & Response Teams (OPRTs) who will patrol downtown pedways, it seems transit stations are playing a role that supervised consumption sites are intended to play. But that can't continue, Corbould said.

"It's very clear to me that council and the people of Edmonton do not want people openly using drugs in our transit system. And so we're proposing something that is a tool to help reduce and to help enforce that," he said. "The reality is an LRT station, a train, or a bus is not a safe place for one to take drugs, whether it's part of a harm reduction system or not. Those places should be properly established and should be part of the health system."

In April, council directed administration to draft a submission to Health Canada seeking an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which would decriminalize simple personal possession of drugs, which is also seen as a way to reduce drug poisoning injuries and deaths. British Columbia received such an exemption on May 31. Corbould indicated administration is in a research phase on that matter.

A screenshot of a video of Andre Corbould at a podium

A lot has happened on the community safety and well-being file since city manager Andre Corbould previewed the city's strategy on May 11. (City of Edmonton/YouTube)

Higher on Corbould's priority list is the response to Justice Minister Tyler Shandro's invocation of Section 30(1) of the Police Act directing Mayor Amarjeet Sohi to develop a public safety plan in light of disorder on transit and violent crimes downtown, including the deaths of two men in Chinatown. That response is due June 9.

Shandro's order was a surprise, Corbould said. "There were certainly no back channels on this one. It was dropped on my desk the same as everyone else when it went out public. There were no administrative discussions about using the Act in this way or putting this letter out."

Still, he said, he is seeing it as "an opportunity to reiterate the complex nature of these disorder issues that I think everybody agrees stem from mental health and addictions issues," Corbould said. "There's also an opportunity to not just address policing and enforcement aspects of the public safety plan, but the parts of the public safety plan that need to address the core root issues of some of the disorder we're seeing in our city."

That said, policing and enforcement will be a big part of the immediate response to fear and anger in Chinatown, which came to a head with the beating deaths of Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang on May 18. The $300,000 approved for Chinatown and Area Business Association in the wake of those deaths will be spent on private security so that shop owners aren't paying for that out-of-pocket.

"I think the reality is, for the next little while, we're going to need a 24/7 presence in Chinatown, in many ways as a prevention and having eyes and ears out there," Corbould said. "And I would say that the role of private security in Chinatown is much like the role of security guards in the LRT."

Another $1 million will go to a Chinatown post-COVID vibrancy fund. That money may go towards engineering changes in the neighbourhood — for example, changing large sidewalk areas to make it harder to set up tents on them, or making lineups for shelters or other services more manageable, Corbould said.

"If we're going to install some of these types of engineering controls or supports, we also need to understand the full consequences of that," he added. "And if that means that somebody can't use a particular area ... we need to think through where those people would therefore go instead. That's the important thinking part about this."

Hear all of Corbould's interview, as well as thoughts from co-hosts Troy Pavlek and Mack Male on a proposal to permanently close part of 102 Avenue downtown to vehicle traffic, on the June 3 episode.