By Karen Unland
A mother is only as happy as her saddest child, says Hon Leong of the Chinatown Transformation Collaborative (CTC). If Edmonton is the mother, Chinatown is that unhappiest child.
"If we want to be a family in this city, we have to take care of everyone. Not just our own — everyone," he told Episode 182 of Speaking Municipally. "When we realize that Chinatown is like a wound that we all have, then that is part of that road to recovery."
Much has happened since Taproot's civic affairs podcast recorded this episode with Leong as well as Chinatown event organizer Sharon Yeo and city planner David Holdsworth. On June 9, the city announced its Downtown Core and Transit System Safety Plan, which includes an operations centre in Chinatown to be jointly run by the city and the Edmonton Police Service, dispatching police, peace officers, and social agency staff where needed. The plan is the city's response to Justice Minister Tyler Shandro's demand for action in the wake of the deaths of Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang and concerns about transit safety.
The recording also pre-dates the CBC's revelations on June 10 about the events leading up to those deaths, namely that Justin Bone, the man accused of killing the two men, was taken to Edmonton by RCMP three days before the May 18 homicides, even though his bail conditions prohibited him from being in the city unsupervised, and that Edmonton police spoke to him but neither detained him nor connected him with mental health or addictions supports. The police service had not disclosed its officers' interactions with Bone during highly charged discussions about police presence in Chinatown, after which city council set the police service's base budget at $407 million and directed the development of a new funding formula.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi deplored the release of offenders into the community without care. He asked Shandro's department for a review — which the province has already rejected — and called on the Edmonton Police Commission for a "fulsome investigation into what led to this failure to keep Edmontonians safe and whether it reflects any systemic practices."
Because of the concentration of social services in or near Chinatown, and the inadequacy of those services to meet the need, the area has become a place where people with nowhere else to go end up, hence the large degree of social disorder.
"The Chinatown I remember growing up was one that was very vibrant. My family would visit Chinatown in the commercial areas especially on the weekends where we would have family meals together and do a lot of our grocery shopping," said Yeo, remembering produce sold on the street and enticing smells wafting from windows. "That's something that is not a part of my current Chinatown visits. It's a very different streetscape than the one I remember."