Chinatown operations hub funding gets greenlight from Edmonton city council

A new operations centre for Chinatown is part of the city's safety plan, released after two men were killed in the neighbourhood in May. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC - image credit)
A new operations centre for Chinatown is part of the city's safety plan, released after two men were killed in the neighbourhood in May. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton city council approved $15.2 million Monday to set up a new operations hub in Chinatown as part of the city's safety plan it unveiled in May.

The hub, called Healthy Streets Operations Centre, is a multidisciplinary effort among the city, the police, social agencies and emergency response.

The funding approved Monday breaks down to $10.3 million for police constables and equipment and $4.9 million for peace officers, community safety liaisons and firefighters for 2023 and 2024.

The city had previously estimated that the operations hub would cost about $18 million over four years.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the hub will bring together teams to stabilize issues in the area.

"I am hopeful that it will allow us to reduce crime and disorder in Chinatown as well as in the surrounding areas," Sohi said.

"I am under no illusion that we will be able to make our communities safer until we tackle the issues of addictions crisis and mental health crisis and the lack of housing," Sohi added.

The operations centre is part of the city's safety plan that was announced after Hung Trang, 64 and Ban Phuc Hoang, 61, were killed in Chinatown in May.

With the funding, the police will hire about 30 new constables while the city adds 16 community peace officers, two community safety liaisons and three firefighters/fire prevention officers.

Police funding questioned

The vote wasn't unanimous as three councillors voted against the funding: Ashley Salvador, Michael Janz and Erin Rutherford.

The funding for the hub is being drawn from the city's new community safety and well-being strategy.

Last year, council agreed to take money from the police budget and reallocate it to community safety and well-being initiatives.

Coun. Salvador said the request Monday seemed like the city was putting money back into the police budget.

"I feel the intention behind the reallocation of the funds was to take pressure off EPS, but I'm not really seeing that here, Salvador said during the meeting.

"This doesn't seem like detasking, to me this actually seems like expansion."

Frustration with province

Throughout the discussion Monday, the mayor and councillors expressed frustration that the province hasn't stepped up to support the city.

Sohi said he spoke with several ministers earlier this spring asking for assistance, after two men were killed in Chinatown.

Since then, neither he nor the city has heard a response.

"Meetings have been set up, meetings have been cancelled," Sohi said. "I don't understand why the province would not be stepping up to meet its obligation to Edmontonians, for which they are responsible."

Health care, including mental health and additions, housing and shelter spaces are under the province's purview.

Coun. Andrew Knack voted in favour of funding the operations centre but emphasized that the initiative is not going to solve all the issues related to drugs, homelessness and crime.

"This is still just dealing with the symptom," Knack said.

"We can't keep waiting and waiting and waiting. It feels so defeating after years and years sitting here and having the same conversations," Knack said. "This will help marginally."

In a statement Monday, Justice ministry spokesperson Joseph Dow said the government continues to work with the City of Edmonton on its community safety plan, "to ensure that Chinatown is a safe and vibrant place to live, work and visit."

"Alberta's government will continue working with the cty to provide support for social services and public safety, however, it remains primarily the city's responsibility to ensure safety on the streets of Edmonton," Dow said.