Councillors debate need for more security measures at Edmonton city hall

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Councillors debate need for more security measures at Edmonton city hall

Edmonton city councillors are divided on the issue of whether security at city hall needs to be enhanced.

Two proposals were at the centre of a debate when the council services committee met Tuesday.

One proposal is for council chambers, where all 13 members of city council gather for meetings and public hearings.

It's proposed to build a pony wall topped with Plexiglas, creating a four-foot-seven-inch tall barrier separating the public gallery from the seating for city councillors and city staff

The other proposal is for metal detectors and bag searches to be conducted before people enter council chambers or committee meeting rooms.

"We are definitely experiencing incidents in Canada that we aren't accustomed to seeing over the last 10 years," said Dean Sydlowski, the city's director of corporate security.

At times, councillors discuss contentious issues and make controversial decisions in council chambers, Sydlowski said.

Security staff have gathered intelligence in the past that indicated a risk to the safety of some councillors, and putting these additional safety enhancements in place would reduce that risk, he added.

McKeen and Loken differ on security approach

"I get that something bad could happen but that's the reality of living in the world," said Coun. Scott McKeen. "Something bad could happen to any of us anywhere, anytime."

The risks are greater that something could happen to a person walking down the stairs at city hall, or having a shower in the morning, than an incident at a council meeting, McKeen said.

"My concern is that we live in a world where fear is being heightened and marketed. When we react to that, I think we make it worse and the possibility of a negative outcome actually increases."

But Coun. Dave Loken said the Plexiglas wall and metal detectors are preventive measures.

"I don't want to look back and say, 'God, we should have done something', then it's too late," said Loken.

The issue has become politicized, he added, arguing that a decision should be made by the city hall security staff, not city councillors.

"This is about our personal safety too. I want to go home at the end of the night. This job is not worth me getting hurt for," said Loken, who has received threats during his seven years as a councillor.

"I'm sorry if people are inconvenienced, or they're upset because they have to go through a metal detector. I'm not going to apologize for that."

Mayor Don Iveson also said that decisions about safety issues should be up to administrative staff.

"It has taken on a degree of political significance and symbolism that I think has made it difficult to have a clear discussion about it that respects the safety of our staff, that ensures the public knows it is a safe place in chambers even when it does get tense," said Iveson.

Despite that, the issue will be discussed by a full meeting of city council on March 21. At that time councillors will determine if they want to leave the issue for administration to decide.

They will also discuss if they want a pony wall in council chambers and metal detectors and bag searches for people entering council chambers and meeting rooms.