Loitering, using drugs along transit system to become municipal offences as bylaw changes passed

·3 min read
Edmonton bylaw and peace officers will now have the authority to remove people from public transit if they are found using illegal drugs. (Cort Sloan/CBC - image credit)
Edmonton bylaw and peace officers will now have the authority to remove people from public transit if they are found using illegal drugs. (Cort Sloan/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton bylaw and peace officers will have broader authority to remove people deemed to be causing safety issues for others on and around transit property, after city council agreed Wednesday to revise the city's transit bylaw.

Most of city council agreed Wednesday to revise the Conduct of Transit Passengers bylaw, so it will be an offence for people to remain on transit property for purposes other than using transit.

The amended bylaw will also make it a municipal offence to use illegal drugs on or around transit property — in addition to it being a federal crime.

"Just hanging around the station when you're not using transit is another thing we're trying to avoid here," said Andre Corbould, city manager. "Right now, we can't stop people from just hanging around the station."

To Ward Dene Coun. Aaron Paquette, the clause sounded similar to the previous provision on loitering, which council agreed to remove from the bylaw last year.

The city was highly criticized after peace officers removed homeless people from an LRT station during extreme cold weather in winter 2021.

Council agreed last summer to remove the loitering option.

"It simply did not work and it was not equitable," Paquette said of the loitering provision. "It was obviously very heavily weighted toward visible minorities as the enforcement target."

Paquette argued the existing bylaw, before the amendments, already had clear wording that allowed peace officers to deal with people posing a danger.

The legislation states no one may "engage in behaviour that can reasonably be expected to interfere with the safety or comfort of others" while on transit property.

Ward Anirniq Coun. Erin Rutherford made the same argument, suggesting the existing bylaw empowered peace officers to deal with safety issues.

City solicitor Michelle Plouffe said the amendments were meant to provide clarity.

The new clause says no one may "inappropriately or unlawfully use, interfere with the intended use of, or cause damage to" transit property.

That includes remaining on transit property while "engaging in behaviours or activities" other than riding transit.

"This, to me, is still very discretionary, I would contend," Rutherford said.

City administration, she added, is already working on a response to a motion passed earlier this year, seeking clarity in the language in the bylaw.

Amendments passed

The majority of council agreed the bylaw amendments should move ahead. They passed with a 9-3 vote.

Councillors Michael Janz, Ashley Salvador and Rutherford voted against the changes. Paquette didn't vote.

Several councillors cited ongoing and louder calls from the public for the city to address safety concerns over the past several months.

Ward pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell doesn't believe his constituents want to see people be treated unfairly for being in vulnerable situations.

"They do want to see a measure of accountability return to the public realm — particularly downtown, particularly the downtown transit centres — so that they feel safe," Cartmell said.

Ward Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack voted in favour of the amended bylaw, but flagged similar concerns as other councillors.

"There's that potential for this to be misused," Knack said. "My hope is that over the next two-and-a-half months, when that report comes back, we get some very detailed breakdowns of how this has been used."

Province demands safety plan

Thursday marks the deadline for the City of Edmonton to submit a full safety plan to Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

On May 26, Shandro used a ministerial power under Alberta's Police Act to demand the city take action against crime in the downtown and along the transit system.

Council approving the bylaw amendment Wednesday would "likely send a signal that we're taking this issue very seriously," said Ward sipiwiyiniwak Coun. Sarah Hamilton.

Corbould believes revising the transit bylaw would help the city get a "favourable acceptance" of its public safety plan.

He added, however, that passing the amendments may not result in Shandro approving, supporting, nor agreeing with the plan.

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