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'Not approved by city council': Sohi blasts UCP over new Edmonton social issues task force


The Alberta government has a new 12-person team tasked with addressing addictions, crime and homelessness in the capital, but the city's mayor is not happy about how it's being done.

"I was not made aware of it. We were not, in any way, included in the creation of the task force," Amarjeet Sohi told reporters Tuesday.

About 30 minutes before he said that, four Alberta ministers, a pair of city councillors, two First Nations Chiefs and the leader of the Edmonton Police Service were among those unveiled as members of the Edmonton Public Safety and Community Response Task Force.

"We're taking action. This task force is going to be discussing the immediate concerns that are going on in the Edmonton area right now. So, whether it be the Chinatown incident, whether it be public safety on the transit, whether it be comments made by folks in the media that people feel unsafe even walking down the streets," said public safety minister and task force chair Mike Ellis.

City Councillors Tim Cartmell and Sarah Hamilton have been named to the task force, but Sohi said they don't have authority to speak for his council.

"They were handpicked by the UCP government. They are not there to represent city council, because it is not approved by city council," Sohi said.

"I asked for an urgent meeting with provincial ministers, there was some discussion of having that meeting but that meeting has not taken place yet."

In October, the provincial government announced a $187 million investment to address addictions and homelessness in Edmonton and Calgary. The task force will draw from that money to "implement a series of initiatives."

Sohi said Edmonton needs more than that.

"I'm glad that they're finally stepping up to recognize that the problems that their underinvestments have created are having severe consequences not only for people but for businesses," he said.

"People are dying because of lack of investment from provincial government."

The mayor also brought up the Chinatown deaths of Ban Phuc Hoang, 61, and Hung Trang, 64. Both men were killed on May 18 in Edmonton's inner city. The man accused of those murders was homeless and dropped off in Edmonton by RCMP officers prior to the attacks.

According to Police Chief Dale McFee, an RCMP officer alerted EPS that Justin Bone would be brought to the city from Parkland County on May 15, because there was nowhere else to take him.

The Edmonton Police Commission and the RCMP are now reviewing that incident.

"We have two people killed in Chinatown because the person who is alleged of that crime was released by the province without any supervision and was dropped off in Edmonton," Sohi said.

City Manager Andre Courbould and fire chief Joe Zatylny have also been invited to join the task force, pending city approval.

The mayor also had concerns about who was not named to the team.

"It does not have representation from people with lived experience. I did not see any representation from urban Indigenous community leaders or from racialized Edmontonians on this task force. I hope those voices will be added," Sohi said.

He wants the province to improve access to safe supply, harm reduction and treatment.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi speaks to reporters at city hall on December 13, 2022 (Jeremy Thompson/CTV News Edmonton.)

Safe supply was not on the province's list, but increasing addictions treatment capacity, building harm reduction teams and adding shelter spaces are among six priorities listed.

The others are providing treatment in correctional centres, expanding detox services and "creating a hybrid health and police hub."

“The number of Albertans facing homelessness and addiction continues to be a top of mind concern for me," said Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jeremy Nixon.

"I spent many years working in homeless shelters and connecting with those facing challenges of addiction. I am very optimistic about the creation of this task force to find long-term solutions to support Albertans in need.”

When asked by CTV News Edmonton about Sohi's comments, Municipal Affairs Minister Rebecca Schulz said Hamilton and Cartmell were chosen for their experience on police commission and in housing, respectively.

"As the city has asked, the province is showing leadership by addressing these issues head-on," she wrote in a statement.

"We, of course, will welcome the opportunity to have the Mayor present to the task force, and invite him to any relevant events and announcements.”

Ward pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell speaks to reporters at Edmonton City Hall on December 13, 2022 (Jeremy Thompson/CTV News Edmonton.)

Cartmell said he was asked to join the day before the public announcement. He acknowledged he will only be able to generally represent the city, unless he gets council approval to do more.

"When you can get four ministers at one table to work together towards a common goal, that's a great opportunity to take, and I'm gonna take it every time. Regardless of who's sitting there," he said.

Cartmell said he hadn't spoken to Sohi about the matter.

When asked why an inner city councillor wasn't selected instead, he said the province made the selections and pointed out that his ward also has encampments and other social disorder issues.

 The members of the task force are: 

  • Nicholas Milliken, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction
  • Mike Ellis, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services (chair)
  • Jeremy Nixon, Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services
  • Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Municipal Affairs
  • Chief Billy Morin, Enoch Cree Nation
  • Chief Isaac A. Laboucan-Avirom, Woodland Cree First Nation
  • Tim Cartmell, pihêsiwin Ward councillor, City of Edmonton
  • Sarah Hamilton, sipiwiyiniwak Ward councillor, City of Edmonton
  • Dale McFee, chief of police, Edmonton Police Services
  • Kerry Bales, senior program officer, Provincial Addiction and Mental Health, Alberta Health Services
  • Graeme McAlister, associate executive director, EMS Operations, Alberta Health Services Edmonton Zone
  • Susan McGee, chief executive officer, Homeward Trust

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson Top Stories

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