Mayoral candidates asked to remove safe injection sites ‘out of Chinatown’

EDMONTON –

Seven people trying to become the next mayor of Edmonton faced off in another forum Tuesday night – this one focused on the “problems of Chinatown” – a term coined by the evening’s moderator.

Former mayor Bill Smith said Chinatown has serious concerns with petty and violent crime, which he said are being “escalated” by the presence of safe injection sites.

He asked candidates how, not if, they will remove all of the sites from Chinatown.

“With the three injection sites, in one close proximity in one community, is really a big mistake. Nobody would stand for that anywhere else in the city. They’ve dumped it here in Chinatown and I hope whoever is going to be the mayor deals with it,” Smith said in an interview.

The event was held in a busy restaurant on 97 Street and hosted by the Chinatown & Area Business Association and the Chinese Benevolent Association.

Mayoral candidates Amarjeet Sohi, Mike Nickel, Michael Oshry, Cheryll Watson, Rick Comrie, Kim Krushell and Diana Steele all attended.

Each candidate was asked individually how they will remove the injection sites.

“It is not compassionate to let these people to continue to walk the streets. It is broken. These people are broken. They need treatment for trauma and addiction,” Nickel said, not directly addressing the question about removing sites.

Mike Nickel at mayoral forum. Tuesday Sept. 14, 2021 (Sean Amato/CTV News Edmonton)

“You can build more housing if you want to, but that does not get people off the streets where they need treatment for trauma and addiction. That is a long-term solution,” he said.

He added he will not “defund the police” and provide that funding for social supports.

Oshry spoke about his promise to build 1,000 supportive housing units and convert old busses to provide showers and washrooms in the inner city.

He wants to add police in Chinatown and spread supportive housing out more evenly across the city.

Oshry did not commit to removing all the sites either.

“(Addiction) is not a personality flaw, it’s a medical condition and they need support…that being said, having a concentration in one neighbourhood is not appropriate. My idea would be to have one location in the city and then move them around the city,” Oshry said.

None of the candidates suggested specific alternative sites.

Krushell said she was open to relocating sites – but not because of crime. She believes the sites need to be spread out to provide better services.

“Harm reduction sites do save lives, but what I’m hearing…it doesn’t make sense to concentrate injection sites in one location. So what I’m calling for is that we review the locations and we look at where the actual need is,” she said.

Sohi said he would work to convince other orders of government to invest in supportive housing and addiction support.

“I hear you. I know these issues have affected you, your businesses, your lives, and your safety. And you have more on your shoulders, the burden, that’s unreasonable,” he told the room.

Watson said she’s spoken with social agencies who don’t believe the sites should be centred in Chinatown.

“My commitment is to work collaboratively with those agencies to find the right areas in our city to distribute those services,” she promised.

A 2020 report released by a Government of Alberta panel found that 911 calls generally increased near safe injection sites, except in Edmonton.

Supervised injection sites “help save lives and build safer communities,” according to the Alberta Health Services website.

The Edmonton election is Oct. 18. 

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