Yellowknife municipal enforcement officers are set to focus on reconciliation, taxi safety, parking, and an increased downtown presence over the coming year.
Every year since 2014, city councillors have set high-level strategic priorities for the municipal enforcement division (MED), which enforces city bylaws and regulations under the territory’s Motor Vehicles Act.
For the year ahead, city staff recommended three priorities for the division.
The first priority is incorporating reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. This includes reaching out to Indigenous groups and additional training for officers on reconciliation, de-escalation, and crisis intervention.
“As the capital city of the NWT, Yellowknife is [at] a crossroads for Indigenous peoples and groups from across the North,” states a memorandum to councillors, which notes 24 percent of the city’s residents are Indigenous.
The second priority is strategic enforcement of the Livery Licence Bylaw, which regulates taxis in Yellowknife.
This month, the Status of Women Council of the NWT released the findings of a taxi safety survey that documented more than 500 instances where women said they felt unsafe taking taxis in the territory.
“We know how important this is,” city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett told councillors on Monday.
The city plans to update its Livery Licence Bylaw by the end of 2021. Until then, municipal enforcement plans to work with taxi companies and drivers to address safety concerns.
The final enforcement priority is visibility in the community, particularly the downtown core.
“That’s a really important part of MED’s job, to be a presence for good in the downtown,” Bassi-Kellett said.
Concerns have been raised about the need for more foot patrols in the city’s downtown.
Councillor Steve Payne called downtown safety issues “the elephant in the room,” adding that he felt “public drinking is at an all-time high.”
Municipal enforcement has drafted a downtown engagement plan focused on problem-solving, deterrence, and community outreach.
Mitchell Roland, the city’s municipal enforcement team lead, called bylaw officers “a set of eyes and ears on the streets” and said foot patrols have helped to de-escalate many incidents.
According to the city, between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, municipal enforcement officers completed approximately 90 foot patrols in Yellowknife, compared to 85 the previous year.
At a meeting on Monday, councillors appeared supportive of the suggested priorities.
“I think it is a really important shift MED is making toward reconciliation and de-escalation,” Shauna Morgan said, calling the priorities “refreshing.”
On the recommendation of Councillor Niels Konge, enforcement of unauthorized parking became a fourth priority.
Councillor Stacie Smith said she had received complaints about parking, particularly from businesses regarding unauthorized parking in loading areas downtown.
“Parking downtown has gotten a little bit out of hand,” she said.
Progress on previous priorities
In May 2020, the city set out five priorities for municipal enforcement. They included working with partner agencies, a presence downtown and at city facilities or events, tackling unauthorized parking and unsightly land, and more consistency “in areas of reactive enforcement.”
In September, Jennifer Hunt-Poitras, the city’s manager of municipal enforcement, said the division was planning a “cultural transformation” with a focus on community engagement and education over enforcement.
On Monday, Hunt-Poitras said the division had comprehensively reviewed its procedures and policies. She said data collection now better tracked how officers respond to concerns.
Hunt-Poitras said MED looked into ways to address concerns about parking and unsightly properties, other than enforcement. Those approaches included talking directly to the parties involved, determining the underlying issues, and adding or changing signage, she said.
According to an update from the division, officers conducted 41 investigations into unsightly lands between April 2020 and March 2021, several of which resulted in orders being issued, charges being laid, or the city initiating cleanups. During the same period, officers responded to 393 parking complaints.
“Working with property owners instead of taking enforcement action has streamlined the process, will reduce the amount of time required for follow-up, and reduce costs incurred for cleanups,” the update states.
Recommendations to RCMP
On Monday, city councillors also discussed RCMP community policing priorities in Yellowknife.
Each year, Yellowknife’s RCMP detachment seeks input from the city on the municipality’s policing priorities, which are combined with territorial recommendations and national priorities.
For the year ahead, the City of Yellowknife is recommending three priorities for RCMP:
- a renewed focus on combating officer biases and sexual assault myths within the RCMP;
- improved visibility, public engagement, and response to calls for service downtown; and
- enforcement of territorial impaired driving laws.
Councillor Smith said she was “very pleased” with the first priority.
“Sexual assault has always been a huge issue in the NWT,” she said.
“It isn’t uncommon and it’s kind-of one of those things that happens but gets swept under the carpet.”
In March, the NWT Sexual Assault Investigations Review Committee reported that some NWT RCMP officers needed more training when it comes to consent, rape myths, and levels of intoxication.
Yellowknife councillors will formally vote on municipal enforcement priorities and recommendations to the RCMP at their next regular meeting on May 10.