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Yellowknife

City to issue police and bylaw priorities with downtown safety in focus


Priorities for Yellowknife’s RCMP and municipal enforcement officers will be discussed on Tuesday as fresh concerns are raised about downtown safety.

The city’s downtown bookstore this week said it would close early for the foreseeable future after staff were threatened with a weapon and property damaged.

Jennifer Baerg Steyn, the Book Cellar’s owner, said “it is no longer safe for one or two staff people to be on their own in the evening.” In a Facebook post, Baerg Steyn said she would hire private security for the store.

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Mayor of Yellowknife Rebecca Alty acknowledged the store’s experience was concerning and said “a number of businesses” in the city had similarly invested in security of their own.

Alty and city councillors will on Tuesday discuss priorities for RCMP and municipal enforcement for the year ahead.

The city employs municipal enforcement officers and has the power to directly set those officers’ strategic priorities. Priorities are provided only as recommendations to RCMP, as a separate agency.

A briefing note prepared by city staff suggests the following priorities for municipal enforcement:

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  • incorporating reconciliation with Indigenous peoples into public safety and enforcement activities;
  • “strategic proactive enforcement and prevention activities” related to traffic offences like speeding;
  • a focus on unauthorized parking “to ensure unobstructed access for emergency vehicles,” a reference to a recent parking study; and
  • “continued emphasis on municipal enforcement visibility and public engagement.”

Recommended priorities for RCMP in the same briefing note include:

  • “continued visibility and response to calls for service” in the city’s downtown;
  • working with Indigenous communities on reconciliation; and
  • crime reduction and prevention “utilizing enforcement strategies focused on prolific and habitual offenders.”

The priority lists are not exhaustive, Alty stressed. (In other words, the absence of an issue from a list doesn’t mean it will be ignored.)

Councillors have the power to amend those lists in the course of their discussions. In the past, for example, council has told municipal enforcement to pay close attention to taxi regulations and asked RCMP to confront internal biases regarding sexual assault.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Alty said the proposed RCMP priorities reflect a need to better address what she termed “frequent offenders” downtown. She points to situation tables as a way to do that.

In British Columbia, for example, situation tables are defined as hubs that bring together “front-line staff from the public safety, health, and social service sectors to identify vulnerable people and collaboratively and rapidly connect them to services before they experience a negative or traumatic event.”

Alty said in Yellowknife, a situation table can bring together the city, RCMP, the territorial government and non-profits to create strategies that help recurring offenders downtown.

“Perhaps the person is in need of housing or there’s an underlying issue an order of government or agency can help with,” the mayor said.

Alty said various businesses had already asked the RCMP for more help through the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, a process that she said had been “beneficial.”

The mayor, who spent portions of Wednesday and Thursday attending federal budget-related announcements with northern affairs minister Dan Vandal, said one area in which that budget lacked was a response to the broader trauma that affects Indigenous people in the North.

There was no response in the budget, Alty said, to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 21st call to action, which requests sustainable funding for healing centres.

“There has definitely got to be more funding and support for addictions, as well as trauma,” said the mayor.

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