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Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, pictured in 2021, said in a letter to Edmonton's mayor that the capital city is failing to keep its citizens safe.Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s Justice Minister has invoked his powers under the provincial Police Act to compel the City of Edmonton to bolster policing and develop a public safety plan to address violence downtown and on public transit.

In a letter to Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the capital city is failing to keep its citizens safe and he has given it two weeks to follow the provincial orders. Critics have called Mr. Shandro’s action an overreach and said he is skirting responsibility.

But Mr. Shandro said that the people of Edmonton deserve better. “They deserve to be able to ride transit, visit restaurants, attend events and browse through stores in a safe and welcoming environment,” he said in the letter. “I have a responsibility under the Police Act to ensure the people of Edmonton receive the law enforcement protection they deserve.”

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Mr. Shandro pointed to Edmonton Police Service data that showed violent crime downtown jumped by 11 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020. He also mentioned the recent deaths of two men, 61-year-old Ban Phuc Hoang and 64-year-old Hung Trang, who were killed randomly in Chinatown last week. This is in addition to other incidents of violence, frequent open drug use and what Mr. Shandro called “irrational behaviour.”

Edmonton police declined to comment on the province’s action.

The minister’s directive comes the same week as thousands of Edmonton residents packed city council chambers calling for action after the Chinatown killings. During this time, about $300,000 was allocated to support the community. A debate on local police funding is expected to take place on Friday.

Mr. Sohi said the city was not given any indication the province was concerned about issues of public safety in Edmonton until the letter was released. He said he finds it a “little rich” the government is pointing fingers at Edmonton when “they have not fulfilled their responsibility to make our communities safe.” He said insufficient funding on the part of the province is driving certain issues, such as homelessness and the drug poisoning and mental health crises.

“Ever since I got elected, I have been raising these issues with the provincial government and have been asking them to step up to help to deal with them,” said Mr. Sohi. So far, it has neglected these queries, he said.

He added that the two levels of government need to find ways to communicate better with one another and said a meeting is set for next week.

The overall crime rate in Edmonton has dropped by 17 per cent but certain areas of the city are seeing an increase in crime, noted Mr. Sohi.

Under section 30(1) of the Police Act, Mr. Shandro is granted power to request city council take what he determines to be necessary actions when “a municipality that is responsible for providing and maintaining policing services is not providing or maintaining adequate and effective policing services.” It is not clear what the minister requires the ordered safety plan to include.

Temitope Oriola, a criminology professor at the University of Alberta who served as a special adviser to the province on the Police Act, said Mr. Shandro is within his authority to direct changes to policing in Edmonton but that this directive is an overreach, calling it “political theatrics.”

He said the solution posed by Mr. Shandro does not adequately address the many intersecting issues at play, such as homelessness, addiction and serious mental-health concerns. It is not strictly a policing problem, Prof. Oriola added, and it requires collaboration above conflict.

“At a time of tremendous public engagement and debate at council regarding police funding, it appears to take sides of the issue,” said Prof. Oriola. “This moment calls for sober, objective, non-partisan, collaborative engagement of leaders at all levels. Let’s do away with the political theatrics and performativity and focus on helping people.”

Political scientist Keith Brownsey of Mount Royal University agreed the province is overstepping its authority and added that the “hypocrisy here is profound” considering Alberta is legally challenging the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act when convoy protesters took over Ottawa.

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