“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear:”Nelson Mandela
As someone who grew up in some very tough neighbourhoods in east Calgary, I have a deep appreciation for those on the front lines, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics, as they are vital in ensuring public safety. The Calgary Police Service is the leader in providing safety and security against violent crime in our city. However, as rightly pointed out by the police chief, they are only one facet in dealing with crime and violence.
In times of prosperity, money and energy fuel an increase in drug- and gang-related crime. The city is now facing many financial challenges with high unemployment and underemployment and this toxic mix is the perfect breeding ground for criminal activity. We do not want to play the blame game or the victim card. I prefer that we come together and find a way forward. During these fiscally challenging times that governments are facing, we need grassroots solutions. We all have a role to play and it starts today by speaking up.
We have a social and economic crisis in this city, from the lack of opportunity, mental anxiety to the spread of drugs. Compassion can go hand in hand with fiscal prudence. Public safety cannot be the exclusive domain of one level of government. We need to support the police by communicating and co-operating. The police need to enhance outreach and build trust with local communities. Calgary has seen an alarming trend with the number of shootings in the past year and we have the third-highest rate of homicides per capita in Canada. Gun violence can take many forms, including suicide, domestic violence and organized criminal activity.
We need to invest in preventive programs that provide social outlets and support for all our residents. Enforcement is one component of a holistic approach to public safety. We need to find common-sense solutions by incorporating different perspectives. Ultimately, governments and police are limited or enhanced by the support of the public. The public safety task force will provide a platform to develop a better understanding of the issues involved. Engaging all stakeholders is critical and will provide the necessary context to these complicated issues. A broad spectrum of stakeholders, such as government officials, police officers, convicted offenders, victims, faith groups, cultural communities, mental health specialists and concerned residents will be involved and engaged.
Gun control advocates need to converse with law-abiding gun owners to find common ground. We need to acknowledge that Calgarians are complicit when we turn away and ignore criminal activity. Neighbours need to look after neighbours, faith groups and communities need to intervene and co-operate. Our schools need to have open conversations with students and parents rather than be recruiting grounds for criminal gangs. Our business and professional leaders need to understand the consumption of illegal drugs may provide a good time, but the end result is an unsafe city.
Community leaders need to understand that policing is indispensable, but supporting recreational opportunities, youth programs and those who are vulnerable in these difficult economic times is also critical. I am grateful to my colleagues for having the foresight to continue to invest and support low-income transit passes, affordable housing and mental health initiatives. As a municipal councillor, I am encouraged to see support from the provincial and federal governments and their commitments to public safety initiatives.
I have been personally impacted over the years. I have lost friends and family to violence. I have had family members impacted by drug use. You may be able to relate and have similar experiences and stories to mine. Our solutions must go beyond enforcement and prosecution and get at the heart of the issues that are connected to our communities, families and friendships.
George Chahal is Calgary city councillor for Ward 5 and is bringing forward a notice of motion to create a public safety task force at the Feb. 3 council meeting.