Public spaces must be safe for the public. As with most things it’s not as simple as it sounds. It’s not that complicated either.

Council will debate the proposed updated Public Spaces Bylaw on Wednesday and is set to hear from a wide range of speakers on the issue.

Public spaces in Edmonton, whether they be parks, sidewalks or transit and LRT stations – must be safe and comfortable for the public who are there to use public spaces as intended.

It will not be news to you that there were significant concerns raised in the public engagement leading up to this proposed bylaw about safety in LRT stations and on many commercial streets.

Past Councils and the current one have invested billions in an LRT system that people are now skittish about. Consistent communications to many Councillors’ offices confirm for me that many people who would like to use our public transit system simply won’t- because they don’t feel safe. 

There are similar stories underlying a lingering reluctance among many in our city to come downtown or visit Whyte Avenue.

There is still in the minds of many, too much open and visible drug use accompanied by the subsequent erratic and worrying behaviour playing out dangerously close to the  movements of people going about their daily lives of work, school, and leisure.

“Based on feedback received during public engagement, Bylaw 20700 proposes to expand the rule currently prohibiting visible drug use in transit spaces to all public spaces. Perceptions of safety was a significant concern expressed by Edmontonians during engagement, and 89 per cent indicated they were extremely or very concerned with visible drug use in public spaces. Enforcement officers will continue to collaborate with support agencies and promote referrals and connections as part of enforcement efforts.”

This excerpt from our Council report on the proposed bylaw reminds us that the Edmonton public does not want our LRT stations or other public spaces to serve as loosely sanctioned drop-in centres, akin to a social agency, but without ongoing support. They do not succumb to the notion that our LRT stations, public sidewalks or parks should serve as de facto semi-supervised drug use sites.

Public transit and city sidewalks are for mobility. They support transit users and pedestrians – to live their lives getting from where they are to where they need to be in a big city. People should not be required to navigate an obstacle course of unpredictability and harm. 

All this being said, many of my council colleagues and many community leaders in the social service sector are right to point out the risks of “further criminalizing” people who are poor and suffering with addictions.

Punitive fines people can never pay cannot be the only stick in this situation. But we need a firm commitment to honour what a huge majority of Edmontonians are telling us. They are clearly saying that public spaces are for the safe use of the public and they are not for open drug use and complex social disorder. The Public Spaces Bylaw sets that expectation.

We can think bigger in Edmonton. We want public spaces to be safe.  We also want people to get help and to heal. We can do both of these things. We simply can’t throw up our hands and say that helping and healing people is too hard so therefore public spaces can’t be safe.

We need to do both. We can do both. Let’s not make it too complicated. 

I will provide an update on the other side of the council debate. In the meantime I am interested in addressing a couple of key issues.

  1. Is there an alternative to the use of fines?
  2. How can the City of Edmonton begin to align its support for vulnerable people with the Government of Alberta’s Recovery Oriented System of Care which, notwithstanding some public commentary, does provide a full spectrum approach including some support for sensibly located harm reduction services.
  3. And in the spirit of getting a clearer sense of how many people are languishing in or near homelessness, can the City of Edmonton, the Government of Alberta and Homeward Trust work together to inform decision makers of the actual scale of the challenge.
Timothy Cartmell


Honoured to be the City Councillor in Edmonton's Ward pihêsiwin. #yegcc #Wardpihêsiwin