By Lethbridge Herald on October 18, 2023.
Lethbridge city council Tuesday unanimously approved an official business motion presented by Mayor Blaine Hyggen and Acting Mayor John Middleton-Hope calling for the creation of a task force to look into lawlessness, primarily downtown.
The two want council to approve a motion that directs City administration to engage with the BRZ on a task force that will perform several functions.
Those include identifying the symptoms and depth of lawless behaviours and their impacts in Lethbridge.
The mandate of the task force will also include:
• Identify stakeholders to strategize on responses and resourcing requirements.
• Work collaboratively with stakeholders to identify solutions and assist in implementing strategies identified to create a sustainable impact.
• Develop a joint communication plan for this task force and its member stakeholders.
• Consider how any recommendations from the task force can support and/or integrate with existing encampment, shelter and housing strategies developed and being implemented by the City of Lethbridge.
The motion says because time is of the essence joint recommendations need to be prepared and presented to council at its meeting on Dec. 12.
Hyggen acknowledged the wording in the motion was strong – councillor Belinda Crowson suggested the word ‘lawlessness’ was hyberbole after expressing her support for it – but the mayor said it was needed because of the issues being experienced downtown.
Council was told the Downtown BRZ initiated discussions to address problems impacting businesses.
The motion stated “there continues to be high incidences of lawlessness in our city, lawlessness is defined as a state of disorder due to a disregard of the law, and these behaviours include criminal, uncontrolled and anti-social conduct that has a sustained, pervasive impact on communities, and whereas the Downtown BRZ has formally expressed deep concerns as to the observed lawlessness occurring in our downtown and its ongoing impacts.”
Hyggen told council after the motion was read by Deputy Mayor Mark Campbell that the strong wording was done purposely because “we’ve heard loud and clear from our downtown businesses that there are concerns that need to be dealt with…we have tough problems and we need tough solutions.”
Middleton-Hope noted “this resolution is strongly worded because tough problems call for tough solutions.
“Despite our best efforts to date on many fronts, downtown businesses continue to experience significant challenges due to the high incidence of lawless behaviours in and around the downtown core.”
He noted in May council approved a shelter development strategy to ensure land is available and zoned for shelter use to ensure there is adequate shelter capacity on any given night for the homelessness.
It also in May approved a co-ordinated encampment strategy with several goals including the most important being to support the most vulnerable by connecting them to housing and social supports, as well as to ensure parks and open spaces are safe and enjoyable for everyone, and to prevent encampments from becoming entrenched.
Middleton-Hope said despite the best efforts by the City “it is abundantly clear that more needs to be done. The Downtown BRZ has formally expressed a desire to work together with the City of Lethbridge on solutions that have a sustainable impact on lawless behaviours in our downtown core.”
Hyggen noted in closing that this is something council has heard time and again is of importance to the community “and I know we want to sugarcoat things, we want to make things look like there’s not the issues.
“We do have issues but we are doing a lot of work.”
He pointed out the efforts being made by City administration which has “taken a lot of the different concerns we’ve brought forward to them and went out and implement strategies to help alleviate some of these concerns that we’re seeing.”
He added there is more that can be done, noting a conversation he had in which people who left their vehicle overnight at a business and came back to find its windows smashed.
He said behaviours like this don’t just happen downtown but added efforts to clean up crime should start downtown.
“It’s something to start with; it doesn’t mean it’s going to be the end of it,” the mayor added.
Councillor Rajko Dodic called the resolution “the right wording, the right motion at the right time” during debate.