April 14th, 2024

City solicitor to examine Downtown Lawlessness Task Force terms of reference


By Lethbridge Herald on February 22, 2024.

Questions about potential conflicts of interest involving two members of the Downtown Lawlessness Task Force has prompted the SPC to direct the City Solicitor to review that body’s terms of reference. A Lethbridge Police Service cruiser drives down 4 Avenue recently. Herald file photo by Al Beeber

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Questions about potential conflicts of interest involving two members of the Downtown Lawlessness Task Force prompted the Governance Standing Policy Committee of city council on Thursday to direct the City Solicitor to review that body’s terms of reference.

A motion approved 3-1 by the SPC calls for solicitor Brian Loewen to review the terms of reference, the provincial legislation impact on Bylaw 6250 – Procedure Bylaw regarding provincial appointees to council’s boards, commissions and committees as well as the procedure bylaw and its provisions “as they relate to the task force and its composition and membership and any other relevant issues and legislation that may be involved and that may arise therefrom” and report back to the Governance SPC on March 28.

After the meeting mayor Blaine Hyggen expressed frustration with the situation.

The task force is trying to address issues in the downtown, he said, and it’s getting great work done, collaborating with partners including the police, fire department the City and the Downtown BRZ.

“And then today it kind of comes to a pause because those that want to stop the good work that’s being done don’t want to be part of the solution but want to remain part of the problem by sitting behind a keyboard and complaining about the great work that’s being done by this committee. That’s the biggest frustration because it’s going to take forever to try to get anything done because of those who are creating roadblocks,” added the mayor.

Hyggen said individuals have been asked to sit on the task force and their invitation refused.

“But they have no problem complaining behind the scenes and it creates issues of trying to create a safe community when we have those who aren’t supportive of the great work being done, especially by this committee.”

Hyggen said trying to get people to sit on boards is difficult. And because of the verbal abuse task force members have to endure, they may be lost.

“It’s already tough to find people to sit on committees and yet the ones that volunteer their times to sit on the committees get ridiculed by the ones that want to sit on their keyboards and complain. And we’re going to end up losing the good volunteers that we have because of that,” said the mayor.

Two members of the public, Yale Belanger and Steven Graham, expressed concerns to the SPC about the terms of reference of the task force. Belanger said Hunter Heggie and Matthew McHugh have conflicts of interest because they are appointees to the both the police commission and the task force, in contravention of bylaws.

Councillor Rajko Dodic, a member of the SPC along with Belinda Crowson, Jenn Schmidt-Rempel and Acting Mayor John Middleton-Hope, told the SPC Belanger and Graham had points on the issues they presented and while he supported the creation of the task force, he wanted it to be properly constituted.

While Loewen is working on the SPC’s request, the task force will continue to operate although its only named members will be Middleton-Hope and mayor Blaine Hyggen. Hyggen said he isn’t sure what’s going to happen with the task force.

It was pointed out during discussion that the task force – a sub-committee of the Safety and Social SPC – has no authority to direct staff to take any action but rather can only make recommendations to the SPC.

Schmidt-Rempel brought up concerns about other potential conflicts of members including several who serve both on the task force and the board of the Downtown Business Revitalization Zone. 

They include Kendal Hachkowski, Sheri Kain and Heggie – who is chair of the lawlessness task force.

Dodic, in support of the motion, thanked the presenters.

“Process sometimes can be very boring and difficult to understand but the legalities that were pointed out resonated with me,” Dodic said.

“The presenters made it very clear what their concerns were and bearing in mind that I was a supporter of this task force, I do have some interest in ensuring that we follow the law and ensure it is properly constituted and that it is in line with provincial legislation, our procedural bylaw and if it isn’t, then we will, I’m hoping, we receive from the city solicitor recommendations as to how it can be done to ensure that everything is lawful.

“And if the conclusion is to the contrary, then how we can actually do the task force in a legal fashion which may potentially involve not having certain members on it if in fact the composition is something you just can’t work around. So the purpose of this is to get the city solicitor to work on it” and give the SPC advice on what the appropriate course of action is, bearing in mind what was brought up by the presenters and the other issues brought up by Schmidt-Rempel.

Schmidt-Rempel said the presenters were correct in that “we need to be more vigilant to our adherence to the bylaws and acts that we’re governed by.”

Crowson said she couldn’t support the resolution, noting she hasn’t supported the task force from the start for various reasons.

She said she has concern that she sees a lot of City staff in attendance at the task force meetings and “we must be very careful to make sure they’re not being given any direction. They’re only under the operational guidance of the City Manager, they’re not under an SPC or a sub-committee so I want to make sure we’re careful on that.

“I believe there are other ways to achieve; the police commission could be talking about these conversations, it could be held in other places. Task force members could be attending police commission public meetings, having these conversations with them,” she added.

Middleton-Hope supported the resolution saying Dodic made a compelling argument.

“I am provided some important information. I think any time of circumspection at any time is worthwhile.”

He said the task force “is an action-oriented committee, this is a group of individuals who are highly skilled, who are working on some incredibly complex problems in this city. I certainly look forward to any type of information, resources or even support from any member of the public in regards to the work that we’re doing. We’re trying to get the city back under control, we’re trying to get the downtown core cleaned up and we’re trying to deal with lawless behaviour that’s occurring and so anything that can be brought forward in terms of providing support to that I certainly am in support of it.”

In an interview with The Herald after the meeting, Middleton-Hope added, “It is frustrating that some pseudo intellectuals merely point fingers and assign blame but lack the experience and expertise of professionals dedicated to making this city a better place.  The DTLR Task Force is committed to working collaboratively to help solve the many challenges we face in this city.“

Belanger told the SPC the police commission website listed Heggie and McHugh as new members who also serve on the task force.

“Their serving as members of the task force and the police commission contravenes procedure bylaw 6250, section 48 (b) which states that public members may serve only on one board, commission or committee at a time unless council determines that conditions warrant the appointment to more than one board, commission or committee so I’m asking the committee to reflect on their task force appointments,” Belanger said.

He said two arguments “will likely be raised” to explain why council is protected from barring Heggie and McHugh from serving on sub-government task force. One is that bylaw 6250 only applies to city council appointed members, not provincial government appointees and two, procedure bylaw 6250 language is opaque.”

He said the police commission is a statutory body created under the Alberta Police Act and the City of Lethbridge Bylaw 5969 to oversee the city police service. It’s “a creature of local government” as are its members “and thus bound by the city’s bylaw authority,” he added.

He said the task force seeks to identify solutions and assist in implementing strategies identified to create sustainable impact. This means, he said, “task force members will fashion their preferred intervention strategies after which the two members will promote an agenda of their own making to a police commission of which they’re also members. Two of the nine police commission members will form a fixed and influential voting block. It’s incumbent upon Mr. Heggie and Mr. McHugh, if they haven’t already done so, to declare this potential conflict of interest to the Lethbridge Police Commission so that it may be managed properly,” he added.

Graham said the SPC should acknowledge that the task force was not duly constituted and “that council, if it desires to pursue this course of action, should undertake appropriate consultation with administration, especially the solicitor, to create a task force in an appropriate manner.”

He added that any recommendations arising from the meeting not be part of a consent agenda but be fully debated in public at a council meeting.

He said if the task force was urgent it would have been introduced as an ad hoc committee, rather than a sub-committee “with a clearly defined purpose and a clearly finite lifespan.”

He noted it may not be truly urgent. 

“It is disappointing to me that it falls to citizens to make sure that council follows its own bylaws yet here we are,” Graham added, who said he believes the task force hasn’t been constituted appropriately under legislation and that council “has violated the code of conduct bylaw in the task force invocation and implementation.”

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R.U.Serious

It is really a sad day! The task force should be compelling, effective, and to address the needs of those downtown it requires those who are downtown and represent downtown business, which is who is on that task force .
Yet again political issues have become possibly the most important factor and it is straightforward to comprehend where/who this came from. The Chamber of Commerce never really stood up for downtown business when the SCS devastatingly affected business. The NDP overlooked every one of us!
I was hopeful that this task force would make it possible for downtown to regain its former vibrant, tranquil, and enjoyable state. Maybe the time has come to move my business away from downtown. One should be extremely cautious who they vote in favor of in the next municipal election. We will always be unable to settle the issues downtown with these fomenters.

Dennis Bremner

I disagree with this conflict, in that sometimes conflicts of interest get things done. I think the Lawlessness committee was achieving some very good results. I am seeing the difference.
Doesn’t this, however, appear to be rather “woke”?

We turn a blind eye to those that use ILLEGAL drugs. We invite them into our society where we provide them with free food, shelter, street delivery of medical assistance 2-3 times a day, as many clothes as needed. We provide them all this on the taxpayer tab. They then go out and commit crimes upon society and the very same taxpayer giving them their life sustaining needs! Any attempt to stop this cycle we invoke ” the law/bylaw”, when “the law/bylaw” could have prevented the need for the committee, in the first place?

Meanwhile we are continually told that the same group who violates the law should be treated with dignity and respect! Nawww this isn’t woke at all. it must be me!

Last edited 1 month ago by Dennis Bremner
ewingbt

I have lived downtown for over 15 years and have been personally impacted by the issues downtown several times, financially and physically and support the task force and the current assigned people to it.
Crowson, who sat on the Police Commission and opposes the task force and often comments in various meetings that certain matters are under the police commission’s pervue. Well, are you not aware of the issues downtown? Why didn’t the police commission deal with the issues so we didn’t need a task force?
Many of us downtown who live downtown, work downtown, walk downtwon, and do business downtown were excited that finally something might be done to resolve the lawlessness in the area but once again the same people who dumped the SCS on us and fought us all when we tried to close it down, are now preventing us from seeing our downtown cleaned up!
Belanger and Graham have zero assets or interests downtown, they haven’t had their businesses damaged, losses in revenues due to the issues, been assaulted, or had to spend thousands of dollars on securing their properties.
The matter whether the downtown issues are ‘urgent’ to allow such a task force causes me to ask, if it were your property suffering or you getting assaulted, would it be urgent?
The Police Commission and LPS have gone through a tough few years and have made some effective changes to the force and worked hard for this city and this task force doesn’t not have any power, but what it would do is bring the concerns of those who had endured several years of agony from the crisis to express the issues so those issues could finally be dealt with! The previous Council cut the police budget by over $1million at a time when they were understaffed and Lethbridge had the highest crimes stats on the Canadian Crime Severity Index . . . Crowson supported that action!
Crowson also was adamant that the SCS stayed in operation and if we followed Belanger’s great ideas he has blogged, tweeted or spewed in other platforms we would look like Vancouver DTES right now!
It is one thing to speak and share ideas at SACPA, the mostly NDP brotherhood, but to attack a task force that is looking out for the interests of the downtown, which has been devastated by this drug crisis and failed harm reduction policies is unacceptable.
Downtown has double the crime as other areas and double the fires and something needs to be done!
I am frustrated! We already have a bylaw in place that could be enforced: Public Places bylaw 6280
https://www.lethbridge.ca/media/5qtnl4xj/bylaw-6280-public-places-bylaw.pdf
We want our city back! I want to be able to go to events once again at Galt Gardens, events that have moved to other venues. Presently, after walking through it daily, it is a cesspool! Where do you think all those people are going to the bathroom at night?

SophieR

Of course some of the commenters above are dismayed: they wanted to create a posse that would act on their draconian views, despite the law or even human decency.

Say What . . .

And in those last days woe to those who call evil good and good evil.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Business owners and residents have the right to be protected and live in a peaceful environment! Nothing draconian about it!
Hard for someone to understand this when they live on AISH and do not own property in the downtown!

biff

do you not have a quote that underscores the religious value to a good posse?

Lethson

The composition of downtown issues task forces created by the city is remarkably devoid of representatives from all sides of the issues. A policing task force will suggest nothing more than more policing. An approach that has failed to work and will continue to fail. Until root issues are addressed, nothing will change.

Dennis Bremner

I am not a fan of policing either, however, nothing else works because we have no interest in solving the problem, just cater to it!.
I am more than willing to support a new approach, but it cannot be at the cost of others. The same group that believes you must “wash their feet” seem to think the quote from the ” ammended on the fly- good book” insists it must be in the cities downtown, in fact they demand it!
The same people also insist that personal responsibility is not part of any equation and society must “serve” these people as if its societies fault!.
Why it cannot be done outside of the city limits of ALL Cities I have no idea. It really does not matter what color, what nationality, race or religion you are. If you intend on using drugs, then society will help, but NOT at the cost to others. Why is that so hard to understand?
There is a willingness to provide everything possible to the addict to keep him/her alive and absolutely ZERO acknowledgement that it kills a society, home owners, business owners. Its a too bad for you attitude, so until that attitude changes, few will relent to the Religious Nutbars who think free tickets will be handed out to the pearly gates and to HELL with anyone else including the society that they are destroying!
If Canada’s policy was to set up treatment and housing outside the city and addicts had to travel into that city to steal from residents and businesses how long do you think it would take to solve that problem? You will no doubt think this is unrealistic, yet assume from an observer point of view, the right approach is to destory the internal workings of the city that caters to them as being “realistic”? Or would you?
So there is really NO interest in solving the problem but catering to it for the rest of everyone’s life and the next gen, next get etc etc.
How do I know? Pretty simple we created the problem by installing them in the city, then create a Lawlessness committee as if we are totally mystified why we are having the problem!
Things will get worse and that is an absolute guarantee. Why? Spin- we spin new ideas that do not address the problem, even though we know what the problem is.

Last edited 1 month ago by Dennis Bremner


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