Public safety minister pitches programs, answers questions

Alberta’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, Mike Ellis, speaks to a crowd in Slave Lake April 18.

Joe McWilliams
For South Peace News

Mike Ellis, Alberta’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, was in Slave Lake April 18, for a town hall discussion with a crowd of mostly municipal representatives. They came away with some info about new treatment programs for addicts in the cities, but little in the way of answers to their local and regional concerns about lack of resources.

In fact, most of the questions that arose were from municipal reps from the Peace River region.

There seems to be a big concern there about too few policemen, too many prisoners released from the nearby prison with nothing to help them make the transition, and little or no help.

“We have tent cities!” said Carolyn Kolebaba, councillor of Northern Sunrise County.

If there’s going to be a treatment centre in the northwest, she added, “I would like it to be in Peace River, not in Grande Prairie.”

Gaylene Whitehead, a Northern Sunrise councillor, echoed that sentiment.

“We need treatment centres for our people up north,” she said.

Slave Lake Mayor Francesca Ward asked what the Province can do to help with Slave Lake’s homelessness situation. Ellis made no promises, but indicated his staff should take note of the concern.

Ellis started off his presentation by saying no decision has been made by the Province about replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force.

“We’re going to continue to consult and to consider all options,” he said.

Ellis said the federal government is indicating they “want to move away from contract policing” after the current agreement runs out in 2032. Given that, Alberta isn’t the only province contemplating alternatives. It would be negligent not to review the situation, he said.

Ellis also said it’s not so much about the Province wanting to get rid of the RCMP, but about “empowerment of municipalities.” The Province is making money available for towns and cities to study the options for policing. You know best, he said; not us.

None of that appeared to impress the municipal reps much. It certainly didn’t cut any ice with Jeff McGowan, a former Slave Lake RCMP officer who attended the meeting on behalf of the National Police Federation (NPF). He says small communities aren’t helped by anything the Province is proposing. If extra bodies in uniforms is what’s needed, hire more RCMP officers, he
says.

“It is a far simpler thing to request and add RCMP officers as the Provincial Policing Agreement under Article 5.0 provides the mechanism to do so; adding sheriffs and increasing their training is a less efficient way to add police.”

Ellis talked a lot about the Province’s plan to beef up the sheriff program. They will be getting extra training, he said, and be able to respond to calls.

McGowan isn’t against everything the minister proposed. Ellis’s ideas about social programs and improvements to the justice system (‘catch and release,’ etc.) “is definitely the way to go,” McGowan says, “and is something we’ve been saying (as well as pretty much all police officers) for a long time.”

But on the federal government position on contract policing, McGown says Ellis misrepresented the facts. According to a Calgary Herald editorial by the NPF’s Brian Sauvé, the feds “have not stated an intention to end contract policing in Canada.” What they have done is express a commitment to consult with communities, Sauvé asserts.

What they may also be hoping for is a way of paying less of the bill. At the moment, for Slave Lake, that amounts to about 30 per cent of the cost of the RCMP. That would, of course, disappear if the RCMP were punted in favour of a provincial force.

McGowan also takes exception to Ellis’s assertion that British Columbia is taking a hard look at replacing the RCMP, and calls it “mischaracterization.” In fact, the B.C. government recently earmarked $230 million for 256 new RCMP officers.

Ward says the town hall contained some good information, but not enough for rural communities. For example, the Town has been asking the Province for help on homelessness and related issues for the past year or so, “and have yet to be provided with anything actionable.” She says she’s looking forward to following up with Ellis at a future conference.

M.D. of Lesser Slave River Reeve Murray Kerik wasn’t terribly impressed. He says he didn’t hear much he hadn’t already heard, and “it was more aimed at urban.”

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