Gondek stumbles, Smith rises to tackle inner city crime

During a public safety press conference Tuesday, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek walked away from the podium after a journalist asked her to clarify her support for defunding the police amid several violent stabbings that have residents concerned for their safety.

Gondek stumbles, Smith rises to tackle inner city crime
The Canadian Press / Jeff McIntosh
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Counter Signal reporter Keean Bexte questioned Gondek over her past commitments to defunding the police after the stabbing of two women in downtown Calgary last week, prompting the mayor to announce a new action plan for LRT safety.

In 2021, Gondek, then-councillor for Calgary's Ward 3, and eight of her colleagues on city council voted to remove $20 million from the Calgary Police Service budget.

"Just a handful of months ago, you were fighting tooth and nail against increasing the police budget and actively supporting and defunding the police rhetoric. I'm just wondering when you realized that police forces were not optional. Did it take the random stabbings and police officers getting killed to realize it was important to fund police departments?" asked Bexte. 

"How can Calgarians trust you when you flip-flop on basic issues like public safety?" Gondek disregarded his question and walked away from the podium.

In a March 30 news conference before city hall, Gondek announced Calgary Transit would double the amount of security present at its stations, making it clear to city administrators that she expects immediate action and resources deployed to address LRT safety concerns.

"As a municipal government, we must provide better transit safety for all Calgarians. We cannot wait for the next tragedy to occur before something more is done," she said in a Wednesday statement. 

As part of the pledge, CTrain stations will also have overnight patrols boosted. Pairs of Calgary Police Service and community peace officers will be present seven nights a week. 

"Transit is an essential service at the core of any major city, and people should not have to think twice before using it," said Gondek, who spoke alongside Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. "It will take all orders of government and partners together to make real and meaningful improvement." 

On Tuesday, Smith announced that the provincial government would be directing officials to hire 100 more street-level police officers over the next 18 months to protect the front lines of Edmonton and Calgary from rising criminal activity.

On Thursday, Smith addressed her concerns in a video posted to social media, prefacing that providing public safety "is the most fundamental responsibility of government."

"We've seen what's happened across North America, in cities like Chicago and Portland, with rampant open-drug use, out-of-control violence, and tent cities taking over and destroying entire communities. But now, we're seeing it in Edmonton and Calgary," said Smith. 

"Almost every day, we hear about [fatal] overdoses, stabbings in transit stations, and a growing number of gangs and drugs filling our streets. Enough is enough."

On Wednesday, Calgary police arrested a woman in connection with a stabbing at the Lions Park Station after an altercation ensued Tuesday evening between several people.

Officers arrived on the scene around 8 p.m., discovering two women suffering from apparent stab wounds and a third woman injured. They charged the assailant, Brittany Jewel Mahingen, 31, with one count of aggravated assault and three counts of failure to comply with a court order concerning the altercation.

"Public spaces need to be safe for the public, and this type of violent behaviour will not be tolerated," said Calgary police Spt. Cliff O'Brien, adding that Mahingen will appear in court on Friday. 

In an interview with the Western Standard, the advocacy group Common Sense Calgary (CSC) called on the city to declare a transit emergency on March 15 after another stabbing at Fourth Street Station. 

"At bus stops, on buses, at train stations, and on trains, it seems like we now hear about some new horrific incident every day, including a man shot with a flare gun during a brawl involving knives and pipes; an elderly visually impaired man slashed in the neck on a train; a young woman attacked with a hatchet; and four people attacked with a machete," they said. 

"And that's just the stuff that makes the news."

"I won't watch Calgary turn into Seattle or Edmonton become Vancouver's downtown eastside. It's not happening. This is Alberta — we will have safe and secure communities. Our transit systems and downtown business districts will be safe, full stop," added Smith.

"We're calling on the NDP-Liberal coalition in Ottawa to end their catch-and-release bail system that's directly resulted in dozens of homicides and a proliferation of other violent crimes," she said, recalling the provincial NDP once hammered away to defund the police in Alberta.

"Where has that gotten us now?" posed the premier. "We need to invest and fund our police."

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