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Alberta

Alberta justice minister demands answers from Edmonton on crime

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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Alberta’s justice minister says people in Edmonton are not being kept safe from violent crime, particularly on public transit, and he’s ordering Mayor Amarjeet Sohi to provide answers.

Tyler Shandro has told Sohi he’s invoking his ministerial powers under the province’s Police Act to demand a report within two weeks on what the city will do to arrest a spike in serious crime.

In a letter to Sohi made public Thursday, Shandro cited an increase in downtown crime as well as in aggressive encounters and drug use on light-rail rapid transit.

He pointed to the killings last week of two men in the Chinatown district downtown.

“As the minister of justice and solicitor general, I have a responsibility under the Police Act to ensure the people of Edmonton receive adequate and effective policing,” Shandro said in the letter.

“It is quite apparent that residents feel uncomfortable and unsafe in the downtown core, riding transit and traversing the transit centre corridors.

“In short, the people of Edmonton deserve better than what this city council is delivering.”

Sohi called the letter an overreach by the provincial government, but added that he is glad the provincial government is finally paying attention.

“I share the same concerns about the safety in our downtown, Chinatown and on the LRT that he highlighted in this letter,” Sohi said Thursday. “The social issues that are causing these safety issues are nothing new.

“The disorder and crime that we are seeing in our downtown is directly linked to the lack of provincial investments in ending houselessness, the mental-health crisis, the drug poisoning and addictions crisis.”

Shandro’s letter said the United Conservative government is doing its part to address core issues that can lead to crime, including spending millions of dollars to fight drug addiction and homelessness.

Shandro did not make himself available to media to answer questions.

There was no comment from the Edmonton Police Service. Chief Dale McFee was to attend a city council meeting Friday.

Edmonton city councillors are currently debating whether to set this year’s police budget at $385 million, which would be a drop of $22 million if police could not secure extra funds from declining photo radar revenues.

Shandro said earlier this week he would be concerned if Edmonton’s police budget were to be cut.

The police budget has not been cut, said Sohi, who added that the city has invested more in transit officers, community action teams and in safety-related projects in affected areas.

“Council is investing in many issues that are the responsibility of the province and, frankly, they are falling short,” he said.

“The pandemic has brought to light so many social issues that are not being properly addressed or adequately funded.”

Sohi said he looks forward to meeting with the minister next week to outline his concerns and explain how the city is doing its part.

Irfan Sabir, justice critic for the Opposition NDP, said violent crime in Alberta’s capital is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. But, he added, the UCP government is choosing to off-load complex problems and pick fights instead of collaborating.

“People in Edmonton want a plan in place (so) they can be assured that they are safe in their homes and their communities. But in this instance, the minister is just passing the buck,” said Sabir.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

— with files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary

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Alberta

Two deputy chief medical officers resign from their positions with Alberta Health

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Edmonton – Alberta’s two deputy chief medical officers of health are leaving their roles — less than a month after Dr. Deena Hinshaw was removed as the province’s top doctor.

Health Minister Jason Copping confirmed during question period Wednesday that both of the doctors have submitted letters of resignation.

“They are still continuing to work at this point in time,” he said in the legislature. “We are in the process of actually looking to fill those roles.”

A statement from Alberta Health said Dr. Rosana Salvaterra and Dr. Jing Hu, who are listed as public health physicians on the department’s website, have given notice.

When reached by her department email, Salvaterra responded: “Unfortunately, we are not able to comment.”

She later added that she respects and admires both Dr. Hinshaw and Dr. Hu.

“They are brilliant, hard-working, and compassionate public health physicians and I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside them for these past 14 months.”

Salvaterra, who has extensive public health experience including as the medical officer of health for Peterborough, Ont., joined the office in October 2021.

Her career in public health includes work in “the COVID-19 response, mental health, the opioid response, women’s health, poverty reduction, health equity, community food security and building stronger relationships with First Nations.”

Hu’s out-of-office message said her “last day at work with Alberta Health was Nov. 18, 2022,” and noted she wouldn’t have access to the department email after that date.

She got extensive training in China and at the University of Calgary before joining the health department in January 2020.

Their resignations came within a month of Hinshaw, who became the face of Alberta’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, being removed from her position.

Hinshaw was replaced by Dr. Mark Joffe, a senior executive member of Alberta Health Services, on an interim basis.

“Dr. Joffe will be supported by medical officers of health within AHS, by other staff in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and by the Public Health Division,” said the statement from Alberta Health late Wednesday.

“We expect these changes to have no impact on the department’s and Dr. Joffe’s ability to meet the requirements of the Public Health Act.”

Hinshaw’s dismissal didn’t come as a surprise.

Premier Danielle Smith announced on her first day in office in October that she would be replaced.

Smith has made it clear that she blames both Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services for failing to deliver the best advice and care for Albertans as the hospital system came close to buckling in successive waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of the bad decisions were made by Alberta Health Services on the basis of bad advice from the chief medical officer of health,” Smith told reporters on Oct. 22.

Smith has not placed the blame on front-line doctors and nurses but broadly on AHS senior management. Joffe, while serving as chief medical officer of health, retains his role in AHS senior management as a vice-president responsible for areas in cancer and clinical care.

Hinshaw, an Alberta-trained public health specialist, became a celebrity of sorts in the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, as she delivered regular, sometimes daily, updates to Albertans on the virus, its spread and methods to contain it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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Alberta

Alberta introduces bill for $2.8 billion in inflation-fighting payouts, rollbacks

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Edmonton – The Alberta government has introduced legislation to implement inflation-fighting rebates and payouts announced recently by Premier Danielle Smith.

Affordability Minister Matt Jones says the changes allow for help for families, seniors and the vulnerable soon.

Middle- to lower-income families, those with a household income of less than $180,000 a year, are to get $600 over six months for each child under 18 years of age.

The same income threshold and benefit applies to seniors, and the payout will also go to those on disability supports.

There will be electricity rebates and the 13 per cent provincial tax on gasoline is suspended from January to June.

The total cost of the package is pegged at $2.8 billion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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