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Battling Calgary gun violence needs multi-faceted approach: Coun. Chahal

Calgary city councillor George Chahal knows it’s a massive, concerted effort on the part of many different organizations to get a handle on Calgary gun violence.

But he said the effort must start somewhere.

On Thursday, Chahal, who represents Ward 5, along with federal Liberal candidate Kent Hehr and Dr. Josh Ng-Kamstra from Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, called for all levels of government to come together to act.

Chahal pointed to statistics that show 63 shootings in Calgary so far in 2019. Chahal said District 5, which covers a large part of his ward, had 25 of those shootings (39 per cent).

In late July, Chahal hosted a town hall meeting to talk about the gun violence in the city’s northeast. There, members from both city school boards, the Calgary Police Service, Youth Link Calgary and the province took part.

Townhall Qa Final by Darren Krause on Scribd

“A lot of agencies, a lot of people, it’s going to take a lot of collaboration, but somebody’s got to start it,” Chahal told LiveWire Calgary.

He’s looking at crafting a notice of motion to come to city council in the future, that captures the spirit of this cooperation and the breadth of the issue. Chahal said it needs to include gun control, criminal code changes, community building, policing and education.

Addressing community issues are critical

While there are obvious federal jurisdictions involved, Chahal said there’s more we can do in our own backyard to help.

He did talk about both municipal jurisdiction over gun control and firmer sentences for repeat offenders – those were two things that came up on the federal election trail Friday, from the Liberals and Conservatives, respectively.

Chahal said, however, that decisions made locally have a huge impact on who accesses those weapons in the future. Community investment in recreation and other activities is vital if we want to keep young people off the streets and out of gang.

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“It is a lack of political decision. So lack of investment, lack of infrastructure,” he said.

“A prime example is Nelson Mandela, a brand-new high school in my ward, which is overcapacity within three years of it being open. They built this high school without a gym.

“And then, a few years after the school is open, they decide to build a gym at a higher cost than what it would have cost when they originally built it.”

Chahal also said in the northeast, east of Deerfoot Trail, they have none of the 78 Class A or B athletic fields.

“These are the same areas where we’ve seen 39 per cent of those shootings occur in the same area,” he said.

“I mean, we can talk about public transit, we can talk about recreation, but we got to find more opportunities for kids to be able to get involved in more activities, and also that families can afford to do so.”

Budget challenges and funding for the Calgary Police Service

The Calgary Police Service (CPS) partners in the Youth At Risk Development (YARD) Program. Its goal is to provide community-based, early intervention to support youth 10-17 at risk of gang involvement.

Chahal said the city’s got to be cautious about the cuts it makes to future budgets so they don’t suffer unintended consequences down the road. CPS was asked to shave $7 million from their 2019 budget as the city tried to find $60 million in overall budget savings.

He said the city has to drill down to its core priorities.

“I mean, there’s a risk, and that’s the unintended consequences of making those cuts, and impacting the service in that manner,” Chahal said.

“Then that’s something we have to consider when we go through that budgetary process.”

Timeline for action on Calgary gun violence

Chahal said he’ll continue to meet with stakeholders, similar to his July town hall on Calgary gun violence. The federal election result will also impact any future action.

The province needs to be on board, as do community organizations, community associations, schools and the Calgary police.

It could take a several weeks to work through all the potential roadblocks in moving this forward, Chahal said. Therefore, a notice of motion may not come to council for some time.

He wanted to make sure this issue of gun violence stayed front and centre in Calgary.

“I think in Calgary, we have an opportunity to tackle this issue head on, find a way to address the issues are we’re having to ensure that this doesn’t get worse moving forward, but we actually combat it and make sure as your city grows, and we are actually seeing less and less of this moving forward,” Chahal said.