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Dear City Council: Save the world by starting with Calgary

Contributed by former Calgary city councillor and mayoral contender, Jeromy Farkas.

Machetes. Bear spray. Firearms. Fentanyl. Prostitution. Extortion. Harassment. Violence. Blood.

Or in other words, just another day on Calgary Transit.

We’ve heard it all before. Yes, public safety is a complex social problem. Yes, there is no one easy solution. Yes, we need partnerships from all levels of government.

Yes, we must reduce the causes of addiction. Yes, we must strive to solve the crime before it happens, instead of solely trying to punish the damage long after it’s been done.

And yes, our city is not alone in the rising tide of violence seen throughout North America. But there are things we can do here and now to either make the situation better — or worse — for ourselves.

More reading: Further security boost coming to Calgary Transit

Calgarians are growing exhausted with the debate between ideological extremes or finger-pointing between various levels of government. Desperation has grown to the point that we don’t care what is done, so long as it works.

Council: the first meaningful step is to stop the “gaslighting” rhetoric that tries to undermine the genuine safety worries that Calgarians have. We do not all receive your $9,400/year car allowance and free, secured executive parking. And we know that you know that our concerns are legitimate, otherwise you would not have approved $120,000 for your own private home security systems.

Second, stop making the situation worse through shortsighted cuts to mental health and preventative programs. As a result of the City’s $550,000 funding cut to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) this year, many vital programs will be impacted or discontinued entirely, such as suicide bereavement, Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, grief and loss, and individual, closed group, and drop-in counselling.

(The Province increased its share of FCSS funding by five per cent in 2023.)

Third, lead with support and compassion and spend the needed political and financial capital necessary on enforcement. Our political and police leadership must demonstrate that public spaces are for public purposes. These places must remain safe for those of us who are using them for their legitimate purposes. Give up on no one. Hold criminals and thugs accountable AND extend care and recovery to those who are at a place to do so.

Enforcement requires support

To the Calgary Police Service: Despite the physical, verbal, and political abuse you’ve endured, the vast majority of Calgarians are proud of you. We want you to be accountable and to provide you with the tools you need to succeed. Yours is a rare calling of service and we bear grateful witness to your brothers and sisters paying in blood.

Yes, enforcement requires people and money. Focusing here may mean tax increases or delaying other priorities. This may prove unpopular, but I suspect most of us would support you delaying out-of-province lawsuits, plastic straw bans, or official bird debates until safety on our streets and transit is improved.

Mayor Gondek, please reconsider your opposition to the city’s mental health and addictions strategy. I know that you feel justified in voting against it in 2018. But know that many more will support you than criticize you if you change your mind and recognize its value in 2023.  

We respect your tenacity. You are a serious person who sets big goals. Otherwise, you would not have declared a climate emergency and committed Calgary to help save the world through an $87-billion cumulative investment by 2050.

Reallocate just 1% – one cent on the dollar – of your climate commitment to crime prevention, public safety, and work related to mental health and addiction. The result would fund a surge of 750 new addiction specialists, mental health nurses, transit peace officers, and community police for at least ten years. An additional 0.01% would fund the CMHA’s work mentioned previously for 15 years.

Provincial parties vying for votes would have no choice but to get involved, and up the ante.

Madam mayor, Calgary put its faith in you. We will support you in making our city safer. Please meet the moment and get back to the basics of what Calgarians expect from their municipal government: public safety.

Immediate protection and long-term prevention. Not either or. Both.

Save the world by starting with Calgary.

Jeromy (Pathfinder) Farkas is a former Calgary Police Commissioner and served as a City Councillor from 2017 to 2021.