Sex assaults, social media focus of Halifax roundtable on violence

A new report on violence in Halifax is recommending a series of changes to help deal with the problem.

A new report on violence in Halifax is recommending a series of changes to help deal with the problem.

The report is an update on a Mayor's Roundtable on Violence that was commissioned after several major incidents, including the killing of an American sailor in downtown Halifax and a series of random swarmings.

In the new report, which is being presented to Halifax council next week, the authors say things have changed since the original roundtable in 2006-2008. They say new problems such as targeted shootings, bullying, sexual assaults and the "explosive" impact of social media are emerging and have to be dealt with.

The report authors acknowledge that there has been a significant decline in violent crime since the original report. They attribute the drop to an aging population, improved policing and enhanced security including more closed-circuit televisions that can record and sometimes discourage violent outbreaks.

However, they say that "gendered violence," such as sexual assault, appears to be bucking the downward trend. The report recommends the city renew its efforts to combat alcohol abuse, which it identifies as a major cause of sexual assault.

Need to better understand young people

The report also says Halifax has to do more with social media to keep tabs on the sexual knowledge, values and behaviour of young people.

The report warns that the city needs to be prepared for whatever changes Ottawa implements concerning prostitution. The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the existing laws and given the federal government a year to respond.

The city is being asked to bring in outside consultants to improve transportation in the downtown entertainment district, the scene of many after-hours assaults.

The report recommends working with the province and private interests to review the rules governing alcohol consumption, including the hours bars are allowed to stay open.

Changes to Public Safety Officer

The report says the Public Safety Officer — a position created in 2009 as a result of the original roundtable — should be taken out of Halifax Regional Police and made part of the general city administration. It says that would make the office better able to respond to problem areas.

The report says with a provincial jail and a number of halfway houses within city limits, more needs to be done to help prepare inmates to reintegrate into society, so they're less likely to return to their criminal ways when they're released.

One recommendation calls for Halifax to lobby the province to establish a drug court in the city, to help better deal with those whose violent behaviour is fuelled by their drug habit.

Other recommendations include a summit on gun violence, a better focus for the newly-established office of African Nova Scotian Affairs, and better access to housing for low income people.