Council seeks plan to turn Edmonton into Canada's safest city

“Edmonton is the safest city in Canada” — that’s how the headline might read in 2030 if city council succeeds in turning the ranking around dramatically in 10 years.

Edmonton's been called Stabmonton, Deadmonton, worst city for women to live

Edmonton's crime severity index is consistently among the highest in the country. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

"Edmonton is the safest city in Canada" — that's how the headline might read in 2030 if city council successfully turns the city's ranking around dramatically in 10 years.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton proposed the lofty goal at the end of a lengthy debate on policing last Monday, which council unanimously supported.

It would be quite the opposite of the current reality and reputation. 

"For most of my life — and I would wager most of the rest of council lives — Edmonton has held the dubious title of one of the most unsafe cities in Canada," Hamilton said. "Ten years ago, we had the name Stabmonton and our city routinely ranks high on the crime severity index." 

Hamilton's motion directs administration to review the goals for a future, healthy city as outlined in the strategy called ConnectEdmonton.

Council agreed Edmonton needs to drop in the ranking of Statistics Canada's crime severity index. 

In 2018, Edmonton's CSI was 115, compared to Calgary's 88, Vancouver's 84 and Toronto's 54. 

Among Canadian cities, only Regina at 126 and Winnipeg at 119 were worse than Edmonton that year. 

The crime severity index includes all Criminal Code violations including traffic and drug violations and Federal Statutes, according to Statistics Canada. 

Hamilton listed the numerous areas the city invests in safety-related efforts, such as the plan to end homelessness, countering violent extremism, segregated bike lanes, Vision Zero for traffic, and pedestrian safety and mental health initiatives.

"By putting a target date on it and setting it out plainly that we're going to be at the top of that list by that point, we're validating the investments that we have already made," Hamilton said. 

Worst city for women

Other studies assessing the overall quality of life in Canadian cities also put Edmonton at the bottom. 

In 2014, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives ranked Edmonton the worst city in Canada to be a woman. 

In its 2019 study, the CCPA placed Edmonton second last among 26 cities, one step above Barrie, ON.

Last year, Kingston, St. John's and Victoria were the top three best places in Canada to live as a woman, the CCPA found.

The study includes safety but also factors in economic security, the number of women in management positions and non-traditional careers — categories in which Edmonton ranks quite low. 

The author of that report and senior researcher at the CCPA, Katherine Scott, said Edmonton hovers around the middle of the 26 cities in relation to general safety. 

Hamilton's initiative is a positive step, Scott told CBC News in a phone interview Friday. 

"Change doesn't come unless we identify problems and set goals and you measure your progress," Scott said.  

Scott said the timing is appropriate, as municipalities "rethink" their approach to security and policing, and lean toward community development and education. 

"A good piece of the answer lies in community resourcing, tackling issues of economic security, ensuring affordable and safe housing," she said. "These are all key pieces to creating a much safer community." 
Councillors Jon Dziadyk, Scott McKeen and Sarah Hamilton at a council meeting in 2018. (CBC)

Coun. Bev Esslinger said awareness about safety for women has increased over the past few years, with movements like MeToo driving more conversation. 

"This is something that's not going to get solved by any one group or any one organization," she said Friday. "It won't be resolved until the community comes together to do it." 

Esslinger said the city has taken steps, involving a variety of groups over the past few years. 

For example, the city hosted the United Nations Women's Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces in Oct. 2018, she noted.

Esslinger acknowledged it takes time to change behaviour, but that every measure will add up. 

"You need a goal and then you need to have specific actions to get to where you want to go," Esslinger said. "And what are the outcomes that you're going to know you get there?"

The motion is aimed at safety for everyone, including seniors, LGBTQ people, BIPOC, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, Hamilton added.

"Having a safe city is closely tied to having a just city, and having a safe and just city will in turn be a healthy city."

The motion directs administration to report back in November with specific metrics or targets to improve safety in Edmonton.