Edmonton mayor pleads for 'immediate action' on bail reform after stabbing death at LRT station
Amarjeet Sohi's letter to federal justice minister follows Sunday killing of father of seven
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is pleading with federal Justice Minister David Lametti to take "immediate action" on bail reform after a father of seven was stabbed to death in a random attack at an LRT station.
"The system is failing Edmontonians and lives are being lost," Sohi wrote in a letter to Lametti dated Thursday.
"The challenges that Edmonton is facing requires a systemic response, and the reforms needed to the criminal justice system exist in a broader community safety and wellbeing ecosystem that needs to be strengthened."
Rukinisha Nkundabatware, 52, died from a stab wound to the chest late Sunday at the Belvedere LRT station on the city's north side. Police arrested Jamal Joshua Malik Wheeler, 27, and charged him with second-degree murder.
Court records show Wheeler has an extensive record with the justice system, including convictions for assault, forcible entry and robbery.
In his letter, Sohi tells Lametti that Wheeler has also been charged with three counts of breaching bail conditions.
"The alleged suspect was supposed to be under 24-hour house arrest but at the time of this horrific incident, he was unhoused and living rough on the streets in a tent not far from Belvedere Transit Centre," he said.
"I struggle to comprehend why someone who could be a risk to others was released into our city without a plan in place to ensure they would not reoffend."
Sohi said Nkundabatware's death should never have happened.
"I am devastated that another Edmonton family has to go through this unimaginable loss, and that seven children have to grow up without a father."
He said he and Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee "are in agreement that we need to take immediate action on bail reform and to reduce recidivism to make our city safer for all of us. This crisis requires policy and systemic change to fix a broken system."
Sohi pointed to other recent homicides, including the killings in May of a mother and child outside a Mill Woods elementary school, and the 2022 beating deaths of two men working at businesses in Chinatown.
In both cases the accused had long criminal histories and were known to police.
Sohi said the city is dealing with the drug-poisoning crisis and shortages of supportive housing and mental health and addictions services.
The Edmonton region also has a high concentration of correctional facilities and and remand centres, and one of the highest number of parolees per capita among Canada's major cities, Sohi said.
"Any amendments to bail reform must be accompanied by integrated supports for those whose release from remand or corrections is appropriate, to ensure they are able to reintegrate into society and contribute."
Sohi met Friday with Mike Ellis, Alberta's minister of public safety, to talk about how the city and the province can work together to reduce crime and improve public safety. At an unrelated news conference, Sohi said the meeting was productive.
He said the increase in severity of violent crimes, especially unprovoked attacks, prompted him to write to Lametti.
Repeat, violent offenders should not be let out on bail "and if they are let out on bail they should there should be an integration plan in place that allows them to integrate back into the community," Sohi said.
"It's very important for the federal government to have more stringent requirements when people are released on bail, but at the same time having a very effective and workable plan in place that will help integrate people back in to society," he said.
The federal government has proposed changes that would make it more difficult for people accused of certain crimes to be released on bail.
In a statement Friday, Lametti said he is doing everything he can to ensure Bill C-48 is passed when the House of Commons returns in September.
Paul Moreau, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association, said there are problems with the bail system, but changing the law won't fix them. He said probation officers are "way overstretched" and need to be better funded to make sure people are complying with their bail conditions.
"The problem is in the supports that are offered or not offered to people who are released on bail," Moreau said.
Ellis said the province is building therapeutic living units at correctional facilities, creating more shelter spaces and looking to run more long-term residential addiction treatment programs.
"It takes a bit of time and trust me, we are really going as fast as we can," he said.