University of Alberta students call for more action over security incidents

Some U of A students say they have seen an increase in social disorder on campus in recent weeks and are calling on the school to take more steps to improve safety and security.

U of A incident log noted at least 225 security incidents in January

A shopping cart sits beside the University LRT station near U of A.
Students say social disorder has increased at the University of Alberta's north campus, especially near the University LRT station. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

University of Alberta students say they have seen an increase in social disorder on campus in recent weeks and some are calling on the school to take more steps to improve safety and security. 

Brittany Weston, who is an English and psychology undergraduate student, ran out of the University LRT station recently after she saw someone carrying a smoke bomb. She has also seen a man running through a university building screaming at the top of his lungs and found an unresponsive man, just outside the same LRT station.

"I called security, but I couldn't get through to them, so I ended up having to call 911 because he wasn't responsive and I couldn't tell if he was breathing," she told CBC News in an interview this week.

According to University of Alberta Protective Services' (UAPS) incident log, which is not exhaustive, there were 225 security incidents reported in January — an increase of 11 per cent since December. 

Weston said she has discussed the subject with friends, who have shared similar experiences — students are seeing more people experiencing homelessness in the school's north campus, entering classes, swearing, and even smoking in classrooms, she said.

Weston moved to a different neighbourhood to avoid taking the LRT and now takes longer routes while walking on campus to avoid areas where non-students congregate.

She said she'd like to see the university acknowledge the problem and add more security measures.

"There is a heightened security and safety issue, but to my knowledge, they haven't released anything or sent an email to people about it," she said.

Nichole Man, who is a theatre production student, said she has also struggled to reach campus security at night, when she often notices people who don't appear to be students sleeping in the Fine Arts Building.

"It's definitely getting worse," Man said, who sometimes tries to leave the building with friends because she feels scared to be alone.

Increase in security incidents

In an emailed statement, University of Alberta spokesperson Michael Brown said over the last few months, security incidents have increased at a couple central locations, including HUB Mall and the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy.

Brown said some of the increase can be attributed to the cold weather, but he also pointed to city-wide trends related to homelessness, mental health and substance use. 

He said generally, the university has not increased spending on security, but the school has a number of programs to keep community members safe. These include a safety and security committee, partnerships with city vibrancy groups, a community assistance team and an Edmonton Police Service liaison constable.

People enter and leave Hub Mall.
Hub Mall is one of the locations that has seen a rise in security incidents in recent months. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Brown said safety enhancements are a strategic priority and the school increases peace officer patrols in areas with more incidents.

Deterrent program

Some university staff posted on social media about receiving an email on Monday from the school's facilities and operations team about a UAPS community outreach and deterrent program starting this week.

The staff email said UAPS would be setting up a table with a banner and pamphlets to "further discuss and bring forward methods to deter unwanted individuals."

"Optics of UAPS uniformed officers' presence will hopefully reduce and/or send an appropriate message to campus visitors (affiliated and non-affiliated) and provide help to anyone who may wish to access support," the email said.

James Allen, asset management and operations and chair with the university, apologized for how the situation was communicated.

"The university sincerely regrets and apologizes for some of the language used to communicate this program to some of our staff," Allen said in a statement. "It was not reflective of the team's commitment to treating all persons who attend our campuses with dignity and respect." 

Christian Fotang, vice president of external affairs for the University of Alberta Students' Union, said he and his colleagues encouraged the City of Edmonton during budget discussions to spend more on transit safety.

He said more teams of peace officers and social workers could help respond to crime and de-escalate situations.

"Students don't want campus to be over-policed or militarized but they do recognize that the presence of peace officers improves the perception of safety in and around transit centres," he said.

Fotang said the student union is interested in hosting a town hall about campus safety with city representatives and students.

Political science student Haruun Ali, who sits on General Faculties Council, said adding more peace officers would be a short-term measure that would not necessarily solve systemic problems.

"You cannot police your way out of the social crisis," he said.