MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette sleeps in Winnipeg's Central Park in response to spike in crime
Hearing concerns first-hand 'makes me more aware of what I'm doing' as member of Parliament, he says
Robert-Falcon Ouellette spent two shivery nights sleeping inside a teepee in a downtown Winnipeg park to get a better sense of the challenges facing the community when it comes to crime and drug use.
The Liberal MP, who represents the riding of Winnipeg Centre, camped out Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Central Park, which has seen a spate of crimes in the past few months, including one last month when a young man was attacked in a robbery.
The young man's father then wrote Mayor Brian Bowman a letter asking that something be done to address crime.
"It's been in the media for quite some time now, all the issues related to some of the violence and the assaults going on in Central Park and the challenge [by neighbourhood residents] to some of our public leaders to come out and spend a night here," Ouellette said.
"So I decided to take that challenge."
He said he has met many people and discussed the violence as well as meth and other addictions issues. A frequent comment was that creative solutions to the underlying issues are needed — it's not about flooding the area with more police.
"So for instance, if we have a needle exchange program and we give people needles but we don't give them a place to do it, where do they go? They're going to come to the parks. They're going to leave the needles lying around," Ouellette said.
Some people also expressed interest in forming a community patrol.
"It certainly makes me more aware of what I'm doing as a member of Parliament … to listen and to tell Ottawa what should be happening."
A lot of attention seems to be on the crisis of opioids in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto but not as much on meth, which is the bigger concern in Winnipeg, he said.
The overnight stays have been cold — a low of 6 C on Tuesday night and just 2.5 C on Wednesday night — but worth it, he said.
"I met some really great community members, people who are really passionate about making this a better place for their kids [and] who spend a lot of time really trying to improve the community."