The work of Calgary’s community-based public safety task force is complete. But now the real work gets underway to get at the root causes of why some Calgarians feel unsafe in city streets.
“This started with the issues of increased gun violence we’ve seen in our city,” said Ward 5 councillor and task force chair George Chahal. “But the conversations we had today was how do we deal with urban violence?
“But this also looks at addressing other forms of violence we see in our community.”
Domestic violence, gang lifestyle, mental health and addictions, and trauma as the root cause for many types of violence were also examined by the task force during its yearlong mandate.
The task force explored the many programs and services available in the city designed to prevent violence, as well as gaps in services and inspiration in other cities’ programs.
The final report from the task force, presented to the city’s community and protective services committee Wednesday morning, outlined three main actions.
Information sharing between the city and community organizations, paired with advocating to other levels of government, is one action. Applying for federal public safety funding is the second. And connecting programs with at-risk populations, helping them navigate gang-specific programs, is the third.
The actions will be able to dovetail with other current city efforts.
“The city has a number of other initiatives underway to help support the work of the community-based public safety task force that’s helping build capacity with many of the organizations that are looking to get funding, and also help build capacity with organizations that have traditionally not been able to access this funding to support communities that have been disproportionately affected by urban violence,” Chahal said.
Survey results and online feedback show urban violence is a city-wide problem, the Ward 5 councillor said.
“We need to have those conversations as a community with our school boards and the government as well to support some of that work,” Chahal said. “And then we also need to focus on stronger and better relationships through community policing with many of these communities who have felt like they haven’t had a voice or an opportunity to build those strong relationships.”
Ramandeep Jaswal, a member of the public who “got caught up with gang life” at a young age and was eventually incarcerated, said he didn’t receive the guidance and supervision from his parents because, as recent immigrants, they were working long hours.
Jaswal said after getting parole, he returned to school, finished a graduate degree and has since become a peer-reviewed author working with Olympic teams.
“It’s important to underline that none of this happens without my community support, particularly when I was released from incarceration — when I was most vulnerable to reoffend,” he told the committee.
Jaswal said he’s now a mentor for other young offenders at the John Howard Society, and endorsed the recommendations in the task force’s report.
“Community measures reduce the recidivism rate by helping these individuals become contributing members of society, and this in turn makes our community safer,” he said.
“It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Stories like Jaswal’s were shared in some 24 hours of engagement sessions that Chahal sat in on. The Ward 5 councillor said the sessions changed his life.
“It was very eye-opening when I was in all of those engagement sessions and had many more one-on-one conversations,” Chahal said, noting not all stories had sunset endings. “It’s heartbreaking to hear a single mother come from a war-torn country for a better life and opportunity, struggling to provide for her children, living in Calgary affordable housing… and losing a child to gun violence.
“The needs and challenges are just different throughout the city. But we have one thing in common, that we all want a safe community and we all have the right to live in a safe community here in Calgary.”
The committee voted unanimously to recommend the report’s recommendations to council, who will decide on the document on May 10.
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