'I was crying': Families of Chinatown victims challenge Edmonton council to make area safer
Tears were shed inside Edmonton City Hall Tuesday as family and friends of two men killed in Chinatown pleaded with councillors for help to make their community safer.
Hung Trang, 64, and Ban Phuc Hoang, 61, died after separate attacks that police allege were committed by the same man. Justin Bone, 36, now faces two counts of second-degree murder.
"Our family will never be the same again," said Christina Trang, Hung's daughter. "Maybe if things had been different in Chinatown, my dad could still be with us today."
"Chinatown needs improvement. We no longer feel safe in our own community."
Trang was supported by dozens who packed into chambers, some of whom requested to speak, as councillors met to debate several items including community safety and police funding. The request was granted.
"I speak for the community when I said, 'I told you so! We knew this would happen!'" an emotional Hon Leong told councillors.
He referred to Hoang as his uncle and said his words were on behalf of a grieving family. Leong also chairs the Chinatown Transformation Collaborative.
"Decisions about the future of Chinatown are being made by people who do not care, or understand the real challenges we deal with every day," he said, explaining how the most recent deaths have contributed to community members no longer feeling safe in the area.
Leong wants more police in Chinatown as soon as possible and suggested a specific task force dedicated to safety in the area.
"Frankly, I turned off my camera because I was crying, and I know how difficult this has been for you and my heart goes out to you very, very much," Coun. Aaron Paquette said after Trang and Leong spoke.
NEW STRATEGY APPROVED
After hearing from speakers, council approved a new Community Safety and Well-Being Strategy, which will reallocate funding previously earmarked for police towards initiatives like social work, drug poisoning responses and an Indigenous-led shelter.
The strategy also includes $4 million to pair social workers and mental health specialists with police officers on patrol downtown, in Chinatown and on transit.
"Chinatown has been neglected for decades," Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said.
"Things must change for Chinatown, for downtown and 118 Avenue…I'm absolutely committed to doing that."
Last week, Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee said he will divert more officers downtown to deal with an "immediate crisis," and Sohi applauded that.
Council also approved, by a vote of 9-4, $300,000 from its contingency funding to address "the immediate needs of Chinatown."
Paquette pointed his finger at the provincial and federal governments as he argued that city councils can only do so much to tackle the root causes of crime with property tax revenue.
"Are there any MLAs here today to speak on provincial funding for mental health or addictions?" He said rhetorically.
"It's an Edmonton issue, but it's also in municipalities across Alberta and across the country. This community crying out right now could just as well be the voice for everyone in every municipality."
Council also heard from citizens about a motion to freeze base funding for police, but the conversation was paused when council ran out of time. A decision on that was not expected until Friday.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Joe Scarpelli