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Bigger: City creating a 'task team' to address social issues plaguing downtown

Violence, vandalism and drug use have been issues for some time, but mayor says downtown situation will only get worse unless city takes action
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In a phone call with city media today, Mayor Brian Bigger said a "task team" is being created to address issues downtown, including public drug use, vandalism and violence. (File)

Greater Sudbury mayor Brian Bigger announced that a "task team" will be created to address the issues facing the city's downtown.

There have been two violent incidents in the downtown in the past week, including a fatal stabbing on Elm Street on Oct. 14 that resulted in second-degree murder charges being laid against a 32-year-old man.

One man was hospitalized on Sunday evening after being stabbed in an incident near the downtown transit terminal. A 38-year-old man was arrested and charged with attempted murder in relation to the incident.

The mayor held a meeting Tuesday morning with a number of community leaders, including GSPS Chief Paul Pedersen, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, city CAO Ed Archer, Bylaw Service Manager Brendan Adair, and Angela Recollet, representing Sudbury's Indigenous Sacred Circle, as well as representatives from the CMHA and the downtown BIA.

"We did go through quite an intense, one-hour meeting and it really set the stage for actions, and so we have a number of immediate actions that we're planning on taking," said Bigger during a telephone press conference Tuesday afternoon.

"We really are working from the strength of Sudburians to work collaboratively and to find community-led solutions."

The mayor didn't mince words during Tuesday's press conference, stating that "this will get worse unless we take significant action."

Included in the planned actions for the downtown are increased security, increased needle and garbage pickup and increased presence of city representatives. Bigger indicated that Police Chief Paul Pedersen identified during the meeting that there is an opportunity for police to develop their own action team that would focus on the downtown.

He described it as "an action team of 12 officers from the patrol central community response unit, the tactical unit and an integrated crime team," said Bigger. "That action team will be focused on prevention, intervention and enforcement in the downtown. Those are the key items that we can immediately start on."

Bigger was called upon to take a closer look at the capacity of the Off the Street Shelter.

"We're going to continue to work with our partners to serve our vulnerable populations," said Bigger. "We'll continue to try to balance the harm reduction elements while still focusing on other elements of the community that are more symbolic of that struggle."

The mayor also said that he will be asking staff to proceed with its downtown security pilot, which council approved in its budget at a cost of $275,000. The seven-month pilot was to be funded with $225,000 from the Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund, with the remainder coming from the downtown Sudbury BIA.

The pilot was scheduled to get underway in April, adding six new bylaw enforcement officers, three full-time and three part-time, to the ranks. Two of the officers were slated to be on duty at all times for 16 hours a day during the pilot.

"You'll recall that council had already, during our budget process, approved the downtown security pilot that proposed to hire additional security staff in and around the Cedar Street and transit terminal area and so I've asked staff to proceed with that," said Bigger. "The key to all of this is that we've documented the conversation and we're developing an action plan. It will be summarized so that we can continue to communicate and report on the status of these action items and our progress in responding to the challenges that we're seeing."

The mayor did not say why, six months later, the security pilot still hasn’t actually launched.

Bigger also wants to accelerate the LED lighting project that was approved in the 2020 budget process, installing around 11,000 LED lights throughout the city at a cost of $5.6 million.

"I want to ensure that people feel safe in the downtown, so some of these shorter term, symptomatic actions are intended to provide some of that reassurance. I'm also pursuing accelerating our LED light change-out process. We have a capital project that council had approved, so I'm asking staff to accelerate the change-out of lights to LED lights in the downtown streets and laneways," said Bigger.

While the overarching focus of Tuesday's meeting was increased safety in the downtown, Bigger said that Dr. Penny Sutcliffe pointed to upstream solutions to get out in front of what is a complex issue.

"I think Dr. Sutcliffe really talked about what we can do upstream to prevent people from being in a situation where they are homeless and where they've perhaps lost hope, where they're ending up victims of suicide, crime or overdose," said Bigger.

"It's something that we hope to be able to have an impact on in terms of providing support. We have many organizations … I think at this point in time COVID has had an impact to amplify some of these challenges that people are having and feeling, so it's really key for us to recognize that. We can see it, we can hear it and we need to respond, that's what this is about."

No timeline has been given for when this action team will be deployed and when the action plan will be finalized, but the mayor is hopeful that it will be created as soon as possible.

"With that action plan we'll identify what the finance requirements would be," said Bigger. 

"I absolutely believe that this has been amplified and accelerated with COVID and so many implications for people that are finding themselves homeless and with other challenges in our downtown. I believe that we should be looking at some of the money that the province gave us to provide some funding and we'll identify the appropriate solutions with our partners from across the community. Some projects are easy to implement, some are medium or longer term. The downtown team will be up to the task I'm sure, as will council."

The mayor stated that now is the time to act, as the city is staring down an issue that will only get worse if solutions are not found.

"The reason for calling the meeting was we see the urgency," said Bigger. "We feel for the people and their families and loved ones that are struggling. I can just see how this will get worse unless we start taking some significant action."


Matt Durnan

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