Edmonton city hall shooting calls security into question

Some councillors want more safety measures at Winnipeg city hall

Some councillors want new safety measures at Winnipeg city hall following a violent incident in Edmonton.

Keeley Braunstein-Black

Winnipeg city councillors are calling for increased security after a man fired gunshots and threw a Molotov cocktail from the second floor of Edmonton’s city hall on Jan. 23. No one was physically injured during the incident.

Bezhani Sarvar, 28, was a security guard with the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires and now faces six weapons charges.

Following the Edmonton shooting, Winnipeg Coun. Sherri Rollins called for an external review of security to stress the importance of occupational safety for council members.

Rollins thinks there is a “lack of seriousness” around the conversation of the safety of elected officials. While she wants to protect her safety and the safety of her fellow council members, Rollins doesn’t want to shut the public out in the process.

“I’m not unlike a lot of people that want to see public spaces public,” Rollins, who represents Fort Rouge – East Fort Garry, says. “But in order to do that, we really need to consider making sure that everyone is safe in the building.”

Rollins wants to have proactive, preventative conversations about safety that also include ways to protect democracy and the people who come to city hall.

She says she has become more aware of her level of safety in her position than before. She often has to put security concerns, like having people following her or other council members to meetings, aside to focus on her job and doesn’t want to have to keep doing that.

“The frustration about all of these things ... is that it gets us off our game,” Rollins says.

“It gets us off the day-to-day work in a way that feels unproductive.”

In an email statement, a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg confirmed they are looking to hire a campus security lead, who will take the city to “the next level in terms of a comprehensive security plan.”

Eventually, that will span across all city properties.

Currently, Winnipeg city hall security measures include card access, visitor sign-in and security guards, the spokesperson says.

However, there is some concern that increasing security could do more harm than good.

Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, says the type of incident that happened in Edmonton is rare.

Dobchuk-Land compares the call for more security measures to the security plan for the Millennium Library. She’s worried it will deter members of margin- alized groups from participating at city hall.

“Those are often not people who neces- sarily pose a risk to anybody, but they’re people who have been subject to criminalization or targeting by security guards in the past,” Dobchuk-Land says.

They often choose to avoid those spaces to avoid unpleasant situations, she adds.

Dobchuk-Land says that during conversations about safety, people have to be mindful of the way they address those concerns.

“We need to make sure that the ways that we choose to address them are evidence-based and don’t produce further unsafety and insecurity and marginalization of other people in the process,” she says. “That ultimately makes everyone less safe.”

Published in Volume 78, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 15, 2024)

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