By Kyra Bird
An event held on Thursday night by the Victoria Park Business Improvement Area was billed as an opportunity for businesses and residents of the community to learn about issues in the area, in hopes of fostering conversation. But the event, which centered around a new supervised consumption site being built in the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre and the closing of the Victoria Park Police Station, was a mostly one-sided conversation that presented little opportunity for residents to speak or ask questions.
The Victoria Park BIA, a not-for profit business association, invited Alberta Health Services program coordinator Claire O’Gorman , District 1 staff sergeant Shawn Wallace from the Calgary Police Service, and new Ward 11 councillor Jeromy Farkas to Hotel Arts to speak.
O’Gorman talked about the recently opened supervised consumption site at the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre. Currently, a temporary facility in the parking lot serves people who would like to use illegal substances in a supervised environment. The permanent facility within the building is expected to open in early 2018.
Wallace attended the panel to represent the Calgary Police Service and speak about the recent closure of the Victoria Park Police Station. The station was closed in November as the police service was looking for financial and operational efficiencies. That police presence will be replaced by a mobile unit that will travel around the downtown area as needed.
Ward 8 councillor Evan Woolley, who used to serve Victoria Park when it was in his ward, voiced concern about the closing down of the station. Farkas, speaking to the Calgary Herald prior to the event, said he was also concerned and was “interested in hearing from the business community as well as the residents at the forum.”
The engagement that Farkas was looking forward to didn’t really happen, as only three audience members were given the opportunity to ask questions during the panel, which was moderated by BIA executive director David Low. Low pointed to time limitations as the reason for the narrow agenda and lack of participation, with panelists having prior commitments to attend to. Panelists corrected Low at the end of the panel, each saying that those commitments, in fact, would not have interfered with the event.
Despite the lack of panelist-audience interaction that he was looking forward to, Farkas pivoted away from his concerns about closing the police station and stressed that he believes CPS will keep the area safe without the physical location.
The event was the latest installment of a series of events named “Our Changing Community” which previously included a panel conversation with Ward 11 council candidates in the recent municipal election, a panel that then-candidate Farkas did not attend.