Northwest communities left rattled by police inaction

A question of safety: People sit inside the bus shelter at the Dalhousie LRT station in Calgary on Sun., Jan. 22, 2023. Latest census data shows that more than 16 per cent of Calgarians commute via transit. (Photo by Pamela Olea/The Press)

A Calgary Police Service (CPS) announcement warning the public about the early release of a high-risk sex offender was met by public outrage and a wave of questions about the decision.

“Why is he being released if you have to issue a public warning? What is wrong with our system?” said Vivian Woods of Calgary.

The statement, posted on Twitter on Jan. 5, warned the public about engaging in ‘any form of vigilante action’ on Shaun Gerard Desruisseaux, who was found guilty of multiple sexual assaults on women and girls in Calgary between 2008 and 2011.

The announcement has sparked concerns surrounding public safety. A town hall meeting on Jan. 17 addressed the increase in disturbances around LRT stations.

Tamy Flynn, a regular Calgary Transit user, is one of several citizens dissatisfied with the system. “Where are the security guards? They’re not doing anything,” she said. “They’re just walking back and forth. They don’t care. They’re trying their hardest not to get involved.”

In 2022, police officers received more than 600 disorder calls at Sunnyside station, with officers dispatched to nearly all instances.

“The security guards are useless at every single station I’ve been to. And I don’t have a car; I use transit all the time when I go out,” said Flynn.

Annie MacInnis, executive director of the Kensington Business Improvement Area, said, “I’ve been doing this job for 20 years, and we’ve always been fairly lucky with our level of social disorder. Crime has increased as a result of COVID.”

Disorderly conduct in transit highlights safety concerns for women who regularly commute, especially at night.

Last year, a string of sexual assaults in the Dalhousie and Ranchlands communities left women from these areas alarmed and looking to CPS for solutions. Four of the attacks, most of which occurred at Dalhousie station, were on transit users returning home at night.

Across the country, only six per cent of sexual assaults are reported to the police, making it the most underreported crime measured in the General Social Survey on Victimization.

Around 1.8 million Albertans have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime—about 45 per cent of Alberta’s population or almost one in two people.

According to the CPS, “Every Calgarian should feel safe to walk in their community without the threat of being assaulted. We are asking everyone to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious behaviour to the police.”

Natalia Ibarra, a young woman living in the Dalhousie area, normally walks home late at night. She now takes precautions and has adjusted her daily routine because of the attacks.

“I used to not have to tell people that I was walking home late, but I noticed how important that is, and it shouldn’t have to,” Ibarra said.

While the perpetrator hasn’t been identified, his attacks have been consistent—late at night and at or close to the Dalhousie LRT station.

I used to not have to tell people that I was walking home late, but I noticed how important that is, and it shouldn’t have to. – Natalia Ibarra

“This is a priority file for the service. We are focused on the offender’s behaviour and have increased patrols in the area, along with following up on all investigative leads,” a CPS representative said.

While there have been no new updates on the Dalhousie assaults, nor any new victims coming forward, women are advised to avoid walking alone at night and to be wary of the area at all times.

As for safety concerns surrounding transit, the city has appointed police officers to patrol stations, platforms, and train cars starting in February, with more to come by the summer of this year.

About Pamela Olea Ibarra 3 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Pamela Olea Ibarra is working as a writer for The Press in 2022-23.