New Westminster's former police chief will be among the panellists at an upcoming townhall forum on crime and public safety being hosted by two New West councillors.
Councillors Daniel Fontaine and Paul Minhas, the two New West Progressive councillors on council, are inviting community members to attend the forum, which is taking place on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at the Inn at the Quay from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission is free, but people must RSVP in advance to attend.
“Both Coun. Minhas and I have been hearing at our recent Councillor Café sessions from participants who attended that there is an interest in us raising the issue of crime and safety in our community,” Fontaine said. “Unfortunately, many residents and local businesses have experienced first-hand how the issue of public disorder has impacted them over the last couple of years.”
The councillors will be moderating the discussion, which will includes guest panellists.
Dave Jones, who worked for the New Westminster Police Department for 37 years, including eight as its chief constable, is among the panellists. He recently retired from his role as the chief officer of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police, a role he took on after leaving the NWPD in 2019.
The two other panellists are: Kash Heed, a former BC Solicitor General with the BC Liberals and a current councillor in Richmond; and Shirley Heafey, who was chair of the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP from 1996 to 2006 and was a member of the New Westminster police board from May 2021 until May 2023.
“Increased crime and a lack of public safety continue to be important issues facing New Westminster residents,” said a notice about the forum. “Whether you have been the victim of a break-and-enter, or a random act of violence, increasingly New West residents are feeling unsafe on our streets.”
The Record questioned why the councillors are holding a townhall forum, rather than addressing constituents’ concerns through city council or the police board.
“As elected officials, it is expected that we will offer the public an opportunity to be heard and listened to when it comes to important issues like crime and safety in our community,” Fontaine said in a statement to the Record. “We have been hosting a number of Councillor Cafés over the last year, but we felt it was also important to hold community-wide townhall forums focused on issues of importance to the residents and business owners of New Westminster.”
The meeting will mark the second time this year Fontaine has held a townhall meeting on a local issue. He previously held a forum on the city’s plans to redevelop the neighbourhood around the 22nd Street SkyTrain station.
“It is our role as elected officials to hear from the public regarding issues of concern,” he said, when asked if a crime-focused meeting could be construed as fear-mongering. “It's been conveyed to both Coun. Minhas and I over the last year that the issue of public disorder is one that we should focus on during this term.”
According to Fontaine, Minhas reached out to the New Westminster Police Department to see if they knew of someone (external not a NWPD employee) who might be a subject-matter expert to sit on the panel. Fontaine said the department appreciated being informed of the forum but it did not have any recommendations about a potential panellist.
“We hope to get some new ideas, suggestions and innovative approaches to addressing the issue of crime and safety in our neighbourhoods,” he said. “We will gather feedback and share it with our council colleagues as well as the police board.”