Weekly update: Race-based data for RCMP, photo radar's dead, Yao sees hopes and struggles for 2024

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

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Happy Friday, Fort McMurray!

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  • Keyano Huskies Basketball: The Huskies have a matchup on the basketball court against the NAIT Ooks at the Syncrude Sport & Wellness Centre. Tip-off is 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $5 for everyone 18 to 65, and includes admission for both games. Free entry for anyone under 18 or over 65.
  • Fort McMurray Oil Barons: January home games at Centerfire Place: Okotoks Oilers on Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 14 at 2 p.m., Brooks Bandits on Jan. 16 at 7:30 p.m., Drumheller Dragons on Jan. 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m., Bonnyville Pontiacs on Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and schedule online.
  • HeartSpark’s Breaking Barriers: For females 12+. Experience confidence, friendship and learn some self-defence with HeartSpark and Theresa Stanley, black-belt executive director of Phoenix Tae Kwon Do Club and creator of Girls on Fire Confidence Workshops. This is a fundraiser for HeartSpark’s free youth programming. Jan. 14 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Unifor’s office. Tickets online.
  • Fe Art Exhibition: Fe Art Gallery is exhibiting a tapestry of contemporary Indigenous African Art at the Grand Ballroom of Shell Place. Jan. 27 and 28. Tickets are free.
  • Roller derby try-it night: Anyone 7+ is invited to try roller derby with the Fort McMurray Roller Derby League. No experience needed. Feb. 1 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at MacDonald Island Park. Instructions on what to bring and what to expect are on Facebook.
  • Multicultural EXPO: The Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo’s annual Multicultural EXPO is Feb. 3 at MacDonald Island Park. Many different cultures, languages and faiths make up Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. The EXPO features some of their food, performances and arts. Information and opportunities to participate are online.
  • DRIP feedback: The Downtown Revitalization Incentives Program is returning after bringing millions of dollars into Fort McMurray’s downtown. The RMWB wants to hear feedback until Feb. 5 from businesses, applicants and residents. More details in our story.
  • Aaron Pritchett’s Liquored Up Tour w/ guests Cory Marks and Matt Lang: Feb. 7 at Earls. Doors open at 7 p.m., show is from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets are online.
  • Wood Buffalo Regional Library hosts plenty of events every week. These all-ages events can be found online.
  • MacDonald Island Park regularly updates its website with upcoming events and programs.
  • Volunteer opportunities: Register for volunteer opportunities with different groups across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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Get the news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo in your inbox every Friday morning by signing up for our newsletter. Obituaries can be viewed online.

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The Wood Buffalo RCMP detachment in Timberlea in Fort McMurray, Alta. on Saturday, October 3, 2020. Laura Beamish/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

ASIRT investigating after man shot by Wood Buffalo RCMP officer

Alberta’s police watchdog is investigating a Thursday morning traffic stop that ended with a man shot by a police officer.

Wood Buffalo RCMP say that on Jan. 11 at 9 a.m., officers located a vehicle they believe was part of a recent hit-and-run collision. A stop was made at the Confederation Way at the Highway 63 exit.

What happened next is being investigated. What is known is a police officer and the suspect got into an “altercation,” according to RCMP, that ended with the officer shooting the suspect in the lower leg. The suspect was taken to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre and was treated for injuries that were not considered life threatening. No one else was injured during this incident.

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The cause of the shooting and the circumstances that led to the police officer firing their weapon is being investigated by the RCMP and the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

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Members of the Wood Buffalo RCMP on Thursday, January 30, 2020. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

RCMP will start collecting race-based data as part of a new pilot project

The RCMP says it will begin collecting race-based data in select locations this month to better understand interactions between police and people in various communities.

The national police force said the data about use of force, arrests and routine checks will provide evidence-based information to help improve how officers serve a diverse population.

The Mounties plan to collect, analyze and report the data to gain insight into the experiences of Indigenous Peoples, as well as Black and other racialized individuals, in dealing with officers.

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The pilot project will help the RCMP better understand the nature, extent and effect of systemic racial disparities. it will begin in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, Thompson, and Whitehorse. Two additional, unnamed sites in B.C. and Nova Scotia will follow this year.

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Tany Yao, UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, joins members of Fort McMurray’s Indian community to celebrate India’s independence day at Syncrude Athletic Park on August 20, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Yao sees challenging, but hopeful 2024 for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

Tany Yao, UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, is hopeful for Alberta’s economy in 2024 but is concerned with how the region has entered the new year.

The layoffs of 1,500 people at Suncor Energy hurt the community, said Yao, and he shared Energy and Minerals Minister Brian Jean’s frustration that oil companies rely too heavily on commuter workers.

He is also worried about debt carried by small businesses from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Yao said labour shortages have become a common complaint from businesses of all sizes. Just like the rest of the UCP caucus, he accused the federal government of hurting oilsands development.

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Despite these struggles, Yao pointed to Alberta’s housing prices and job opportunities compared to the rest of Canada. More people moved to Alberta than any other province in 2023.

Another campaign to recruit workers to Alberta launches this year. Mayor Sandy Bowman hopes to launch local incentives this year to lure newcomers to the region.

Locally, Yao is excited that work has started on connecting Fort McMurray to the Grande Prairie region with a 218-kilometre, gravel road highway to Peerless Lake. He is also excited that EMS dispatch will be done locally in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo again and not at a provincial call centre.

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People play hockey on the frozen snye at Snye Point Park in downtown Fort McMurray during the annual WinterPLAY festival on Saturday, March 4, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Council approves developing plan for outdoor rinks in backyards, municipal land

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Council has unanimously asked the administration to develop and update a policy that lets homeowners build temporary outdoor skating rinks on or adjacent to their property.

There are similar programs in Grande Prairie and Lloydminster. Until that policy is developed and approved by council, municipal staff will work with residents that have built community rinks on municipal lands to guarantee safety.

Mayor Sandy Bowman said minor hockey is the largest winter sport in Fort McMurray, but the RMWB’s public ice rinks are limited. Former NHL players Dan Hodgson and Mark Hartigan, both of whom now live in Fort McMurray, endorsed the idea in letters to council.

“That’s our heritage as a northern community. We talk about being a northern community and there are little kids that are playing on these breaks. They’re not disrupting anything,” said Bowman.

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“Our role in government is not to block people doing things, but help people do things safely.”

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A Wood Buffalo RCMP cruiser drives past a photo radar camera near the corner of Thickwood Boulevard and Silin Forest Road on Thursday, February 21, 2019. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

Photo radar program ends in Fort McMurray

The mobile photo radar program in Fort McMurray is no more. Council voted in 2022 to end photo radar, which the municipality calls Automated Traffic Enforcement, once the municipality’s contract for the service ended at the end of 2023.

Mayor Sandy Bowman argued the program has failed to stop speeding in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. Instead, the municipality should consider strategies other communities are pursuing as alternatives to improve traffic and road safety.

Council has approved funding for six new RCMP officers and four bylaw officers. Municipal spokesperson Greg Bennett says Mounties and bylaw officers are increasing patrols and enforcement in areas with schools, playgrounds and heavy traffic.

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Bennett said photo radar generated about $1.8 million in fines in 2022. After expenses, more than $880,000 was transferred to reserves to fund community grants. The municipality is still counting how much revenue the program brought in for 2023. But as of the end of 2023, there is more than $940,000 in the same reserve fund.

The end of this program has been accounted for in the 2024 municipal budget.

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Workers walk down a corridor at Suncor’s Fort Hills facility north of Fort McMurray, Alta. on Friday, April 6, 2018. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Statcan jobs data shows highs and lows of 2023 for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

The census region covering Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo ended 2023 with drops in unemployment compared to November 2023 but a slight rise in unemployment from December 2022, according to data released by Statistics Canada.

The oilsands gained the most jobs compared to the end of 2022 while the sector covering accommodations and food was hit hardest. But the oilsands also reported job losses, while accommodations and food showed no changes.

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December unemployment for the Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake census region dropped to 4.6 per cent from five per cent in November. Employment dropped to 71.4 per cent from 72 per cent. Employment in December 2022 was 69.4 per cent and unemployment was 4.4 per cent. Unemployment peaked in August at six per cent.

A full list of how many jobs were added and lost in each sector is in the story.

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Terry Jbeili celebrates his shot while playing Crokicurl with family in Bowness Park on Saturday, January 6, 2024.Gavin Young/Postmedia

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