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Edmonton studying options to restrict sale of knives at convenience stores

Edmonton could start restricting the sale of some knives at convenience and grocery stores as early as this fall, depending on the options city staff present to council’s urban planning committee. 

Councillors on the committee asked administration on Tuesday to look into regulating who, when and how convenience stores can sell knives by possibly amending the city’s business licence bylaw.

Many types of knives sold at stores are legal, with no restrictions under federal law or city bylaw. 

Ashley Salvador, councillor for Ward Métis, said she’s been hearing more concerns over the past few months about stores selling knives without scrutiny. 

“What’s happening here is very alarming,” Salvador said. “As we heard today, you walk in, and right next to the chocolate bars is a wall of knives that are designed for harm.” 

The issue came up during a meeting where council was reviewing proposed amendments to its business licence bylaw. 

Several residents from the Alberta Avenue community turned up to speak to the committee about their concerns, including Bryan LaFleche, president of Crystal Kids Youth Centre. 

Knives, brass knuckles and bear spray are now prevalent in the area and they confiscate three or four items every week from kids at the centre, he said. 

“When we ask them: ‘Why are you carrying a knife? Why are you carrying bear spray?’ The answer every single time is ‘it’s for protection’,” LaFleche told the committee. 

“Our great fear with that is when an 11-year-old child pulls a six-inch knife out of his knapsack and says ‘I need this for protection,’ we spend hours trying to convince them that that knife affords them absolutely no protection.”

‘Not for buttering toast’

Allan Bolstad with the Alberta Avenue Community League, said he bought a couple of knives at a convenience store on 118th Avenue. 

“When you hold these knives, when you actually have them in your hand, you realize how lethal that they are, and that they’re designed for one thing and that’s for hurting someone badly, or killing someone,” Bolstad said. 

“These aren’t for buttering toast.” 

Bolstad suggested the city create a separate business licence for selling such knives, similar to what’s in place for selling firearms, and include requirements set by police such as minimum age to purchase. 

The Edmonton Police Service didn’t have city-wide statistics of knife-related incidents available Tuesday. 

Staff Sgt. Michael Keef told news media that there are few tools for police to use to stop stores from selling certain knives, unless they’re prohibited under the Criminal Code of Canada, such as butterfly knives. 

“There’s definitely a gap in what’s being sold versus what’s actually restricted in the Criminal Code,” Keef said. “We’re trying to close that down, so we can make it a little easier to reduce the convenience of being able to buy these on the street.” 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he wants the city to consult police and community members and look at amending the city bylaw. 

“We should have zero tolerance for lethal weapons that cause harm,” Sohi told news media Tuesday. “These are not utility knives that you use at home, these are knives designed to kill.”

City lawyers and managers agreed to explore options for regulating knives but cautioned councillors that defining those as weapons might not be straightforward. 

Christina Hodgson-Mousseau, a lawyer with the city, said the challenge will be defining the scope of regulating knives that not are deemed illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada. 

“The major difficulty with knives in particular is that, knives are not only sold as weapons but knives are sold as regular household items, essentially,” Hodgson-Mousseau said.

“We don’t have a really clear definition given to us by the federal government like we are with firearms.” 

Administration is directed to report back to urban planning committee in the fall with the options to regulate the sale of knives.

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