Cultural centre at park doesn't want kids playing near drug dealers, prostitutes

Aberdeen Park in Moncton will soon lose 16 trees to make drug use and other illegal activity harder to conceal.

René Légère says he's called RCMP 23 times because of crime in Moncton's Aberdeen Park

The City of Moncton says it wants to make Aberdeen Park safer for the public by removing 16 shade trees and berms in the park. (Facebook)

The executive director of the Aberdeen Cultural Centre is welcoming plans for new security measures at a Moncton Park to eliminate drug use and other illegal activity. 

The City of Moncton is planning an upgrade of Aberdeen Park that includes removing 16 trees. It will also get rid of berms in the area and add more light to make the park safer.

René Légère said he is concerned about the security of students and staff, and he believes the changes will help reduce drug use, which has been a problem for two years.  

"My first thing is to ensure the security of the people who are using the park — and the people using the park are children," he said.

The Centre has a kindergarten and after-school program for 150 students between two and 12 years old. Seventy-five  people work inside the building.

Légère said students can often be found playing in the city park.

"This park is like a school park because there are so many kids."

Mayor Dawn Arnold suggested on Facebook last week that the park had become an uncomfortable place for people who live and work in the area.

Decrease in park use

"There has been increased reporting of illegal activities and decreased use by the public," Arnold said in her post.

Légère said he called RCMP 23 times last summer and three of those times he ordered students and staff to stay inside because it was too dangerous.

Many people will avoid the park altogether if they see drug dealers or prostitutes in the area.

If we don't do anything now, I'm not sure kindergarten will stay in Aberdeen or the after-school program.- René   Légère , executive director of the Aberdeen Cultural Centre

"They don't want to be in a position where it's not comfortable," he said.

"If they only see the drug dealers, they'll go by the park not in the park."  

Légère said he doesn't have a problem with homeless people lingering around the park or sleeping on benches and is willing to be part of the greater issue of dealing with homelessness in Moncton.

But he does not like the illegal activity, including drug-taking, or rudeness to students or staff.

Légère said he has had a few altercations with homeless people in the park and felt threatened.

"I was telling them, 'Is there a possibility for you guys to go somewhere? I have no judgment of what you're doing, but this is not the place to do it.'"  

Community pushback

The city's plan to remove trees and make other changes has also received pushback from members of the community.

Some say the changes will only move the issues of poverty and drug addiction to other parts of the city.

"If we think that by changing the physical part of the park that that will address the issue, it won't," said Debby Warren,  executive director of Ensemble, formerly known as AIDS Moncton.

René Légère, executive director of the Aberdeen Cultural Centre, explains his concerns about the city-owned park and why he welcomes plans for new security measures. 14:32

Coun. Paulette Theriault, whose ward includes Aberdeen Park, has also said the city was too quick to redesign Aberdeen Park, describing it as a historical space.

Although 16 trees will be removed, the city has said it will plant 17 new trees in the park. The centre has also agreed to plant between five and 10 trees on their property.

Légère said something has to be done.

"If we don't do anything now, I'm not sure kindergarten will stay in Aberdeen or the after-school program," he said.

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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