Edmonton police take steps to regain trust of LGBTQ community

About 60 police detectives recently took part in an awareness session focused on the LGBTQ2S+ community, as consultations wrapped up in the ongoing work to strengthen relations.

"[They] were just so appreciative of learning about language and ways to use the language to build rapport," Natasha Goudar, strategic advisor of Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights, told a police commission meeting Thursday. "To be more thoughtful in report writing and engaging and understanding the impact around that, and just being willing to be humble and ask questions when they didn't understand.

"There's definitely been more intentional work and change that I've seen in the last few months."

It has been five months since the service issued a formal apology for past wrongs committed against members of the LGBTQ community.

At the time, police Chief Dale McFee laid out plans for a consultation process and said the work to improve relations had only begun.

On Thursday, commissioners received an update on those consultations, which included focus groups, one-on-one interviews and an online survey.

Travis McEwan/CBC

After developing an inclusive process led by the community, consultations included hearing from those who don't usually provide feedback, such as youth and sex trade workers, commissioners were told.

Results are expected to be released publicly later this month without redactions or editing to ensure transparency, Goudar said. 

"We want to make sure that the people that have taken the time to participate and have their voices be heard, which has required a lot of courage for a lot of people, that that is represented in their words," Goudar said.

Celene Lemire, the EPS advisor for stakeholder relations, warned that hearing the feedback won't always be comfortable.

"But it's OK to sit in the discomfort," Lemire said. "It's really important that we start to look at the discomfort not necessarily as a negative thing but as part of the transition moving forward."

Travis McEwan/CBC

Some LGBTQ2S+ members declined to participate in the discussions, commissioners were told.

Glynnis Lieb, executive director of the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, told the commissioners that trust won't necessarily be won through the initiative.

"Their trust is going to, if ever, be won through what happens to them on the streets when their paths cross with officers on Whyte Avenue or on a corner," Lieb said.

"If you want to gain the trust of the most vulnerable people we're gonna have to stop hearing stories about the trans person being mistreated, the sex worker being mistreated, the person being assumed to have done something wrong because of the colour of their skin," Lieb later told reporters.

"One little misstep will erase a hundred steps of progress right now. It's so fragile."

Outside the meeting, deputy police chief Kevin Brezinski said EPS has done a tremendous amount of work recently to make sure the apology was taken seriously and the reconciliation is ongoing.

Simply issuing an apology is not enough, Brezinski said.

"I think it's all the engagement that takes place after, and this is going be a long-term process where we're going to try to regain the relationship with the community."

The action plan is expected to be implemented in January 2020.