Task force report into policing, community safety decried as 'insulting and demeaning'

·4 min read
Task force on community safety and well-being makes 14 recommendations to improve calls for service in Edmonton.   (Marion Warnica - image credit)
Task force on community safety and well-being makes 14 recommendations to improve calls for service in Edmonton. (Marion Warnica - image credit)

A city-appointed task force on policing and community safety has attacked the integrity of the Edmonton police, says the president of the Edmonton Police Association.

A letter sent on Thursday by Sgt. Michael Elliott to EPA members outlines deep concerns with the findings in the report released last week.

The report is "insulting and demeaning" and used anti-police biases and stereotypes to "attack the women and men of this police service who dedicate their careers to serving the people of Edmonton," Elliott wrote.

The task force alleges that racism is "baked in" to the EPS and that Edmonton's police officers are largely a group of "unwitting racists who should be fired in the name of diversity," said the letter.

On Friday, Elliott spoke with media to address the letter.

"Sometimes you need difficult language to stir a true conversation to get things moving, and I think that's what the letter has done. It's really raised the emotion, it's raised the perspectives, it has raised the dialogue," Elliott said. "This is how important this is to us."

Last week, the community safety and well-being task force released its report with 14 recommendations to help improve the response to calls for service.

The task force — made up of 11 community members, two each from the police and the City of Edmonton and one from the Edmonton Police Commission, discussed the findings with council earlier this week.

Task force members weren't available for comment Thursday or Friday morning but told CBC News that the City of Edmonton was taking over communications for the initiative.

When the letter was widely circulated, some task force members came forward to comment.

Rob Houle, a task force member originally from Swan River First Nation, disagrees that the report targets police only, or calls the service racist.

"That's not the language in the report and that is not the findings in the report," Houle told CBC News Friday.

"Systemic racism exists … it's baked in to all of our systems. The police is one of those systems, one of those structures, but to make it sound like the report was solely focused on police being the only racist or discriminatory institution I think is a little bit of a stretch."

Houle said the EPA response also proves that further work needs to be done to change the system.

Council approved the task force last fall after a summer of anti-racism protests in Edmonton and days of public hearings into policing.

Councillors heard from 142 people calling for police to be more accountable in their actions and a decrease in funding.

In an emailed statement Friday, Mayor Don Iveson said the task force initiative is aimed at increasing safety.

"Those who want to polarize and politicize the community safety and well-being task force work and their recommendations — as well as the broader conversation being had by communities across Canada on how community safety ecosystems can be improved — are likely trying to make this work 'zero sum' when it's not," Iveson said.

Ongoing frustration

Coun. Tim Cartmell said the language in Elliott's letter reflects the ongoing frustration in addressing the deep-rooted issues.

"I think that in trying to share their views, many of the parties involved are using provocative and somewhat inflammatory language," Cartmell said. "I think it's our role as council to try to take the temperature down in this conversation."

Cartmell empathizes with police members attending to calls and working every day to do the best job they can in a genuine way.

"They come home at the end of their day and they hear that — there's a blanket sort of characterization that the entire service is racist, or the entire service does not care, or the entire service is not engaged in a positive way. That's hard to hear at the end of that day."

The report, called "Safer For All" said racism is entrenched into several organizations.

"The systemic discrimination that is baked into our public institutions has influenced things over many, many years," the report says.

It will require years of systematic and dedicated efforts to root it out, it adds.

At a meeting Tuesday, city council directed administration to work with the commission to review the recommendations and develop a joint strategy to "enhance community safety, well-being, inclusion and anti-racism."

"We look forward to touching base with administration within 90 days on the actionable items in the report the city is able to implement quickly," Iveson said.

In the letter, Elliott also takes issue with ongoing calls to defund the police. The task force ignores violent crime and gun seizures are increasing in Edmonton, he said.

Elliott wrote that the recommendations would jeopardize the key rights in the union's collective agreement, in relation to promotions based on merit, training and experience.

Edmonton police members are from diverse races, cultural backgrounds, and sexual orientations, Elliott noted.

The task force wants to "rip out requirements that EPS use objective criteria to hire, promote and retain police officers," Elliott wrote.

"Would the task force then also dismiss longer serving police officers based on skin colour if layoffs ever become necessary? If so, then the task force is just using racism to promote its own version of anti-racism."