Edmonton police practices at the centre of public hearings this week
EDMONTON -- Monday saw the first of three city council public hearings that will focus on Edmonton police as the movement against racism police brutality continues in North America.
The public hearing includes 14 panelists — including MP Kerry Diotte, former police officer Doug Green and lawyer Tom Engel — and approximately 80 registered speakers.
"My most important job for now during the course of the hearing is to create a safe space for dialogue for citizens and for your elected officials, and I'll encourage all of us to put aside our biases and focus on ensuring that we're empathetic to the messages that are coming our way," Mayor Don Iveson said ahead of the public hearing.
All speakers will get five minutes to deliver their message, and councillors will also get five minutes to ask them questions.
The hearing, held via Zoom, will continue through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
CALLS TO DEFUND THE POLICE
The Edmonton Police Service's budget, expected to grow to $388 million in 2021, is the city's largest expense.
Black Lives Matter Edmonton, with a petition closing in on its 12,000-signature goal, is asking the city to divest funding from police and spend it on its communities and initiatives such as mental health, social services and affordable housing.
- More than 8,500 sign petition to defund Edmonton police
- Systemic racism exists, but fewer officers isn't the answer: Edmonton police chief
- EPS hiring up to 15 social workers to respond to mental health, addictions calls
Speakers Monday had different views on what city council should do with EPS and its funding. Alex Eskandarkah, a local small business owner, is among those who wants council to defund — though he clarified, not abolish police — and invest that money in the community.
"Right now we are asking too much of the police," Eskandarkah said. "Instead of militarization and equipment, there should be conversations about investing in mental health, investing in community, society and into the future. Right now policing is a reactive solution to problems that require proactive solutions."
Diotte, who says his riding of Edmonton-Griesbach is one of the poorest in Alberta, disagrees with divesting from police.
"I will say 75 per cent of the people I've heard from online, on the phone, or via email, are opposed taking cuts from the police budget. In fact, many people I've heard say they want increases to the police budget and more police officers in their communities."
Rob Houle, who previously worked at the City of Edmonton's Indigenous relations department, says he's seen racism in the EPS first hand.
"In 2005, me and my brother were direct victims of this racism as we were driven around Edmonton for hours, handcuffed and pepper-sprayed in the back of an EPS van," he said. "We were then dropped off in front of my residence with no medical help, officer information or charges."
The public hearing also heard recommendations to start a police college, and for there to be more data to be collected and made public around police practices.
"How many stops lead to arrests, how many random stops help people solve crimes, collect information about demographics, context and outcomes," said Asad Klyani, a law professor at the University of Calgary.
The calls to defund the police come after two black men, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, died while police arrested them in the United States in recent weeks.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Sarah Plowman