'Frustrating to watch': Iveson to make formal inquiry after homeless people forced out of LRT station amid cold warning
EDMONTON -- Mayor Don Iveson is planning to order a formal inquiry after video surfaced of police officers forcing homeless Edmontonians out of an LRT station into frigid temperatures.
“Asking city administrators to bring back a report on our extreme weather protocol clarifying what our city employees, including police, are expected to do with citizens experiencing homelessness and other situations that put them at risk," Iveson said.
The video shows Edmonton Police Service officers removing homeless people from the Central LRT station. It was taken by a member of the Bear Clan Patrol who was at the station giving food to people escaping the cold weather.
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“We are not there to break any laws… we’re there as a community helping a community,” said Judith Gale, leader of the Bear Clan Patrol Edmonton Beaver Hills House.
“Everything’s closed during COVID… there’s nowhere for people to go, quite literally, and that’s so problematic.”
According to Gale, people had their masks off to eat when officers told them they had to leave.
Melany Beatty, a volunteer with the Bear Clan Patrol, said the officer told Bear Clan members they could not feed people inside the station, or that people had to leave to eat the food.
The video has garnered a lot of attention, including from people who say they eat at the station and have never had issue with police in the past.
“That police officer was incredibly degrading and rude to everybody there, to myself and also to the unhoused people who are literally just trying to stay warm,” said Beatty. “He accused one of spreading COVID, meanwhile he’s getting in their personal space, touching them, touching their food… there was no excuse for the way he behaved.
“Some people had what little belongings they have on the ground… and EPS wouldn’t even allow them to pick up their belongings,” said Gale. Iveson said the actions of the officers Sunday night is “not the way the city strives to serve Edmontonians experiencing homelessness.”
"In light of the extreme cold weather we've been experiencing as of late, it's heartbreaking and it's frustrating to watch.
"My expectation would be that any time people are being sent out of a warm place to a cold place during extreme weather that real care and attention is given by whoever is giving that enforcement, to try to refer people to somewhere safe, to try to secure transportation to help people access services… so it would be my hope that when there are circumstance that require helping people to access those services, that the emphasis is really on help them get them to a safe place and location to do that."
Edmonton reached a low of -25 C Sunday, without the wind chill. Some city shelters are at capacity, Iveson said, but there is still space available.
“EPS was not doing their job, in my mind," Gale said. "They weren’t following their oath to serve and protect, rather they put at least 20 people, that evening, in peril in -33 wind chill in the downtown core."
Gale reiterated the call for officers to receive compassion training. She also said she would like to see police focus on major crimes and to “leave community to help community, because we do it best.”
The City of Edmonton currently has its “Extreme Weather Protocol” active. The program adds additional space in existing shelters and can provide transport to city shelters.
The protocol is set to deactivate on Wednesday as temperatures rise.
EPS MEETS WITH BEAR CLAN
Tuesday afternoon, Gale and Beatty, as well as two members from the Water Warriors YEG, met with Deputy Chief Alan Murphy and Enyinnah Okere with the EPS.
“It started off quite well, they were very open to hearing our concerns and they expressed empathy and concern,” said Beatty. “They did say they were working on a policy to better educate their employees on integrating their services with humanitarian volunteer organizations, as well as dealing with the unhoused in extreme situations.”
“But then it was very disappointing because they wouldn’t commit to anything else.”
Beatty said she had asked for commitments from the EPS to not turn people out from transit shelters or take down and dispose of camps for the remainder of the winter.
“They said they were unable to commit to that because it wasn’t only their initiative… We also suggested because there are other organizations involved that they send a letter to their members to commit to not do that as well and they refused to do that.”
The deputy chief did offer an apology to the Bear Clan and Water Warriors YEG over Sunday’s incident.
“He himself said he was quite taken aback that a human would do that.”
When asked if an apology would be made to the homeless population they were told “they would take that back to their organization and discuss.”
“We don’t need an apology… the people that really need an apology are our brothers and sisters (on the street).”
Gale and Beatty were happy to hear an inquiry will be made and hope to be a part of it.
“So we can start to develop some change out of it,” said Gale. “I am happy for the fact that we’ve gotten so much attention from this… because it’s a human rights issue.”
SHELTERS ARE A BAND AID SOLUTION
The mayor said Sunday night's incident served as a reminder that Edmonton needs more supportive housing.
"Edmonton city council has long maintained shelters are not the solution to end homelessness – supportive housing is."
"I still believe that solving homelessness is within sight, and if the public response to this incident is any indication, it is clear that Edmontonians also care about justice and dignity for our most vulnerable neighbours."
Iveson said he hoped the upcoming provincial budget will provide funding for such initiatives “which will open the door to further rapid-housing initiatives from the federal government.”