'We are sorry': Edmonton police say officers should have helped homeless people removed from LRT station
EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Police Service has apologized for removing homeless people sheltering from the cold in the Central LRT station over the weekend.
"We should have arranged transportation or helped in accessing the services our partnering agencies have in place to keep our most vulnerable safe and warm," deputy chief Al Murphy said at a community and public services committee meeting Wednesday morning.
"We must do better and for this, we are sorry."
An investigation by the police service's professional services branch has been opened based on a citizen complaint.
Not good enough for Rob Houle, who's on the task force that was formed after last summer’s public hearings on police violence.
"We’ve had instances in the past where these citizen complaints lack transparency in the way that they’re investigated, they lack transparency in the outcomes of those investigations," said Houle.
The apology followed days of public and civic outrage over the incident, videos of which were posted to social media by the Bear Clan Patrol.
Volunteer Melany Beatty – who was there Sunday night – described responding officers' behaviour as disrespectful and "one notch down from yelling." She said the group, which was handing out food and clothing, was told they could offer help outside the station, but then accused of loitering when they moved.
"Personally, I don't think the apology that – it's not enough. I was the one who actually filed the complaint, so hopefully the investigation goes a little bit further," she responded Wednesday afternoon.
"I know the apology is better than nothing, however, there was several people displaced that night into the cold."
The actions were "not reflective of our community's values nor the tireless efforts of many social agencies," city administration's Rob Smythe added.
Both he and Murphy promised the city and its agencies would improve its extreme-weather protocols. On Tuesday, Murphy met with the Bear Clan Patrol. And work is already underway to create a joint standard operating procedure with EPS, according to Smythe.
"We are committed to doing better for our citizens and delivering the services they expect with compassion and empathy," Murphy vowed.
"I'm so happy that we've brought the conversation to the table," Bear Clan Patrol leader Judy Gale commend. "I'm very hopeful for change. With an apology, you know, comes forgiveness and change."
INQUIRY DUE IN SIX WEEKS
The Wednesday meeting's agenda included a discussion on the city's new framework for improving relationships with Indigenous communities.
"In a way, the timing was beautiful because there was an opportunity for some healing and some learning this morning," Mayor Don Iveson said of the two conversations coinciding.
At the beginning of the meeting, a motion he made requesting a formal inquiry into the incident was passed.
In six weeks – half of the time usually given to such a request – administration will provide a report to the committee going over the city's extreme-weather procedures, including the expectations for how these are followed and how they were carried out over the weekend.
"Those commitments and the apology and the accountability, particularly from the police service today, don't heal all of that, but go some way to grounding the paperwork that is to follow in the substance in the truth and in the spirit of reconciliation," he told media later.
However, Iveson said the issue illustrates the city's continued push for provincial and federal help in coming up with more permanent solutions.
"Again, housing is the answer here," he said, adding, "There were still people who would prefer to be outside than in certain shelters. And that tells me that we need to establish some minimum standards."
As was reiterated by Smythe Wednesday morning, the city no longer uses LRT stations as emergency shelters given expanded shelter space opened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"At all times during this activation, there was room in the shelter system for all who sought access to it," he told councillors.
"LRT stations are cold, they are uncomfortable, and they're certainly not designed for sleeping. They do not meet any definition of an acceptable place to use for overnight shelter. We know that the better solution is to instead ensure that transportation is not a barrier to accessing proper facilities."
Overnight bus service was offered for the last day on Tuesday; Edmonton's extreme-weather protocol deactivates Wednesday.