Edmonton Police Commission seeks clarity on protest response and officer name tags

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How the police handled a pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Alberta is drawing scrutiny from the Edmonton Police Commission and the public.

The local police oversight agency on Thursday asked the Edmonton Police Service to produce a report on its guidelines for managing protests and officer identification. A dozen members of the public who joined the virtual-only Edmonton Police Commission meeting voiced opposition to the police’s actions around the camp removal and Chief Dale McFee and commission chairman John McDougall made some preliminary remarks on Saturday’s events.

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Commissioner Irfan Chaudhry, reading the request for information he filed, said public concerns have arisen about the perceived lack of clarity on EPS policies regarding protests and use of force.

“Equal principles are in place respecting the duty to uphold law and order as well as respecting the rights of individuals to assemble and express their grievances peacefully,” his inquiry states.

It’s unclear why, he wrote, that some police officers didn’t have their names clearly displayed on uniforms — as have been seen in images circulating on social media.

“It is essential that members of the public can easily identify and hold accountable those entrusted with maintaining public order.”

At the beginning of the meeting, McDougall said the commission has a statutory role and cannot rush to conclusions around the events of last Saturday, but that the commission will ask the chief questions about it and noted the report requesting more information.

“I understand people are passionate and want to be heard — I get it. We also have a legislative authority to exercise and simply cannot rush to judgment,” he said.

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McDougall said he’s seen a photo of an officer without a nametag, “which is concerning.”

EPS is expected to return to the commission with a report although exactly when is unclear.

McFee said police are managing more protests each year — about 800 in the last 16 months — and both the police and protesters have responsibilities around their actions.

He said protesters are responsible “to obey all the laws and to respect private property.”

“We protect free speech and we protect the very essential right of free expression when both police and protesters respect their rights and responsibilities. Failure to do so in a deliberate attempt to bully, harass, doxx, and otherwise intimidate the community impacts the safety of our community and means the police response will come to adapt to the conditions on the ground,” he said.

“We are living in a new world and more and more of the strife that has captured our attention around the world is playing out in our community.”

Vahedah Mehrabani, referring to remarks Coun. Tim Cartmell made Wednesday about how members of the commission felt during an at-times disruptive protest at city hall this week, said people at the University of Alberta did not feel safe because of the police.

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“I can assure you that they felt anything but safe or respected or moralized. They had no one protecting them from the police but you all feel unsafe while you’re surrounded by heavy security guards throughout city hall,” she told the police commission meeting.

“Try feeling safe when police are swinging batons at your heads and treating you worse than garbage. Try feeling respected when Edmonton police is shooting at you with pepper bullets and hollering at you, ‘Move! move! move.’”

The prospect of a large crowd prompted the commission to cancel the in-person meeting, holding it virtually instead. Organizers of the U of A camp, who protested outside city hall this week before attending the council meeting, were encouraging people to attend Thursday’s commission meeting.

Meanwhile, U of A professor Natalie Loveless resigned from her position as the associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion in protest of the camp’s removal earlier this week.

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