Calgary police chief unaware honour guard attended controversial prayer breakfast, but ‘not surprised’

Calgary Police Commission chair Shawn Cornett (L) looks on as Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld speaks at a commission meeting on Oct. 25, 2023. Global News

Editor’s note: A portion of this story has been changed from the original story that aired on Oct. 25. Nigel Hannaford was the keynote speaker at a leadership prayer breakfast and said, “I can’t tell you that it is not true, that Christians murdered indigenous children in residential schools. How would I know? But at the moment, this is nothing more than unexamined allegations. No excavations, no bones, no names, just an allegation that people of God threw kids into furnaces.” We originally said, “There is no evidence of the horrors of residential schools,” including referring to “the unmarked graves as unlikely, and just allegations.”

Calgary’s top cop is defending having police at last week’s prayer breakfast that heard anti-LGBTQ2 rhetoric and residential school denialism.

But the Calgary Police Commission chair recognized those sentiments are not the views of the Calgary Police Service and the commission.

On Oct. 19, members of the CPS honour guard escorted keynote speaker Nigel Hannaford to his seat at the Calgary Leaders Prayer Breakfast, as part of the opening ceremonies.

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Hannaford questioned whether atrocities were committed at Indian Residential Schools that were run by the church for more than a century in Canada, calling them “unexamined allegations.”

“No excavations, no bones, no names, just an allegation,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Calgarians concerned about troubling speech given at faith-based breakfast'
Calgarians concerned about troubling speech given at faith-based breakfast

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) received testimony from thousands of survivors as well as millions of government and church records in their multi-volume documentation of Canada’s history of residential schools. Multiple First Nations continue their work to match DNA records and use ground-penetrating radar to identify possible mass graves.

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CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said he had no prior knowledge of honour guard members plans to escort Hannaford into the Westin Calgary ahead of his speech that received a standing ovation.

“Was I aware that the honour guard officers had attended? Not specifically, but I’m not surprised because we have attended in the past,” Chief Mark Neufeld said Wednesday.

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Neufeld said he had previously attended that event in 2019, shortly after he was named police chief, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented his attendance in the following years. He nearly attended last week.

“I had been invited, myself, and because of the (officer-involved) shooting, I wasn’t able to make it. Otherwise I probably would have been there as well,” Neufeld said, saying he’s recently felt an increased need to attend community events.

Click to play video: 'Questions remain after fatal police shooting in northeast Calgary'
Questions remain after fatal police shooting in northeast Calgary

Police commission chair Shawn Cornett said she encourages the police service to connect with the community in various areas, but recognized those interactions can be “unpredictable and unknown,” and with people whose views don’t always match those of the CPS.

“Those certainly aren’t the views of the service and they’re certainly not the views of the commission,” Cornett said.

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“But that’s part of the nature of interacting and engaging with the community on a regular basis.”

Other prominent Albertans like Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver, Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney, MLA Chantelle de Jonge, former Suncor CEO Mark Little and Preston Manning were acknowledged by the crowd. Chaplains and reserve members of the Canadian Armed Forces also received applause.

When reached on Friday, Sawhney said it’s “undeniable that many unthinkable atrocities occurred at residential schools” as borne out by the TRC.

McIver’s office did not respond to another request for comment on Wednesday.

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