Edmonton’s new police Chief Dale McFee made a formal apology Friday to the LGBTQ2 community on behalf of the police force.
“To the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and two-spirit community — both across our public and within our service — on behalf of the Edmonton Police Service, I am sorry and we are sorry,” said McFee.
“Our actions caused pain. They eroded trust. They created fear.
“They caused members of the public and our service alike to feel unsafe on their own streets, in their workplaces and even their homes.”
McFee said while he is new to the post, he is committed to addressing these social issues in a careful, case-by-case basis.
“In our history, we have failed certain communities,” the police chief said.
Watch below: It was described as an historic moment: Dale McFee, Edmonton’s new police chief, issued an apology on behalf of the force, recognizing a history of discrimination and marginalization. Vinesh Pratap reports.
The apology is the beginning of a reconciliation process with members of the LGBTQ2 community, EPS said in a news release.
“The apology acknowledged that while police have an obligation to uphold the law and to create safe communities for everyone, the EPS has not always demonstrated behaviours and approaches which embody our core values,” the police force added.
Watch below: Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee says certain departments, including equity, diversity and human rights, will report directly to the office of the chief.
McFee promised to stand against homophobia, transphobia and any other kind of marginalization or disrespect. He invited people to share their stories and to help improve the relationship between the EPS and the community. McFee said part of the reconciliation will include a look inward to understand the impact that the EPS has had historically, on its own members.
“To make sure we get this right, it has to be guided and informed by those in our community,” McFee said.
“By those who have spoken out before and by those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to share their voices. We are requesting advice, guidance and partnership.”
The EPS is asking members of the LGBTQ2 community to share their ideas about the engagement process through a specially established website. The input shared will shape the design of the engagement process, which will be facilitated by external consultants early in the fall of 2019, EPS said.
“We all know this is not a simple task. We all know that we may experience challenges, make mistakes and feel uncomfortable and uncertain. But we will keep moving forward. We will build and learn from it all in service to our commitment to be better than we were before — getting stronger together not just as communities but as a city,” McFee said.
McFee also announced that, for the first time in EPS history, the police departments of equity, diversity and human rights will report directly to the office of the chief.
“I feel completely proud with the sincerity, the degree, and depth of the commitment,” long-time activist Murray Billet said of the EPS apology. “It is finally being taken seriously. I think this is history-making, not just looking back but going forward. We have an opportunity now to make not just our community, but our city, a better place.
“This is a big statement that I think is going to have some traction right across the country. We need more of this in Canada and in Alberta.”
Marni Panas, a certified inclusion professional and LGBTQ2 advocate in Edmonton, was involved in some of the work leading up to the apology and what comes next.
“I’ve had a chance to meet the chief a few times and have some really important conversations and I felt sincerity in those conversations. I certainly felt the sincerity today. I felt it was powerful, it was meaningful. He was the right chief to do it at the right time. And the words meant something,” Panas said.
“There are a lot of voices that may still be missing in this,” she said, adding today was an important and necessary step but what comes next requires hard work.
“What’s important is that those voices — all voices — feel safe to be heard in whatever ways we engage with them and that’s going to be really necessary.”
Kristopher Wells, an advocate and associate professor at MacEwan University, called the apology “long overdue.”
“Great to see the new chief make this a top priority,” Wells wrote on Twitter Thursday.
Last August, a leaked memo from Rod Knecht — who was police chief at that time — to EPS members explained why the department had not joined four other police forces across Canada in offering a formal apology to LGBTQ citizens for past treatment of the community.
“One of the concerns was that we did not want our apology to be viewed as insincere or trite in following in other’s footsteps, but rather genuine and specific to the historical EPS interactions with the community,” the memo read.
In July 2018, Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin issued a formal apology to that city’s LGBTQ community for how police spoke out against the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 and struggled to embrace the new law when it passed. He also apologized for police denying permits to Pride parades in the 1980s and failing to consider the impacts of a 2002 bathhouse raid.
Watch below (July 27, 2018): Calgary police chief apologizes to LGBTQ2 community for past injustices
In his last Coffee With The Chief event as head of Edmonton’s police force in October 2018, Knecht said instead of issuing an apology to the LGBTQ community, the service is developing a long-term strategy.
He said the EPS had been having discussions with various community groups as well as within the force for several months. Knecht also had a community consultation group that helped facilitate conversations in the wider community.
“The feedback I got was they were very split on it,” the police chief said. “You had folks that didn’t want an apology, didn’t care about an apology and you had folks that wanted an apology and everything in between.”
WATCH BELOW (Oct. 24, 2018): Outgoing Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht is asked why the police service has not come out and issued a formal apology to the LGBTQ community like other police forces have.
On April 10, the Edmonton Pride Festival Society announced it would be cancelling its 2019 events.
READ MORE: 2019 Edmonton Pride Festival cancelled
A member on the society’s board of directors, whose name Global News has agreed to keep anonymous, said a funding and volunteer deficit, as well as a belief the organization could not fulfill its mission to unify the community, led to the decision to cancel the event.
“We felt it was best to step back now at a point where we could do that now without causing harm,” the member said.
Mayor Don Iveson said he was sad to hear the 2019 Pride Festival was cancelled but also understands it’s a complex situation and not unique to Edmonton.
Iveson said the city would support the community and help facilitate other events.
WATCH BELOW: (Dec. 12, 2018): Edmonton’s incoming police chief Dale McFee spoke about whether he would attend the local Pride Parade and about the police’s relationship with the LGBTQ community.
When asked Friday about police participating in future Edmonton pride parades, McFee said: “If we’re asked, absolutely we will.”
McFee stressed police must be asked to take part by members of the LGBTQ2 community and would not “invite ourselves.”
“The only way we get safer communities is with the community,” he said.