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‘We must do better’: Edmonton police address interaction with homeless people in LRT station

Click to play video 'How to improve Edmonton’s cold weather response after homeless people kicked out of LRT station' How to improve Edmonton’s cold weather response after homeless people kicked out of LRT station
WATCH ABOVE: A video of Edmonton police telling a group of homeless people to leave an LRT station and not provide any ways to get to a shelter is raising questions about the process. Sarah Komadina has more on the city's emergency cold weather response and what can done better – Feb 16, 2021

The Edmonton Police Service apologized Wednesday for the way officers forced members of the homeless community out of an LRT station during the extreme cold snap over the weekend.

Read more: Homeless advocate upset after police kick people out of Edmonton LRT station during cold snap

The video was shared by Judith Gale, who works with The Bear Clan Patrol Edmonton Beaver Hills House. It was taken at Central Station on Sunday, she said.

In the video, a police officer tells some of the homeless people that they can’t take their face coverings off inside even if they’re eating and adds that they are loitering and need to find somewhere else to eat.

Gale is heard telling the officers that the homeless people they were feeding will face “extreme weather” outside and a police officer is heard telling her “there’s lots of shelters though.”

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Click to play video 'Growing outrage over video showing Edmonton police removing homeless people from LRT station' Growing outrage over video showing Edmonton police removing homeless people from LRT station
Growing outrage over video showing Edmonton police removing homeless people from LRT station – Feb 16, 2021

On Wednesday morning, leaders of the Edmonton Police Service met with the community and public services committee.

In a statement, Acting Chief Alan Murphy and Acting CAO Enyinnah Okere said:

“This past weekend, the Edmonton Police Service escorted members of the homeless community out of a central LRT station into the extreme cold. 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.

“We must do better, and for this we are sorry.

Click to play video 'City commitment to improve after vulnerable Edmontonians kicked out into the cold' City commitment to improve after vulnerable Edmontonians kicked out into the cold
City commitment to improve after vulnerable Edmontonians kicked out into the cold – Feb 17, 2021

“There is a public complaint on this matter. Professional Standards Branch has opened an investigation.

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“Incidents like this cause us to reflect and review our processes and actions. We will be working with our City of Edmonton colleagues to ensure there is a clear understanding of the extreme weather protocols and our mutual responsibilities. This information will be communicated across the service to all our members.

“This week, we met with various community members and listened to the impacts of our actions. We are committed to doing better for our citizens, and delivering the services they expect with compassion and empathy,” the statement read.

Read more: Mayor requesting inquiry after police forced homeless people out of Edmonton LRT station

On Tuesday, Mayor Don Iveson said he’d be requesting a formal inquiry, looking at the implementation of Edmonton’s extreme weather response and clarifying how city employees, including police, should respond to citizens experiencing homelessness.

“I would have liked to have seen the officers in this case take the time to connect these Edmontonians to the City of Edmonton services and partner agencies that have been working overtime and working tirelessly during the activation of our extreme weather response to keep vulnerable residents safe and warm rather than just direct them outside,” Iveson said Tuesday.

Click to play video 'Homeless people eating inside an LRT station sent out into the bitter cold' Homeless people eating inside an LRT station sent out into the bitter cold
Homeless people eating inside an LRT station sent out into the bitter cold – Feb 15, 2021

During Wednesday’s meeting, he submitted a request for the inquiry.

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“Following the recent cold snap, social media video footage has surfaced showing Edmonton Police Service (EPS) officers moving vulnerable citizens off City of Edmonton property, including a downtown LRT station, out into extreme cold and unsafe conditions. During these extreme weather conditions, we have procedures that are to be followed to ensure all Edmontonians, including our most vulnerable, are kept safe. It would appear these were not followed during these instances,” the motion reads.

It asks city administration to summarize the extreme weather protocols including:

  • How city employees, including EPS officers, are expected to work with Edmontonians experiencing homelessness and other situations that put them at risk to the cold weather.
  • How these protocols were followed during this recent extreme cold snap and if there were instances of them not being followed.
  • How we work with our partners, including EPS and shelters, to communicate the policy, including when and how it will be enacted.

City administration told councillors the timeline for the inquiry would be six weeks.

Read more: As bitter cold snap lifts next week, Edmonton to lift extreme weather response

City of Edmonton manager Rob Smyth told the committee the city shares the disappointment that many feel about how the LRT situation was handled.

He said that exchange “is not reflective of our community’s values nor the tireless efforts of many social agencies, Homeward Trust, city staff and the Edmonton Police Service, who came together in response to this extreme effort.

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“Collectively, these partners mobilized transportation, essential services, security and warm shelter space for hundreds of Edmontonians every night over the past two weeks.

“Winter emergency buses staffed with outreach workers and peace officers ran overnight loops across the north and south sides of the city.”

Smyth said the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis created by extreme cold weather and he applauds the efforts of Bear Clan to help those in need.

Read more: Edmonton activates extreme weather response with overnight transit to shelters

He said while LRT stations are no longer used in Edmonton’s extreme weather response, some people still seek temporary shelter there. Since many outreach workers were staffing emergency shelters across the city, there were fewer available to dispatch elsewhere.

“Fewer staff were available on the night in question to cover their other duties,” Smyth said. “The Edmonton Police Service stepped up and responded to our request for help patrolling transit stations and pedways where social disorder has been steadily increasing over recent weeks.”

He said Sunday’s exchange “makes it clear that a critically important opportunity exists to clarify our own policies regarding what activities are permitted in city facilities, including transit centres.”

“We will use the mistakes made this past weekend as an opportunity to once again improve our collective response,” Smyth said.

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That effort will include:

  • A joint standard operating procedure with EPS that stresses the importance of compassion
  • Continue work with Homeward Trust and the Alberta government to emphasize the importance of low-barrier shelter options to meet people’s needs where and when they need it
  • Supportive housing as solution to address root cause
  • Improve how city works with EPS, community partners and government of Alberta to improve services provided to all Edmontonians

Gale, leader of Bear Clan Patrol, told Global News on Wednesday that she appreciates the police apology.

“It takes a big person to realize when they’ve done wrong and apologize so I appreciate that.”

She is glad she filmed the event and hopes it continues to raise awareness and push forward change.

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“I know it’s not going to be an overnight thing. I can live with that. Just as long as we’re moving in the right direction,” Gale said.

“Hopefully that it’s going to bring humanity and compassion as well to the EPS service.”

Melany Beatty, a volunteer with the Bear Clan Patrol, lodged a formal complaint with Edmonton police.

“The people that were in the LRT that night while I was there were kind, they were appreciative of the services we gave them. They weren’t brutalizing or belligerent or anything towards the EPS,” she said.

“There was no need for the action to be taken that way.”