There are calls for a flag to be taken down that is prominently displayed at the Edmonton Police Association’s building. The flag is similar to a Canadian flag, but it is black and white with a thin blue line going across it.
The association president maintains the flag is in support of police officers, but for many, it is a symbol of bigotry and divisiveness.
“It’s unfortunate that it has taken on this role. I don’t know where it started,” EPA president Sgt. Michael Elliot said. “Some groups (say) that this blue line is a representation of racism or bigoty, but from our perspective it is not the case.
“This flag doesn’t represent bigotry or racism, the flag represents the support we provide to one another, (as police officers).”
The flag was first raised close to three months ago, and it was flying at half mast on Tuesday to honour a police officer who died by suicide a few days earlier. Tuesday also marked the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. Floyd was killed by a police officer on May 25, 2020, when the officer kneeled on his neck.
Those critical of the flag argue the blue line represents a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which creates divisiveness.
Multiple police forces in the U.S. and Canada have banned the use of the thin blue line, and it is also not allowed to be used by any RCMP members.
Criminology professor Temitope Oriola said the meaning and symbolism of the flag have evolved.
“Symbols have meanings. Those meanings are not fixed entities, those meanings go through change in the course of human interaction,” Oriola said.
“The Edmonton Police Association, I believe, needs to be sensitive to the change in that insignia of police. There is a reason why this flag has been banned by the RCMP, and there is a reason why the Toronto Police Service doesn’t allow its officers to have anything close to that symbol on their uniform.
“l do not see a connection between standing firm in support of officers and flying that flag, given now what it connotes.”
Oriola also questions how this flag actually does anything to support officers.
“It merely exacerbates existing social divisions and I don’t think this is what they intend to do,” he said.
“There are many other ways to show support for our hard working police officers. That could include providing mental health support, ensuring that police officers make use of the support without any fear of stigma, establishing scholarships for the children of officers who were killed in the line of duty, and others ways.”
Elliot said a photo of the flag has been circulating online and has resulted in derogatory and threatening comments towards the association, and there is concern for the safety of the civilian staff.
He said he respects differences in opinions, but hopes people don’t jump to conclusions.
“Today in society and especially with social media, it is easy to jump to conclusions and it’s easy to see that letter, and if you have a question about that, reach out and ask. We are open to dialogue and we are open to having discussions,” Elliot said.