Calgary police have been told by the police commission to replace thin blue line patches with a symbol that better reflects the values of Calgarians.
The thin blue line, a symbol originally created to commemorate fallen officers, has a divisive history rooted in anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. The symbol was prominently displayed at counter-protests against the Black Lives Matter movement, such as the protests about George Floyd’s death in the U.S.
The patches were also worn by Mounties at the old-growth protests near Fairy Creek in British Columbia.
The Calgary police commission said it made a regular appearance on uniforms when officers were issued body armour that allowed them to attach patches. Officers will need to replace the patches with a symbol that better reflects the values of Calgarians, reads a press release issued on Wednesday.
“I think it’s important to know that we know police officers are part of our community and the community values them incredibly. What we really want to do is find a symbol that we can all get behind and feel comfortable with as well,” Commission Vice-Chair Amtul Siddiqui said.
“This symbol has been around for decades, so this is not something new, and it has large history and roots in colonialism and racism.”
The decision comes after a year-long consultation process undergone by the Calgary Police Service aiming to address racial injustice in the city. According to the release, it included conversations with Calgary’s two police associations along with various CPS committees and advisory boards, such as the force’s anti-racism action committee.
Beyond the Blue, an organization that supports local police families and CPS’ leadership was also consulted.
“We wanted to be very thorough in the process. We spoke to members of the service and to various community groups to get their feedback and having a lot of conversations surrounding this,” Siddiqui said.
The Calgary police commission has invited officers and their families to create a new symbol for officers to wear.
However, Calgary Police Association president John Orr said he has declined the invitation, adding the police will defy the order.
“This symbol is a critically important symbol to our members. It’s recognition and remembrance of our fallen officers,” Orr said.
“Folks who have suggested it means otherwise, in my view, are incorrect… We will encourage our members to continue to wear it despite the orders from the commission today.”
CPS Chief Mark Neufeld previously defended the symbol, saying it is a longstanding symbol of justice, bravery and service to the community.
Many Black activists say this change is long overdue. Adam Massiah, founder of the United Black Peoples Allyship, said he is disappointed that the police service removed the patches not because they wanted to, but because they were ordered to do so.
“This wasn’t done on the goodwill of the chief. He wanted to stand beside the symbol and allow his officers to continue to wear it even with all the engagement, consultation and responses from racialized communities.”
“While I understand that the CPS sees the blue line as a sign of respect and solidarity for their fallen officers, symbols change over time.”
“A much larger population of Calgarians view this blue line as aggressively offensive and in direct opposition to the idea that Black people have value.”
Massiah also said he expects some backlash within the force and wouldn’t be surprised if they continued to display the patch elsewhere. He said the police still has a lot more work to do to repair relationships with Black, Indigenous and racialized communities.
“I’ve been on the anti-racism action committee for quite a period of time. From there, you begin to realize that it’s quite performative … Everything seems to fall on deaf ears.
“The relationship between the Black community and the CPS has been fractured, especially after the death of Latjor Tuel… There is so much that the CPS has to do, and I am not fully confident that they want to make that change,” he said.
Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said the police association’s decision to defy the order will not be taken lightly.
“The Thin Blue LIne has its origins in colonialism… It lives on today as an explicitly white supremacist symbol. The Calgary Police Service is trying to co-opt it into something that it’s not,” he said.
“Make no mistake… Citizens oversee the Calgary Police Service, and that citizen oversight has made that determination. We will get to compliance one way or another.”
In a Wednesday press release, Neufeld once again defended the patch and said he understands how much the patch means to members of the force and their families.
“While I understand there has been valid community concern over the use of the patch and its roots in colonialism and its more recent co-opting by White Supremacy organizations, I can confidently say that not a single member who put that patch on their uniform meant anything other than to show pride in their profession and to honour the fallen.”
“We are committed to listening and amplifying racialized voices, and while we are dedicated to doing so, I also recognize how disappointing this decision will be for many of our officers. For them, as it is for me, this symbol is profoundly meaningful and personal,” he said.