Task force demands investigations by city, police and commission after homeless ordered from LRT station in cold snap

Professional standards has opened an investigation, a public complaint has been filed, and the department is reviewing processes and actions, police said

A video circulating social media shows Edmonton police telling a group receiving help from a local homeless service provider to leave the Central LRT station. (SCREENSHOT/FACEBOOK)A video circulating social media shows Edmonton police telling a group receiving help from a local homeless service provider to leave the Central LRT station. (SCREENSHOT/FACEBOOK)

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An independent task force is demanding the city, police, and police commission do a thorough and transparent investigation after police ordered homeless people out of an LRT station into the extreme cold on Sunday.

The 16-member Community Safety and Well Being Task Force, which includes two police officers and a member of the police commission, said in a release on Wednesday actions by police at the LRT station show a lack of compassion for marginalized communities. The group is calling for accountability and empathy training for Edmonton police.

Mayor Don Iveson asked staff at a council committee meeting Wednesday to bring back a report on the city’s extreme-weather protocols and whether or not they are being implemented properly.

But task force member Marni Panas told Postmedia the mayor’s ask falls short.

“Just that they have policies and are reviewing those, that’s not good enough. We have to look at how policies are applied in interactions like this. In this case, all the policies failed these humans who were sent into the cold,” she said.

Rob Smyth, deputy city manager of citizen services, told councillors the incident does not reflect their values or the efforts of city staff and other social supports agencies, including police, who helped many find shelter during the cold snap.

He said staff were busy with outreach agencies so police were asked to patrol transit stations, and there is an “opportunity” to clarify city’s policies about what activities are allowed in public spaces.

The city will make a new set of shared standards with police regarding transit station enforcement that emphasizes compassion, he said.

Police open internal investigation

Edmonton police have opened an internal investigation, a public complaint has been filed, and the department is reviewing practices in response to the incident, acting chief Alan Murphy told councillors at the meeting.

Murphy apologized and said police should have helped those seeking shelter.

“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,” he said, reading statement.

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Hope Mission calls police over encampment

A second incident over the weekend also drew the ire of the task force. Posts on social media show police sweeping a site where homeless people were camping near the downtown core.

“Members of the task force are all too familiar with similar experiences. These are not isolated incidents,” chair Annette Trimbee said in a news release. “As these disturbing events reveal, our work is important and the time for action is overdue.”

City spokeswoman Adrienne Cloutier told Postmedia police were called directly by Hope Mission to an encampment adjacent to its property. She said park rangers and peace officers were not involved but city cleanup crews attended.

Postmedia did not receive a response from Hope Mission by deadline.

EPS spokeswoman Cheryl Sheppard said in a statement Hope Mission called police about the encampment Saturday. Other nearby businesses also called and “expressed concern for their safety as a large fire was built in the days prior,” she said.

Police were on site while city cleanup crews worked. Officers don’t have a role in removing belongings from encampments, she said, and Hope Mission staff gave the people staying there alternative shelter options.

The actions do not appear to follow the city’s policies on active encampments. A city flow chart shows calls about encampments should be directed through 311 and responded to by park rangers followed by a visit from Boyle Street Outreach, although police and other first responders may be called as necessary.

Cloutier said the city will be adding a new contact to co-ordinate between the encampment response team and other agencies.

The mayor told reporters Wednesday he expects anyone moved from encampments should be supported.

“Clearing encampments that represent challenges to public safety is an unfortunate reality of the circumstances that we have here and council’s expectation is that be done in a very constructive and collaborative way that doesn’t criminalize peoples’ poverty and refers them to supports,” he said.



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