“No tent is safe,” says Chief McFee as EPS and UCP announce crackdown on encampments in Edmonton

The Edmonton Police Service promised Wednesday to accelerate the sweeps of encampments in the city, saying that they will be sending many of the displaced people to a “navigation and support centre” whose funding the UCP announced at the same press conference. 

Three UCP cabinet ministers, Chief Cody Thomas Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations, Chief Willie Littlechild and the UCP’s unofficial representative in Edmonton Chief Dale McFee made the announcement

Housing and homelessness are the province’s jurisdiction, but no UCP representative at the press conference took responsibility for Edmonton’s ongoing crisis. The UCP ministers and McFee were angry, defiant and defensive throughout the announcement.

Encampment sweeps were slowed over the holidays thanks to a legal challenge by the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights (CJHR), but that challenge was dismissed by the courts this week. Now that the lawsuit is out of the way, and the provincial government is signalling its support, EPS are doubling down.

“No tent is safe,” said McFee at the press conference. 

Chief McFee at the podium at a press conference announcing a crackdown on encampments. To the left is Chief Willie Littlechild, Mickey Amery behind and Jason Nixon behind him. To the right of McFee are Mike Ellis and Cody Thomas. 

The people unlucky enough to both be unhoused and to have their encampment closed down by the police in this crackdown will now be triaged into four separate streams, reported Lauren Boothby of the Edmonton Journal

Displaced people could be arrested for outstanding warrants, they could receive addiction “treatment” in a converted holding cell in downtown police headquarters, they could leave voluntarily, or they could be sent to the new ‘support centre’ at 10302 107 Street. According to the UCP, encampment residents sent to the centre—located in a Hope Mission facility—would receive assistance in applying for and navigating various support programs around housing, medical care, and transportation as well as cultural supports. 

Throughout the press conference Jason Nixon, the minister of seniors, community and social services, both defended the emergency shelter service providers and emphasized his experience on this file. Nixon’s father founded the Mustard Seed, where Jason Nixon worked as an executive director for five years.

The Mustard Seed is a big player within Alberta’s charity and non-profit scene and receives a significant share of the province’s anti-poverty and anti-homelessness funding. 

The highest paid person at the Mustard Seed according to their latest charity filing with the Canadian Revenue Agency makes between $200K and $250K. The newest CEO at the Mustard Seed was announced in December and prior to joining the organization was a senior commercial banker with the Bank of Montreal

More than a third of the 22/23 budget for the Mustard Seed Society, $14 million, comes from the provincial government. The organization spent $2.8 million on advertising and promotion in the same period. 

Chief Dale McFee also emphasized his own experience on the homelessness file but it’s not clear what that is. Prior to becoming the chief of a police force which violently clears encampments in -30C degree weather, McFee was a deputy minister with the Saskatchewan government for policing and corrections. Prior to that he was a cop and eventually the chief of police in Prince Albert, a town of roughly 35,000. Before that McFee was a hockey player in the WHL who typically got got more penalty minutes than points scored.

Chief Cody Thomas of the Confederacy of Treaty Six Nations, who was also part of Wednesday’s announcement, argued that housing should not be provided to anyone until their addiction issues have been dealt with.  

Chief Willie Littlechild, an elder who served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and was a former Progressive Conservative member of parliament, asked rhetorically near the end of the announcement, “who can be against safety?”

Police solve problems with violence and incarceration and people on the street justifiably do not trust them. Having police lead on an effort to connect unhoused people with services and housing while they’re in the process of evicting them from their makeshift homes will fail and the status quo will continue. And as everyone agrees, the status quo is unsafe.

Chief McFee and the UCP don’t know how many encampments there are in Edmonton and couldn’t say how many people might be affected nor could anyone answer any questions about the timeline for their plan. 

Chris Wiebe, one of the lawyers for the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights who attempted to sue the city over their encampment policy said on Twitter that, “we are going to need help documenting EPS’ actions and the impacts of those actions on people living in encampments and on the shelter and healthcare systems.”

We plan to do our part documenting this crackdown. If you see any encampments being torn down please DM or email the Progress Report.