An Indigenous person was nearly 19 times more likely to get a transit ticket than a white person in 2020-2021 in Edmonton

Edmonton’s transit peace officers are dramatically more likely to issue a transit fine to an Indigenous person than a white person, according to recently released data on ticketing. A local researcher analyzing the most recent numbers—from 2020-2021—finds that an Indigenous person was nearly 19 times more likely to be ticketed by EPS.

“It’s definitely not a good thing. I was surprised looking at the numbers at how disproportionate it was,” Michelle Maroto, a University of Alberta sociology professor, told the Report.

“We see the story of groups of Indigenous people and people with no fixed address who are constantly getting ticketed and receiving warnings on transit and that might not be the best way to deal with these situations. I can’t say it’s totally unexpected, I'm familiar with the literature, but it was surprising to see how big it was.”

The data was released by the Policing Committee of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association of Alberta (CTLA), a professional organization supporting defense lawyers in Alberta and Student Legal Services, a student-managed non-profit that provides free legal information and assistance to low income people in Edmonton . The organizations acquired the data through a freedom of information request. 

Indigenous people received 58 per cent of tickets, 4307 out of 6827, in 2020 and 2021. When including only data from people whose race/ethnicity was reported, the percentage of transit tickets given to Indigenous people jumps to 63 per cent.These new figures show a dramatic increase from the last time this data was publicly released by the Edmonton Journal in 2019

“Indigenous people continue to be unsafe no matter where they go and what services they use. Transit is supposed to be for everyone and we're seeing Indigenous people targeted with tickets,” said Rob Houle, a former member of the city of Edmonton’s community safety and well-being task force that was created in 2020. 

“The mayor has talked about mitigating and addressing racism and this data shows racism in action and shows that Indigenous people are overpoliced and over prioritized for doing “wrong.”  

The task force that Houle served on recommended eliminating bylaw provisions that result in “nonsense ticketing.” The data acquired by CTLA also shows that 85 per cent of all people who received $600 trespass tickets in 2020-2021 were of no fixed address.    

The term no fixed address is used to identify people who are unhoused, who are incapacitated and unable to provide a response, who failed to provide their address, people who are without a permanent address, people who left the scene before completing their tickets, people in transit through Edmonton and people for whom the officer did not request this information.

“Writing unhoused people tickets makes no sense. There’s a failure at all levels when people are unhoused but to keep writing tickets is unethical. You’re writing a ticket and kicking them out of somewhere when they have nowhere else to go. The city has a community safety and wellbeing plan and this isn’t that, it’s punitive and it’s harming our most harmful populations,” said Dan Jones, a justice studies instructor at Norquest College.

“The unhoused population is majority Indigenous. These people have faced so much trauma and they're being dealt with an iron first. We need to start addressing root causes rather than the symptoms. Being homeless, committing survival crimes, substance use disorders, these are all symptoms of trauma,” said Jones.  

In September of 2020 the UCP government increased the fine for trespass from $250 to $500. The city of Edmonton writes a trespass ticket worth $600. The total value of trespass tickets given to people in 2020 and 2021 with no fixed address came to more than $1.2 million.

One of the reasons given by the CTLA and SLS for releasing this data is because of the city of Edmonton inviting Edmontonians to share their input on upcoming changes to public spaces bylaws. The survey bizarrely asks if people should be allowed in public spaces at night or if they’re comfortable with open drug use in food courts. 

CTLA and Student Legal Services is urging the city to provide clearer guidance to transit peace officers about when and when not to issue bans and tickets. They’re also encouraging the province to consider a progressive fine system in traffic court to ensure bylaws are proportionate to people’s incomes. Such a system exists in Finland and Switzerland. 

“I think those recommendations are really insightful and I would be interested in looking at them further when we discuss the bylaw in city council chambers,” said councillor Anne Stevenson, whose ward includes downtown Edmonton. 

“This really speaks to the issues that will be addressed in our public spaces bylaw which is under review right now. This also emphasizes the importance of race based data because it allows us to see these trends and identify issues of bias and that can lead to improvements in training, policy and practice,” said Stevenson 

From left to right: iHuman’s Al McKee, Delilah Turner, City of Edmonton’s Drury Stratiy, Ray Au, iHuman’s Shannon Hebden, and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi. taken September 29 2022, shows staff from iHuman and the City of Edmonton, along with Mayor Amarjeet Sohi stand next to an ETS bus wrapped in Indigenous artwork parked in front of City Hall in Edmonton. Photo taken September 29, 2022. 

The public spaces bylaw review is ongoing and expected to be discussed by council sometime in the summer or fall. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said in an emailed statement that he was saddened to hear of the overrepresentation of Indigenous people who were ticketed saying that, “this reflects the significant overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Edmonton’s unhoused population (making up almost 60% of it), and that many of whom seek shelter in LRT infrastructure due to lack of sufficient and permanent emergency shelter space from the province.”

Sohi’s statement mentioned the city’s effort to reduce financial barriers to using transit, the city’s investments in bridge housing, emergency shelter and extended day shelter programs as well as its investments in permanent supportive and affordable housing. 

“City council and the city of Edmonton administration are committed to taking a compassionate approach to enforcement and diversion in transit spaces, while working with law enforcement and social agencies to connect unhoused folks to the culturally appropriate supports they need," said Sohi.

We reached out to Sarah Hamilton and Tim Cartmell, the two Edmonton city council members the UCP appointed to their Edmonton Public Safety and Community Response Task Force, but they did not reply before our publishing deadline.