Upcoming Edmonton Police Commission meeting a key test of its relationship with city council

Never before have I written a preview of an Edmonton Police Commission meeting but we live in extraordinary times. 

The Edmonton Police Commission is holding their monthly public meeting tomorrow, June 16, in the River Valley Room at city hall, starting at noon, and it promises to be interesting. It will be the first opportunity police commissioners and the media will have to ask Chief Dale McFee questions about the recent revelations by Wallis Snowdon of the CBC into the Chinatown murders of Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang.

I will be there to report on the meeting, so keep an eye on the @ProgressAlberta Twitter account for live updates or you can follow along virtually here. The very first meaningful item on the agenda is an update from the Edmonton Police Service on “Recent Chinatown Events.” 

Postmedia journalist Jonny Wakefield asked the Edmonton Police Service if McFee was aware of the contact EPS officers had with Justin Bone prior to the murders of Trang and Hoang before he attended a May 28th “Rally for Chinatown Safety” outside of city hall. The EPS refused to confirm anything citing “developing information coming from multiple agencies around the time,” and invited media to the commission meeting where McFee will speak on the matter. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi has publicly called for a public inquiry into the murders of Trang and Hoang, a call that has been echoed by Councillor Andrew Knack. The commission has the power to call such a public inquiry. This meeting is a key test of whether the Edmonton Police Commission can maintain and/or rebuild trust with Edmonton City Council after a long and acrimonious police budget fight that saw two separate police commissioners call for the removal of a sitting city councillor from the commission. If this meeting doesn't go well it might be time for new blood on the Edmonton Police Commission. 

The commission meeting agenda also features something novel, a potential actual discussion between commissioners and an actual potential public vote on whether or not to take a stance on the issue of decriminalization. Of all the police commission meetings I’ve been to, I've never seen such a thing, typically it’s just reports and presentations. 

Chief McFee has notably come out very publicly against the idea of decriminalization while city council has asked administration to draw up a draft submission to Health Canada for a decriminalization exemption. The federal government recently granted British Columbia’s request for decriminalization of small amounts of drugs. The governance committee of the police commission is recommending that the commission take no stance on the issue. 

The commission will also be receiving a report on recruitment which shows that applications to the EPS in 2021 are down 30 per cent from the year before and applications are at their second lowest level since 2002. Of the 410 people who applied to become EPS officers in 2021, 22 per cent or 91 became police officers.

Complaints from the public about the Edmonton police are also at the highest level they’ve ever been, which we know thanks to a report from the Professional Standards Branch

All citizens are welcome to come up to the microphone during the time on the meeting agenda allocated for public input. Each individual has five minutes to address the Commission on whatever they like. You can register to speak here

Screenshot from Edmonton Police Commission website.

Other police notes: 

Race-based use of force statistics were recently released by the Toronto Police and what they show is disturbing. Black, Indigenous and other diverse groups are disproportionately affected by use of force and strip searches by Toronto police. Unfortunately we can’t do that same reporting because the Edmonton Police don’t include race-based data in their use of force stats. We have inquired with the Edmonton Police Commission on when they plan to introduce race based data to their use of force statistics. We'll report back when we hear an answer. The statistics, even when not broken down by race, are still disturbing. There has been a steep rise in officers pulling their guns out as well as pointing them at citizens

Dorothy Roberts’ home in the inner-city was burned down in an arson almost a year ago. Recently Edmonton Police decided to put out an alert with video and pictures of the likely culprits after the issue of arson in the inner-city became a political talking point in the police budget fight. Roberts’ doesn’t mince words about why all of a sudden this evidence got released. "I would be really interested to hear if there is some really specialized investigative technique that means police need to wait a year to release good evidence... but I suspect it had a lot more to do with the extremely public debate that was going on about the EPS budget."

I have filed a complaint with the Edmonton Police Commission against Edmonton police commissioner Ashvin Singh after he wrote a letter to Mayor Amarjeet Sohi on Edmonton Police Commission letterhead stating that I am under investigation in a letter that was leaked to the media. As far as I know the only thing that’s happened is the Edmonton Police are reviewing my media credentials. Singh has refused to clarify his remarks. You can read the complaint here.  

We have compiled a timeline of events both around the murders of Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang and the police budget fight which we will be referring to tomorrow at the Edmonton Police Commission meeting.