Police accountability in action: Chief McFee no-shows city council and police commission meeting is now online-only due to "safety considerations"

Two rallies were organized on May 14 in response to police’s violent dismantling of a pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Alberta over the weekend, with both coalescing at Edmonton city hall, requiring overflow seating in the building concourse to accommodate all attendees. 

Top image: City council chambers on May 14, 2024. Image by Duncan Kinney. Bottom image: Overflow viewing area at city hall on May 14, 2024. Image by Jeremy Appel.

The first rally was hosted outside city hall before council returned from its lunch break to hear an annual update from the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), and the other occurred on campus at U of A.

Chief Dale McFee was a no-show at council. Instead he let his underlings stand in his place, but none of them took accountability for or explained the decision to send officers in riot gear to forcibly dismantle an a peaceful anti-genocide protest encampment in the U of A quad. The riot squad beat protestors with batons and fired “special munitions” to force their dispersal, days after Calgary cops did the same at U of C. 

Both encampments were part of an international student movement calling on academic institutions to disclose and divest from investments complicit in Israel’s genocidal attacks on Gaza. 

Refuting EPS claims that nobody was injured during the encampment’s removal in the early hours of May 11, one former U of A student who was hospitalized after being beaten by police spoke to protestors gathered outside city hall. 

In his remarks, Brandon Robinson likened the Canadian state’s colonial violence to that of Israel. 

“The colonial machine runs on fear. It has nothing else. It has no bravery, it has no soul, no heart, no mind, it has no convictions,” said Robinson. 

He decried the “empty machismo” exemplified by the officers’ marching in unison while chanting for the protestors to move. 

“For me, every strike of their batons, every pepper ball, the handcuffs cutting into my wrists, all of it filled me, paradoxically, with joy and hope,” Robinson said to applause.

“Hope and joy were in the air from the moment the students took the quad, in the hearts of the people gathered to protect and care for each other and strangers half a world away.” 

The encampment was a “place for learning and for community,” he added, noting that it didn’t obstruct anyone’s ability to attend classes, let alone threaten anyone. 

“Gaza has kept the little flame of hope alive for more than 75 years now. We can nurture that little flame into a raging inferno,” Robinson concluded.

Nour Salhi holds the megaphone for Brandon Robinson, speaking outside of city hall on May 14. Image by Jeremy Appel.

Speaking before Robinson, Nour Salhi, who was one of the encampment’s spokespeople, reflected on the community solidarity they were able to build over its short duration.

“The two days that we had our encampment were filled with prayer and laughter, learning from one another. We all made such meaningful connections those two days. A lot of us are mourning the loss of that community,” she said. 

Rachelle Gladue, the co-founder of the Tawaw Outreach Collective, who was at the Palestine encampment overnight on May 10, drew a parallel between the EPS’s teardown of the U of A protest encampment and its sweep of homeless encampments earlier this year.

“[They were] both places that I felt safe bringing my five-year-old and the only reason I didn’t is because I knew that the police show up and they're the ones that are unsafe,” said Gladue. 

She called it “embarrassing” that Chief McFee “hides behind his Indigeneity, when there’s no community that actually claims him.” McFee was hailed as Edmonton’s first Métis police chief back in 2018.

The police raids on the university encampments resulted in eight arrests—five in Calgary, three in Edmonton. 

Edmonton criminal defence lawyer Zachary Al-Khatib is representing one person who was arrested in Calgary and two in Edmonton. 

One client is charged with trespassing, which Al-Khatib told The Progress Report “raises some real issues about whether or not a university has the ability to restrict access to its lands when people are demonstrating for a political cause.”

The others are charged with assault. 

Al-Khatib said he suspects the police and universities’ response to the encampments was politically motivated. 

“It would be very facile to assume that the authorities in this case were acting on the basis of an evaluation of risks to public safety,” he said.

“One has to wonder why the university administration felt that it was necessary to ask the police to intervene in this matter.”

None of McFee’s lieutenants, nor the Edmonton Police Commission chair, substantively addressed the violent dawn sweep of the non-violent anti-genocide encampment at the U of A. 

The police commission’s monthly meeting is scheduled for tomorrow—Thursday, May 16—at noon. However, the meeting is now online-only and will be held over Zoom due to “safety considerations,” according to the commission. 

Tim Cartmell in council chambers the day after the meeting said that he received texts from police commissioners saying that they felt unsafe with their backs to the public. Councillor Jo-Anne Wright, who is also a police commissioner, told the Progress Report that it was her understanding that given those concerns it was determined that the police commission meeting would be moved online. The city council meeting was well attended by multiple uniformed cops, peace officers and security guards. People attending the meeting went through two bag checks and two metal detectors. 

"I was not at all concerned with my safety yesterday or for tomorrow's [police commission] meeting," said Wright. 

Police commission meetings are held at city hall, an area that now has extra security due to the shooting incident. Police commissioners also face the public. In order to attend a police commission meeting you have to go through two separate metal detectors with a potential pat-down and any bags would be checked twice as well. Police commission meetings are also usually well attended by roughly a dozen armed police officers, and sometimes more. 

An online meeting also means no in-person scrum with Chief Dale McFee, if he deigns to show up, or one of his representatives. Instead the scrum will likely be online-only, a media event which Duncan Kinney can not attend because his media credentials have been “under review” since 2021

However just because the meeting is online doesn’t mean members of the public can’t speak. If you’d like to speak you can fill out this form. The agenda and materials for the meeting can be found here. The Progress Report will be covering the police commission meeting.