Edmonton’s police commission has gone rogue. Here’s how it happened

Things have gotten so bad between the Edmonton Police Commission (EPC) and the Edmonton city council that the commission has requested a third party mediator to “mend” the obviously broken relationship. But the fault lines in the breakdown between the commission and council go back many years. 

The latest dispute is over a simple request from Edmonton’s city council for an audit and program service review plan for 2024. EPC refused to provide the information, and refused to even come to a city hall to talk about it, arguing in a letter to council on April 19th that “the audit plan has traditionally been an inward facing document and we feel a public facing audit program will diminish overall effectiveness.”

The EPC, with some help in the press from police chief Dale McFee, would go on to escalate that rhetoric further in June. EPC released a statement claiming that Alberta’s Police Act says they not only don’t have to comply with council’s request, but that they’re not allowed to. 

Chief Dale McFee in a screenshot from Feb. 16, 2022 press conference. 

Edmonton defense lawyer and police accountability critic Tom Engel contested this online, pointing to the section of the Act that affirms that councils have the authority to see audit plans, and in fact “any information from the commission that may be necessary to enable it to assess the efficiency and the financing requirements of the police service.” 

The commission rapidly escalated its belligerence the week of June 12, refusing to show up to both council and private meetings, and EPC and McFee began sparring with council in the media.

On the 14th, commission chair John McDougall told CTV news “I don’t know what the catalyst was for this breakdown."

But as a timeline of events shows, the catalysts were the EPC and Dale McFee themselves. McFee, closely aligned with Alberta’s United Conservative Party, has been actively undermining council for the UCP and the Edmonton Police Service’s benefit since his arrival. And McDougall and the EPC—the civilian oversight body ostensibly meant to keep the police in check—have been his willing allies the whole way through. 


February 1, 2019: Dale McFee is sworn in as Edmonton's 23rd Chief of Police for the Edmonton Police Service. He was headhunted by the police commission from Saskatchewan where he was the deputy minister of policing and corrections, a political appointment given to him by the right wing Saskatchewan Party. Before that he was the chief of police of Prince Albert. A glowing CBC profile contained no analysis or quotes from anyone referencing his time in Saskatchewan.

"He's uniquely equipped and I'd say unparalleled in Canada in terms of the experiences and the knowledge base that he comes into this role in. You just don't see this in Canada," said Cal Corley, CEO of the Saskatchewan-based Community Safety Knowledge Alliance. Unreported in the CBC story was that McFee was a founder of that pro-police think tank and sits on its board to this day. 

August 14, 2020: In an early hint of his partisan alignment with the UCP, McFee attends a United Conservative Party fundraiser where MLAs dress up in T-Rex costumes and race each other on a horse track outside of Lacombe. 

October 5, 2021: The Edmonton Police Commission extends McFee’s contract until June 30 2026. The announcement comes only a few weeks before the 2021 municipal election. The extension leaves newly-elected Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and the fresh council stuck with a police chief not of their choosing for the entirety of their term. 

Jan. 18, 2022: McFee reveals some of his own personal ideology by sharing content from Michael Shellenberger, an author, libertarian pundit and failed candidate for governor of California. Shellenberger, who first drew attention with a series of books denying the danger of climate change, is popular in policing circles for his book Sanfransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, which argues against harm reduction and urges heavier policing, particularly against unhoused people and people who use drugs. 

Police commissioner and city councillor Anne Stevenson asks McFee about this in a subsequent police commission meeting. McFee replies that the post was not necessarily a political stance, but rather something he thinks Edmonton business owners are also feeling.

"It's not an opinion, it's a retweet just for people to educate themselves," he explained.

"I think we'd be missing the point if we didn't think some of those business concerns aren't coming from the citizens of Edmonton."

Screenshot from January 22, 2022 Facebook video after McDougall was acclaimed as chair of the Edmonton Police Commission.

Jan. 27, 2022: City council quashes an audit of the EPS that was proposed by councillor Aaron Paquette in a closed-door meeting. According to statements from Paquette any audit would apparently “require consent from the police commission to share its records.” This is the first overt sign of the commission’s intransigence towards city council. 

Feb 16, 2022: Edmonton police commission chair John McDougall writes an op-ed that defends the EPS’ response to the convoy protests that were making life hell for downtown Edmononians at the time. The op-ed alarms many including criminologist Temitope Oriola at the University of Alberta who wrote that the Edmonton Police Commission's role isn't defending police action.

“The chair of an oversight body writing to defend police action (or lack thereof) is the moral equivalent of a judge writing in support of a plaintiff or defendant in a case before their court,” wrote Oriola. The op-ed demonstrated “a basic misunderstanding of the role of an oversight agency and appropriate conduct of its chair.”

May 18, 2022: Police commissioner Jodi Callahoo Stonehouse, now an NDP MLA and Alberta NDP leadership candidate, calls on city council to have councillor/police commissioner Anne Stevenson removed from the police commission. The reason given: Stevenson employed Robert Houle, a part-time advisor who she said has been critical of the police. (We have published some of Houle’s writing here at The Progress Report.)

In a media scrum after the council meeting Chair John McDougall claims Houle is “anti-police, anti-Chief McFee, anti-mayor, and anti-city council.”  Houle disputes those allegations and later files a complaint over the commissioners’ conduct.

On the same day city council’s executive committee recommends to city council in a narrow 3-2 vote that the EPS base funding be set at $385 million and the police funding formula be discontinued. 

Edmonton Police Commission chair John McDougall left, former Edmonton police commissioner and current NDP MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, right. 

May 20, 2022: Justin Bone is charged with the murders of Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang. The murders took place in Chinatown. 

May 24, 2022: City council debates the police funding formula and the city’s community safety strategy. Council chambers are packed with supporters of the family and former conservative politicians like Stephen Mandel and Kerry Diotte. All attention is on the families of the two victims, who in a rare move, are able to speak to council directly during the deliberations. 

May 26, 2022: Justice Minister Tyler Shandro invokes section 30(1) of the Police Act, directing the city of Edmonton to develop a public safety plan in two weeks.

June 3, 2022: Outgoing police commissioner Ashvin Singh writes a letter to Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and leaks it to the media. The letter requests that Mayor Sohi investigate councillor/commissioner Anne Stevenson over allegations that she was actively influencing an investigation into me, Duncan Kinney.

June 7, 2022: Chief McFee gets everything he wants from city council with regards to the police budget. Edmonton will continue using a police funding formula, which guarantees the police budget will go up, and the $22 million in photo radar revenue that the provincial government blocked the city from collecting will be covered by raising taxes on city residents and permanently added to the police budget. 

June 10, 2022: The CBC publishes Wallis Snowdown’s investigation into the alleged murders by Justin Bone, revealing that the RCMP dumped Bone unsupervised into the city in breach of his bail conditions, the EPS were aware of that breach, the EPS directly interacted with Bone days before the attacks and the EPS declined to take him into custody.

The revelations come after city council made the decision to increase the police budget after an enormous amount of political pressure to step up policing was put on them due to the murders of Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang.

June 16th: Chief McFee changes his story and says that a communications error led to the EPS telling media that they had been in contact with Bone prior to the murders. According to McFee all that occurred was that the RCMP told EPS that Bone had been dropped off in town. He also argues that his officers didn't have the ability to arrest Bone for breach of his bail conditions because it was the RCMP who brought him into Edmonton. A few hours later the CBC releases a report where Bone's guarantor says he had warned EPS that Bone was intoxicated and in violation of his bail conditions

Dec, 8: 2022: The United Conservative Party pass updates to the Police Act that allow the provincial government to appoint members directly to local police commissions. The legislation also allows police forces to come directly to the provincial government if they feel their budgetary needs aren’t being met.

Feb, 23, 2023: A third party investigation clears Anne Stevenson of any wrongdoing

June 1, 2023: The Edmonton Police Commission gives Chief McFee a five per cent raise, making his annual salary $357,00 a year. McFee is the second highest paid chief of a municipal police force in Canada.

Aug. 23, 2023: Chief McFee and the EPS are once again successful in their bid to continue the special EPS funding formula from city council. The arrangement, which is unique to Edmonton and no other major Canadian city, guarantees yearly increases to the police budget. The commission supports McFee and the EPS every step of the way in their campaign and issues a release thanking city council for their decision.

November 15: 2023: The UCP reappoints John McDougall to the commission. McDougall had served for six years on the commission and his appointment had run out at the end of 2023. McDougall becomes the chair, again, of the police commission following a vote by police commissioners in January 2024. 

April 19, 2024: The Edmonton Police Commission refuses to release its audit plan to city council after it is requested.

June 2, 2024: Documents obtained by independent journalist Euan Thomson show that Chief Dale McFee campaigned for the United Conservative Party in the run-up to the 2023 election—even using publicly-funded police resources to help secure Danielle Smith’s victory. 

June 13, 2024: Chief McFee defends the actions of the commission in refusing to provide the audit plan saying, "there's nothing hidden,” and that there’s no legislative requirement that the commission comply with council’s request. 

We don’t get our legitimacy or transparency from council. We’re responsible to the public,” said McFee. 

Chief McFee also reveals that the next police commission will again be online instead of being held in public. The last meeting was moved online after police commissioners allegedly felt “unsafe” in a council meeting. The meeting was packed with pro-Palestine supporters and happened shortly after the EPS violently swept a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at the University of Alberta. 

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. Photos from this story.

June 20, 2024: The date of the next police commission meeting. You can find the materials and the agenda here. The commission is set to vote on dramatic changes to how it accepts input from the public. You can see the proposed changes here

The Edmonton Police Commission is ostensibly supposed to provide civilian oversight of the police. Instead it has chosen to act as a cheerleader, lap dog and rubber stamp. That things have gotten so bad between it and an already cowed city council is a testament to the years of work put in by the commission, Chief Dale McFee and the EPS to break the trust between themselves and the public. 

More than 236,000 people voted in the last Edmonton municipal election. No one voted for Chief McFee, yet It’s McFee who determines what happens with the police budget, homelessness and the drug poisoning crisis. And McFee was not content to just throw his political muscle around Edmonton, he was also instrumental in getting Danielle Smith elected premier

If you are a police commissioner and you are reading this you need to fire Chief McFee. If you won’t or can’t do that you need to resign and someone who will needs to step into your place.