There's a big blind spot in Alberta's spring election—and it's a matter of life and death

Education, healthcare, and jobs are the top issues in Alberta’s spring provincial election—as usual. But there’s one issue that neither of the two big parties seem to want to touch, and it’s a serious and growing problem in Alberta’s cities: police brutality.

A flyer image advertising the rally for the Dumas family, to be held at the Alberta Justice building in Edmonton noon Saturday May 6The Dumas family calls for support at a rally to be held Saturday, May 6, at noon at the Alberta Justice building. Image provided by the rally organizers

This Saturday in Edmonton protestors will be rallying to demand justice for the family of Pacey Dumas, one of the recent victims of violent policing in Edmonton.

Everything about how Pacey Dumas and his family have been treated is ghastly.

According to the Edmonton police, they went to Pacey’s mother’s house in response to a 911 call about a fight. Constable Ben Todd, armed with a rifle and backed up by two other officers and a police dog, demanded that Pacey—a wisp of an 18-year old kid, weighing only 90 pounds—crawl outside on his belly and surrender. Pacey did as he was told.

Moments later, Todd hauled off and kicked Pacey, who was laying face-down on the ground, in the head “like a soccer ball,” according to a neighbor who witnessed the assault. The report from ASIRT (Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the organization that investigates police misconduct) found that Pacey was knocked out immediately, but then police handcuffed the unconscious boy instead of providing medical aid, and when EMS arrived the police got in the way of the paramedics too.

Pacey’s head swelled to the size of a pumpkin. He nearly died in the hospital, where they had to replace part of his skull with a metal plate. And the harm inflicted on him is only the first of many outrageous details here.

There was a second witness to Ben Todd’s vicious assault on Pacey Dumas—his brother, Blair. The Dumas family lost Blair to suicide in the months after the attack. The Dumas family says that Blair, traumatized by what he had seen and by not being able to protect his brother, blamed himself for what happened to Pacey.

Chief Dale McFee and the Edmonton Police Service say no one on the police side did anything wrong.

The officers at the scene claim that Todd attacked Pacey Dumas because he believed Dumas was reaching for a weapon. Dumas says he was not armed and did not at any point claim to be armed. Police searched him after attacking him and did not find a weapon on him.

ASIRT’s report was not kind to Todd or his colleagues, noting that even if they legitimately believed Dumas had a knife, there were many more reasonable options for a heavily armed and K-9-accompanied trio of officers than to kick a 90 pound teenager, face-down in the dirt, in the head so hard that they literally broke his skull.

But here’s where an awful story gets even worse. When ASIRT finds that an officer should probably be charged with a crime, they refer it up to ACPS, the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service. And in this case ACPS decided to ignore the expert opinion of ASIRT and bring in a third-party “use of force expert” of their own. ACPS refuses to tell the public who this expert is or what it is he told them, but soon ACPS sent their reply back to ASIRT: no charges for Constable Todd. Today Blair Dumas has been lost, Pacey Dumas is struggling to survive, Ben Todd is kicking back on paid leave, and the authorities refuse to tell the media why.

Something stinks to high heaven in Alberta when it comes to police violence. A non-profit group, Tracking (In)Justice, that has been analyzing data on deaths at the hands of police in Canada, found recently that Alberta and Edmonton in particular have extreme rates of ‘officer-involved fatalities’ compared to the rest of the country—more than can be attributed to any differences in local crime rates.

EPS, predictably, disputes the group’s findings but won’t release any data of their own to back up their claims. But the CBC double-checked the group’s work and says it’s definitely on the level. Taylor Lambert did some fine coverage of it this week and his back-and-forth with an increasingly pissy and obstructive EPS comms department might be funny if it wasn’t so sickening.

For the marginalized or working-class people who get caught up in these brutal interactions with cops, police violence is a matter of life and death. But it’s an issue that both of Alberta’s leading electoral parties appear keen to ignore.

The public safety debate between those parties has simply come down to each trying to one-up the other on police funding. Last newsletter, I told you about the UCP’s harmful plan to blitz Calgary with 100 more police officers. And just hours after that newsletter went out, the NDP hit back with their counter-proposal: actually, we’ll send 150 more police.

Over the past month the UCP and NDP both have strained to paint the opposing party as defunders of police. The NDP, apparently terrified by polling as usual, are contorting to present themselves as the back-the-blue pro-policing party. There is just no appetite in either squad to criticize law enforcement in any way, as evidenced by both party leaders’ noncommittal replies to media inquiries about the Dumas matter on Thursday. 

Ask your candidate when they come to your door how they intend to make sure what happened to Pacey Dumas and his family never happens again. Then prepare to be disappointed.


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