Testy police commission meeting sees multiple citizens call for accountability for Chief McFee

Edmonton’s police commission, the body tasked with civilian oversight of the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), held their monthly public meeting this Thursday, and the proceedings were tense. Eight different speakers from the public, all critical of Chief Dale McFee, his recent handling of encampment sweeps and his recently announced plans for an encampment crackdown, rose to protest EPS’ recent activities. Many of those same speakers interrupted Chief McFee’s report to the police commission and walked out after an extended verbal confrontation. 

Katy Ingraham was one of those speakers and said in her prepared remarks that the “city is being run not by our democratically elected leaders but a rogue police chief.” 

Kelty Pelechytik, a witness to the violent encampment sweep at 95 Street and Rowland Road last week, said that it is “painfully evident that Chief McFee must resign.”

Chief Dale McFee of the EPS scrumming with media after the police commission meeting in city hall on Jan. 18, 2024. 

The speakers were the highlights of an otherwise dry police commission meeting. John McDougall, the former police commission chair who was reappointed to the commission by the United Conservative Party government late last year, was acclaimed as chair, a position which will last until next January 2025. In his first term as chair, McDougall was criticized by many (including this publication) for his deference to the police he was supposed to be overseeing, as typified for example by his 2022 op-ed in the Edmonton Journal defending the conduct of EPS during the convoy protests.  

The police commission also welcomed two new commissioners for their first meeting, city councillor Jo-Anne Wright and former city councillor Ben Henderson. These new commissioners made their presence known immediately by actually asking questions of the chief after the chief’s report, a rare occurrence. 

Wright, who was trying to understand the governance and accountability structures of the police commission, especially in light of their new partnership with the United Conservative Party government for a crackdown on encampments, seemed frustrated with non-answers she was getting from McFee and his underlings. 

McFee for his part also doesn’t seem to know the rules. 

“I think everybody is looking for clear governance, it isn’t there because there is a lot of different entities working on a similar problem,” said McFee in a scrum after the meeting.

Ultimately it comes down to what the police want to do, as McFee reminded the reporters. 

“We have operational independence. We’ve always had that. That means it's not directed by the city, it’s not directed in some ways by the commission and it’s not directed by the province.”

The question of who’s in charge of what was posed after the meeting, but newly acclaimed board chair John McDougall seemed uninterested in looking into it. 

But we’ve already seen immediate actions taken by the EPS after their announcement with the UCP yesterday. McFee said he believes at least four encampments have been cleared out since the announcement yesterday

One unhoused person was only given 20 minutes notice to start packing up their belongings according to CBC reporter Natasha Riebe

Deputy Chief Warren Dreichel said he saw value in the 48 hour notice before clearing an encampment but “as we’re seeing with extreme advance notification we’re seeing challenges in terms of the criminal element leaving before.” 

Dreichel also mentioned that the notice means that protesters show up as well. “We don’t have to follow the 48 hour notice. Sometimes we may, sometimes we may not based on the encampment and some of the risks.” 

McDougall’s re-installation as chair and EPS’ rapid escalation of encampment clearings are proof of how little control the public and the city government actually have over policing in Edmonton.  

Strangely, and despite the encampment clearings over the past week being an obvious matter of concern, members of the public were told not to talk about sweeps by the police commission when they signed up online to speak at the commission meeting. To their credit, they did not obey. 

The next police commission meeting is scheduled for February 15 at noon in the River Valley Room at city hall. 

EPS finds that EPS did great job in handling convoy protests

The Edmonton Police Commission asked the Edmonton Police Service to look into how the Edmonton Police Service handled the convoy protests. After a thorough investigation it turns out the EPS thinks the EPS did a great job. 

The self-congratulating report did highlight one area of concern, which is that Edmonton police are upset by the criticism they received online and in the press. “The tone of the discourse shows how politics can manifest around policing events and can be demoralizing for officers and the service as a whole,” says the report.

The report also notes that EPS should ensure, “that our members are provided wellness supports to allow them to defuse before, during and after an event.” 

The report was not discussed by the police commission at the meeting.