The leader of an Indigenous community watch group is livid after Edmonton police officers ordered people sheltering in a downtown LRT station late Sunday to go out into the extreme cold.
A video, posted to Facebook and Twitter, shows uniformed officers escorting people out of the Central LRT station. Officers are heard on the video telling people to leave the station because they are eating food and not wearing masks.
Judith Gale, local patrol leader with Bear Clan Patrol, said the group had been providing people with food and clothing when they were interrupted by police.
The officers’ actions were “totally wrong,” Gale told CBC News Monday.
“This is inhumane.”
A spokesperson for the Edmonton Police Service said police are aware of the video, and that the officers could have handled the situation better.
EPS were on a roll yesterday..<br><br>Late at night, no one else in the station, Bear Clan was trying to feed folks and give them clothing to stay warm, <a href=”https://twitter.com/edmontonpolice?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@edmontonpolice</a> kicked them outside because they couldn’t wear masks while eating…..<br><br>IT WAS -36 Y’ALL. <br><br>1/3 <a href=”https://t.co/038ieZSagv”>pic.twitter.com/038ieZSagv</a>
Environment Canada records show the temperature was –21.5 C in central Edmonton at 8 p.m. Sunday.
In previous winters, the city has opened LRT stations as shelters during cold snaps.
Earlier this month, as temperatures plummeted in Edmonton, the city opened extra shelter beds and offered free overnight bus service for people needing to keep warm.
Group provides food, clothing to vulnerable
“I was livid,” Gale said. “I really was, I was shaking. I didn’t know what to do, because these police people did not have any compassion at all.”
Bear Clan Patrol is an Indigenous-led community initiative that started in Winnipeg. A local group started in Edmonton last year. The group provides food, clothing and hygiene products to vulnerable people.
The incident caught on video happened just after 8 p.m. in the Central LRT station, in the city’s downtown, Gale said.
She said members of her group were offering soup, bannock, sandwiches and fruit to about a dozen people.
In the video, Gale argues with two police officers, reminding them about the extreme cold.
An officer says there are shelters for the people to use.
Gale said she was especially upset that the officers didn’t ask if the people needed transportation to a shelter.
The Bear Clan Patrol has had a good relationship with the Edmonton Police Service, Gale said.
She now wants EPS officers to take more compassionate care training.
EPS spokesperson Cheryl Sheppard said police are aware of the video.
“Our officers strive to balance the role of enforcing public safety, bylaws (loitering) and COVID-19 protocols,” Sheppard said in an emailed statement to CBC.
“In this particular case, we should have done a better job at communicating our role in helping connect citizens to the City of Edmonton’s services and partner agencies whose goals are to keep vulnerable citizens safe and warm.”
Sheppard said the EPS is working to reach out to the community about the incident. As of Monday night, Gale said she had not heard from Edmonton police.
Video sparks community support
Gale said she works at the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in Edmonton, and that the organization has reached out to EPS about the incident.
She said she has received a lot of community support since the video was posted to the Bear Clan Patrol’s Facebook page.
“I have been inundated with calls and emails and texts saying that they’re writing their city council, that they’re going to be phoning the EPS complaint line, that they’re going to be taking action,” she said.
The measures are set to end this week with warmer weather in the forecast.
Edmontonians are urged to call 211 if they see anyone who needs help, or 911 in an emergency.