Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson will request a review of the city’s extreme-weather protocols after an online video recently surfaced that showed police officers ordering people who were sheltering in a downtown LRT station to leave on a freezing night.
Describing the video as “heartbreaking” and “frustrating to watch,” Iveson said he will make a formal inquiry Wednesday asking staff to produce a report clarifying the expectations of city employees — including police — when dealing with people who are experiencing homelessness and other situations that put them at risk.
Iveson said he hoped the review will help city council make changes, if needed, to improve the implementation of extreme-weather protocols and “learn from this event.”
The leader of the local chapter of an Indigenous community watch group took the video Sunday night. Judith Gale from Bear Clan Patrol said she was distributing food to about a dozen people in the Central Station LRT shortly past 8 p.m. when officers approached and told the people to leave.
In the video, the officers say the group has to wear masks, which Gale says they had removed to eat.
Gale tells one of the officers she understands the COVID-19 mandatory mask rules, then says, “If they’re hungry, you know…” before trailing off.
“Yep, they’ll have to find a place to eat,” the officer replies.
At another point, Gale reminds the officers about the extreme cold. The temperature was –21.5 C in central Edmonton that night, with winds that made it feel at least 10 degrees colder.
An officer tells her there are shelters for the people to use.
“He did not even ask if any of our brothers and sisters needed a ride to the shelters,” Gale told CBC News. “He did not care at all.”
In a statement Monday, an Edmonton Police Service spokesperson said the service acknowledges the officers “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.”
On Tuesday, Iveson said he doesn’t want the city to re-open LRT stations for overnight sheltering, as it has in the past, saying the indoor temperatures are often still below freezing. He said a better solution is needed.
“But if people are going to be discharged from those spaces, my expectation would be that we have a referral mechanism in place” to direct people in need to social-service agencies, Iveson said.