Lawyer Tom Engel says it should never have taken three years for the complaints against police to finally bring discipline. ((CBC))

Three Edmonton police officers will face eight disciplinary charges next month, after being accused of rounding up homeless people into the back of a police patrol wagon in May 2005 and releasing them in another part of the city hours later.

Another officer has been issued a reprimand and ordered to take an Aboriginal and First Nations Awareness course over the incident, while two more have received official warnings.

"This is over three years from the date that we made the complaint," said Tom Engel, the lawyer who brought the charges forward. "Three years to investigate something that's dead simple."

"One thing that I'm surprised about, though, is this comment made by one of the officers," he said. "The comment, 'yeah, if you can just find me the districts they can come reclaim their mislocated garbage', so referring to aboriginals as garbage."

The officer to whom that comment was attributed is the one ordered to take the cultural awareness program.

'Outrageous and intolerable'

Police Chief Mike Boyd should condemn those comments as "outrageous and intolerable," Engel said.

The lawyer was also concerned that the most serious charges of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority were dropped because, in the words of the judgment, there is  "no reasonable prospect of establishing the facts necessary to obtain a conviction."

"Well, what would you call it when police officers pick people up, confine them in this wagon, without any lawful authority and then drop them off at the other end of the city?" Engel asked.

The incident is troubling but could be turned into a positive, said Lewis Cardinal, co-chair of the Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice.

"I think that we can turn this into an opportunity to really address some of these issues, and working in concert with the police force to help curb those racial attitudes towards aboriginal people."

But Cardinal added this is not just an aboriginal issue.

"Homeless people still have rights, even though they may not have residences, they still have rights and we have to respect and honour those things," he said.