Calgary officers told to defy order to remove thin blue line patch

The Calgary Police Association has sent a letter to its members stating that they need to collectively take a stand against a police commission direction that officers no longer wear the thin blue line patch.

Police association says members need to 'take a stand' against police commission direction

A monochromatic Canadian flag is bisected by a thin blue line.
On-duty Calgary police officers are no longer permitted to wear these patches as of Thursday. (Amazon)

The association that represents more than 2,000 Calgary police officers is encouraging its members to collectively "take a stand" against a police commission order that they no longer wear the controversial thin blue line patch.

In a letter to members obtained by CBC News, Calgary Police Association president John Orr writes, "We encourage each and everyone of you to wear this important symbol in defiance of the order from the commission."

After a year of deliberation, the Calgary Police Commission announced its decision on Wednesday that on-duty police are not permitted to wear Canadian flag patches with a thin blue line through them. 

The thin blue line patches have a history of being associated with white supremacy. The commission said the symbol has been featured in high-profile protests with links to white nationalist or racist views and it's been seen at counter-protests against the Black Lives Matter movement.

For some members of the police service, the patch with the thin blue line represents something entirely different — it's seen as a way to honour the fallen. 

"We were very disappointed with the decision to ban the wearing of the thin blue line patch. It's a symbol of great importance to our members and it speaks to a number of important issues, including remembrance for our fallen, a show of support to one another and a very difficult job, which has long- and short-term health implications for our members," Orr said in an interview with CBC News.

"It also shows our commitment to the community and being there for them on their most difficult days."

In his letter to association members, Orr said the association anticipated this decision from the police commission and "purchased a sufficient number of TBL patches for all our uniformed members, as well as TBL lapel pins for those working in plain clothes."

'There will be a reckoning,' says city councillor

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who is also a member of the police commission, made it clear on Thursday that the commission will be enforcing its stance on the ban.

"What we are asking here is that our police service not wear a known hate symbol whose origins are buried in hateful thoughts and hateful deeds when they serve the public," he said.

"If we have members of the service who think that whatever sense of entitlement they have trumps that, there will be a reckoning."

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra says it's still 'to be determined' what will happen if police officers choose to wear the thin blue line patches despite the commission's decision to no longer allow them. (CBC)

It is still "to be determined" what the consequences will be for officers who choose to wear the patch, he said.

Orr, in his letter, disputes that the patch is a symbol of hate. 

"We cannot and will not let a few people from fringe groups co-opt this important symbol. To so do would be weak and cowardly," he writes.

Carra points to the blue ribbon as being more appropriate to recognize officers who have died.

The police commission said Wednesday the patch needs to be replaced with a symbol that "better reflects the values of Calgarians."

"The Calgary Police Service is trying to co-opt it to something that it's not, and we have committed to being anti-racist. Members of our community who understand what this symbol means find it to be offensive, and they have every right to feel that way, " Carra said.

"If you are a public servant serving the safety of our community and … you think that your privilege to wear that trumps what that symbol actually means, or what you'd like that symbol to mean, trumps what that symbol actually means — you're wrong."

Orr told CBC News he does not know the exact number of police officers who wear the patch but "it's a large number."

In an email statement to CBC News, the Calgary Police Service said they "are currently assessing all options in relation to gaining voluntary compliance with the order from the Calgary Police Commission not to wear the thin blue line patch. We will be taking a measured and balanced approach to this and will continually reassess as we navigate this deeply personal issue for our members." 

With files from Jade Markus and Scott Dippel