Activist challenges Edmonton police chief about street checks

An activist from the group Black Lives Matter showed up to a meeting of Edmonton's police commission Thursday to speak directly to the police chief about street checks.

'I do not hate you, I do not hate police': Bashir Mohamed

Bashir Mohammed, with Black Lives Matter, is optimistic after a police commission meeting about carding 0:58

An activist from the group Black Lives Matter showed up to a meeting of Edmonton's police commission Thursday to speak directly to the police chief about street checks.

Bashir Mohamed stepped up to the microphone during the public input part of the commission meeting.

"I do not hate you, I do not hate police," he told police Chief Rod Knecht.

"I do not think every single cop in Edmonton is a racist."

Mohamed said he took the opportunity to get Knecht's attention after being disappointed with his response to the controversy.

Street checks, commonly referred to as carding, are when police stop people not suspected of a crime, question them and collect personal information, which is then put into a police database.

Data obtained through Freedom of Information and reported on by CBC News in June shows Indigenous and black people are much more likely to be carded than white people.

At the police commission meeting, Mohamed read from a prepared statement about the 130,515 street checks by Edmonton police between 2012 and 2016.

"The police disputed our stats, saying that the numbers could have been changed and you, the chief, wrote an [opinion piece] saying it's just a matter of circumstance, not race," Mohamed told Knecht.

Bashir Mohamed delivered his message to the police commission and Chief Rod Knecht on Thursday. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Mohamed was one of several people who spoke to the commission on the carding issue Thursday.

Duncan Kinney with Progress Alberta described carding as a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"I have been discouraged by the reaction of the police, especially in their minimization of the numbers as well as not apologizing," Kinney said.

Kinney said he is in favour of the police talking to people as part of sound community police work, but that collecting information during non-criminal interactions should stop immediately.
Police Chief Rod Knecht listened to the presenters at the police commission Thursday but did not respond during the meeting. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Knecht didn't respond to the presenters during the meeting but afterwards said a police meeting with community members Wednesday had been productive.

Members of the group Black Lives Matter did not attend because they said not all their members were invited, but Knecht said there was still a lot of progress.

He said other community leaders promised to review the police street-check policy and then report back to him in September with ideas about how to move forward.

After the commission meeting Knecht told reporters the idea that police are violating the charter is only one view.

"I don't think that is what is happening," he said. "Obviously if we are violating the charter, we don't want to be violating the charter, we definitely don't want to be violating the charter.

"I don't think that is what a street check does."

Come forward if rights violated, chief says

The chief conceded Edmonton police "are not perfect" but said if people are being arbitrarily stopped, asked for their information and not allowed to leave, they should complain.

"That's not what we want or allow our people to do and if that is happening I would encourage those people to come forward and we will do a proper investigation to see if it is a violation of the charter."

Officers could face discipline, he added.

Police commission chair Cathy Palmer assured people at the meeting that a third-party review of street checks is going ahead.

Palmer said the commission will gather input from the community before establishing the terms of reference for the review she said will be independent and comprehensive.

After the meeting, Mohamed repeated his call that the police should simply stop doing street checks. It's time for action on the issue, he said.

"There's been a lot of misinformation and a lack of understanding so my goal walking in there was to summarize what we are actually asking for."