Edmonton has had most fatal police shootings in Canada this year, data shows
4 people have died in 3 officer-involved incidents
More people have lost their lives in police officer-involved shootings in Edmonton this year than in any other place in Canada, according to statistics gathered by CBC News.
Four men have been fatally shot in encounters with Edmonton Police Service (EPS) this year, including an innocent 59-year-old bystander in an apartment suite.
The string of shootings comes a year after a city-appointed task force recommended seeking ways of preventing the unnecessary use of force by police.
"I think the evidence is there that they haven't really taken this report seriously," said Rob Houle, who sat on the Community Safety and Well-Being Task Force and has spoken publicly about his own painful experience with Edmonton police.
Critics say the number of shootings raises questions about officers' ability to de-escalate situations but policing experts say it is too soon to draw conclusions about these incidents, which have yet to be investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).
How Edmonton compares to other cities
CBC Edmonton reviewed news releases from the RCMP, municipal police services and police oversight agencies in Canada between Jan. 1 and April 22, tracking fatal officer-involved shootings.
The Edmonton fatalities make up 30 per cent of the total in Canada this year, with most big cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Winnipeg reporting no fatal police shootings.
Except for Surrey, B.C., no other city has seen multiple fatal police shootings in 2022.
"There's no denying that we do have an excessive use-of-force problem in Edmonton," said University of Alberta criminology professor Temitope Oriola.
Alberta has seen the most fatal officer-involved shootings — five — of any province or territory. Three have occurred in B.C., three in Ontario, one in Saskatchewan and one in Quebec.
According to CBC Edmonton's statistics and CBC's Deadly Force database, which tracked fatal encounters between police and Canadians between 2000 and 2017, Edmonton's total this year is already at a 22-year high.
Neither Edmonton police nor ASIRT names people who die in officer-involved shootings.
Demographically, most of the people killed in police encounters in Alberta during the past six years have been men.
The Deadly Force database showed Black and Indigenous people were over-represented among the fatalities.
In all three of Edmonton's officer-involved incidents this year, ASIRT said a "confrontation" occurred and at least one weapon (or imitation weapon) was found at the scene.
'They can sometimes happen in clusters'
Doug King, a professor of justice studies at Mount Royal University, said it's too soon to draw conclusions about the officer-involved shootings in Edmonton.
"They can sometimes happen in clusters and then you'll see nothing for the rest of the year," he said.
Still, he said EPS and the Edmonton Police Commission could benefit from an external review of use-of-force policies and training procedures.
In 2017, Calgary Police Service had an independent use-of-force review done after six of 14 officer-involved shootings had resulted in fatalities over a two-year time period. A retired Court of Queen's Bench chief justice made 65 recommendations, which CPS said it would try to implement.
King said such a review could also consider crime levels in the community. He said Edmonton's high homicide rate last year could speak to the dynamics police officers are encountering on the streets.
According to EPS's recent annual report, crime in Edmonton has decreased by 17 per cent, but last month, EPS warned that firearm violence was on the rise. Officers seized 1,633 firearms last year, over 500 more than the year before.
How police officers are trained to use force
Under the Criminal Code, police officers have the authority to use force while doing their jobs, as long as they act on reasonable grounds and use only as much force as is necessary.
"Generally speaking, the only time a police officer in this country is either trained or under some circumstances permitted by law to pull and discharge a firearm is the protection of life, yourself or others, where there's no other more reasonable option available to them," said Steve Summerville, a use-of-force expert and former police officer with the Toronto Police Service.
Summerville said police officers in Canada review their use-of-force decision-making abilities annually and that EPS has a well-respected training program that emphasizes de-escalation.
EPS's Reasonable Officer Response (ROR) framework has officers consider environmental and behavioural factors, but sometimes, Summerville said, officers have mere seconds to decide whether to discharge a firearm.
"Sometimes you don't have the luxury of hindsight and you don't have the luxury of being able to factor in all those components," he said.
EPS reviewed training last year
In a written statement, spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout said EPS's training section started assessing and reviewing its ROR framework and use-of-force training program in December 2020.
Depending on the circumstances, she said, EPS often initiates its own operational reviews of officer-involved shooting incidents, "to determine what could have been done differently, identifying key learnings, and adjusting policy and procedures where necessary."
She said all immediate families associated with the three fatal officer-involved shootings this year have been offered support services and all officers involved must complete a re-integration program before returning to work.
Prompted by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the non-profit Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton started compiling an archive of police-involved fatalities, discrimination, sexual violence and brutality. The site launched in November.
The first phase of the archive includes media-reported incidents, but board member Kenzie Gordon, who is leading the project, said her organization, which advocates for the defunding of police, hopes to allow community submissions in the future.
She said Edmontonians deserve to know more about officer-involved fatalities, but also about other types of encounters with police.
"We really just cannot understand the scope of the problem without having the data," she said.
With files from Nicholas Frew and Janet French