Edmonton human rights group documents complaints against police
Residents of Somali descent complain of unfair treatment by Edmonton police
If her name were Candace or Angela, Faduma Hassan told the crowd, it wouldn't have taken police 11 hours to respond to her 911 call for help.
"It's because of who I am," said the 29-year-old single mother, who was the victim of an unprovoked attack last November near her 118th Avenue-area home.
By "who" she means black and Muslim.
"How do you feel when you call the police and someone fights you and then she follows you and then you escape and the police are not coming - how do you feel?" asked Hassan, tearfully.
Her story is one of 10 documented Monday night at a forum organized by the Edmonton Coalition for Human Rights at the Alberta Avenue Community League.
It's the launch of an initiative to systematically record complaints, which will eventually be submitted to Edmonton police, along with recommendations.
'We need a change'
"We need a change," said Mahamad Accord, a member of the newly formed coalition made up of agencies, activists, lawyers and students.
"We want to show decision makers that this is not something we're making up - this is a real thing."
"When the community becomes a victim, the police are a no show. When they become a suspect, they treat them very badly."
He said the coalition has heard allegations of people of African descent being stopped and searched without cause, with some interactions escalating into assaults by police.
I don't think we can ever get past this stuff if we don't agree to talk about it.- Renee Vaugeois
The complaints came from men, women, young and old, with one common denominator: they all accused Edmonton police of substandard treatment. Some people were too afraid to share their experiences in public.
"Given the number of stories that have been starting to come out, I think it points to endemic issue of concerns with police," said Renee Vaugeois, coalition member and executive director of the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.
"Situations where they felt their dignity has been compromised in front of the public. They feel like there's been undue force, they feel like they've been targeted and profiled."
She said the forum provided a safe space to begin to document those stories, to "start to make the case and convince the people that need to understand this issue, that it is an issue."
Fartun Ahmed told dozens in the audience she was given a ticket at her son's school two years ago, even though she said she told the officer she had a special parking arrangement with the school, due to her son's autism.
"He gave me a $250 ticket, even though I explained to him I have a right to park in here," said Ahmed, who offered to show him an authorization letter written by the school's principal.
"He said, 'It's not my problem. If you have a problem, go to court.' "
She said the officer then gave her another ticket for making a left turn before 9 a.m., though she insists it was after the hour. She said the officer did not stop two vehicles in front of her that made the same turn.
Ahmed said she fought both tickets and won, to cheers and applause from the audience.
"I don't know why we don't get treated as other people get treated," said Ahmed. "I really love police. I don't feel all police are bad. But certain people, they have a problem with Somali people, or black people."
Coalition's efforts seen as opportunity
Police Insp. Dan Jones said he sees the coalition's efforts as an opportunity "to fine tune what we do, but also respond to the needs of the community members. We just want people to be able to come to us with their concerns, so we can adequately address them."
Jones said police did not attend the forum to ensure those who attended would not be afraid to speak out.
He said all officers undergo bias awareness and culturally safe communications training with various communities.
"We're doing so many of these things that I think we're doing a really good job. I think we can always do a better job, and that's where we have to have the community coming to us."
"And even this event -- I think is a positive, because the organizers talk to us, we talk to them. And there's going to be potentially some actionable items for how we can improve service to the community."
The complaints echoed those expressed last September in a CBC News investigation that revealed widespread concern about the police practice of street checks, also known as carding.
Police conducted an internal review and concluded policy changes were not necessary, unlike a major overhaul in Ontario, because the service had not received complaints.
The Edmonton Human Rights Coalition said a lawyer will train volunteers to properly document complaints and as they continue to collect stories. They will be submitted to police, the police commission and the Alberta Human Rights Commission.