'Our actions caused pain': Edmonton police apologize to the LGBTQ community

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee delivered a formal apology Friday for wrongs committed against the city's LGBTQ2+ community.

'Our actions caused pain. They eroded trust. They created fear'

Edmonton police chief Dale McFee says EPS is part of legacy in the city's LGBTQ2S+ community. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee delivered a formal apology Friday for wrongs committed against the city's LGBTQ2S+ community.

"To the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and two-spirited community – both across our public and within our service – on behalf of the Edmonton Police Service, I am sorry, we are sorry," McFee said Friday at a news conference at police headquarters.

"Our actions caused pain. They eroded trust. They created fear. They caused members of the public and our service alike to feel unsafe on their own streets, in their workplaces and sometimes in their own homes."

In the past, Edmonton police failed in their duty to protect a vulnerable community, McFee said.

The service's history with sexual and gender minorities has been marked with discrimination and marginalization, "facilitated by then-active but now discarded laws," he said. 

This is not just a history. It is a legacy.- Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee

"Many people in this room will immediately recall the raids, the mistreatment during arrests and even public shamings. These are just a few known and visceral examples.

"We know there is much more in the history of our service that is unheard, unseen and underground." 

The EPS not only failed the people it was meant to serve but shamed members of the LGBTQ community who served within its own ranks, he said. 

Members were forced to hide their "true selves" out of fear of discrimination, he said. That fear of retribution continues to plague the ranks. 

"This is not just a history," he said. "It is a legacy.

"We know this is still happening today. Perhaps not as actively or intentionally as in the past, but it is such a systemic part of our structures and practices that it demands our vigilance to address." 

The apology is part of an "ongoing reconciliation process," McFee said. He invited people to share their stories and participate in shaping an engagement process aimed at changing the relationship between the EPS and the LGBTQ2+ community. 

"To make sure we get this right it has to be guided and informed by those in our community. By those who have spoken out before, and by those who haven't yet had the opportunity to share their voices. We are requesting advice, guidance and partnership." 

The EPS asked members of the LGBTQ2S+ community to share their ideas about the engagement process through a new website, www.epsinput.ca.

McFee said the feedback will shape the design of the engagement process, which will be facilitated by external consultants early in the fall of 2019.

"We all know this is not a simple task. We all know that we may experience challenges, make mistakes and feel uncomfortable and uncertain," McFee said.

"But we will keep moving forward. We will build and learn from it all, in service to our commitment to be better than we were before – getting stronger together not just as communities, but as a city." 

'It was heartfelt'

      Members of the city's LGBTQ2S+ community were in the audience for the historical address. Many were moved to tears. 

      Clayton Hitchcock, co-chair of the Edmonton Pride Festival Society, said the statement was an important step in mending a troubled relationship.

      Some community members feel safe interacting with police but others don't, Hitchcock said.

      "To hear the chief say those words makes us feel listened to," Hitchcock said. 

      "For a long time the community has not felt listened to by many different organizations. And so to hear feedback that we've given, and to hear that reflected back to us in his in his speech today, makes me trust that that we will move forward and change will occur."

      Also in the crowd was Shelley Miller who acted as legal counsel for the majority of men charged in the raid of Pisces Health Spa. In 1981, 50 police officers raided the downtown bath house and arrested about 60 people. 

      Following McFee's speech, Miller thanked him for making the apology. 

      "I felt the need to say it because I thought it needed to be said on behalf of those people who weren't here, but went through it," Miller said after the address.

      'It was heartfelt, it moved me, I was convinced. But it was also the fact that he went on to say 'We're not going to just give a verbal apology, we're going to change our behavior and we're going to do better in the future.'

      "To me that's a complete and full apology and it really gave me consolation and comfort."

        KnechtEPS was working with community members to draft a meaningful apology.

        Some members of the LGBTQ community have painful histories with Edmonton police, and many advocates have said an apology was a necessary step toward righting historical wrongs. 

        'I think they're the worst people'

        4 years ago
        Duration 1:23
        A 1981 CBC Edmonton report explores the experience of LGBTQ people.

        For years police routinely outed gay men by releasing their names, which were then published in newspapers.

        In 2018, the Calgary Police Service issued a formal apology to the LGBTQ community for discrimination over the years. In 2016, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders apologized for raids on bath houses in 1981.