More diversity needed on police commission, Edmonton youth group says

A group of young men and women in Edmonton spent months developing four recommendations on how to improve policing in the community.

'There is no person from a non-white minority or a minority group here'

Mohamed Rahall, 21, is a member of the Youth Action Project (YAP) in Edmonton. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Mohamed Rahall braced his hands against a table at Edmonton's city hall and then leaned forward, looking at the faces around him. Then he laughed.

"I see here everyone is white," the 21-year-old said to the assembled members of the city's police commission. 

"There is no person from a non-white minority or a minority group here," he continued, without a smile. "And it's important because they are the ones who understand and can actualize what minority groups are going through."

Rahall is a member of the Youth Action Project (YAP), which formed in Edmonton three years ago. The group advocates for human rights in the community.

Last September, YAP members turned their energy to the city's police force. Through weekly meetings with law enforcement representatives, they developed four recommendations to improve policing in Edmonton.

For instance, members such as Rahall called on the police commission to diversify its membership.

On Thursday, the group proposed its full plan to the commission as well as police Chief Rod Knecht. 

"Young people have the solutions to community problems," said Maigan van der Giessen. She is the creative lead at the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, the advocacy group that sponsors YAP.

​"They cut through all of the crap to really get to the root and the heart of the issue and I hope that the powers that be really take a moment to listen," she said.

Security, freedom, dignity and justice

The group's recommendations focus on security, freedom, dignity and justice, respectively. YAP members referred to them as 'calls to action,' summarized in a document for the police commission.

The first point calls on EPS to create a "culture of self care for officers that recognizes and addresses the stress they experience in the line of duty as well as the stigma that is associated with seeking help."

A second recommendation asks the Alberta government to include coursework in the secondary school curriculum that focuses on rights and responsibilities within the criminal justice system.

Rahall presented the third recommendation, which called on EPS and city council to "ensure that those with lived experience of poverty and criminalization have a voice on the Police Commission." Ethnic diversity should also be a priority, Rahall added.

"There's still a lot more work to do," he said. "The Edmonton Police Service still needs to work with different communities and different individuals of different backgrounds to ensure that everyone is being represented and to ensure that everyone's getting the right services that they deserve."

A final recommendation asks the government to reaffirm its commitment to the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with particular attention to "eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade."

The group asks the government to extend this attention beyond Aboriginal people to include black and newcomer populations in prison or otherwise in conflict with the law.

Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht called the meeting "very productive."

"One of the recommendations was directed at us ... and I think they articulated it very well," Knecht said after the meeting.

"It wasn't confrontational or what some might have assumed folks would come forward with, so we're going to take them to heart. The ones that we're integrated into, I think we can deal with." 

With files from Janice Johnston