Edmonton

Edmonton police chief promises new reconciliation initiative to fix complaint process

A Black man who went public about his arrest has met with the Edmonton police chief as the service carves out a new path for reconciliation with people who have complaints about mistreatment by police.

Dale McFee met Tuesday with Jean-Claude Rukundo about his 2018 arrest

An image of the July 2018 arrest of Jean-Claude Rukundo shows an Edmonton police officer using his knee on Rukundo's neck to restrain him. (Sifa Ngeze )

A Black man who went public about his arrest has met with the Edmonton police chief as the service carves out a new path for reconciliation with people who have complaints about mistreatment by police.

Video surfaced last week of an officer putting his knee on the neck of Jean-Claude Rukundo during an arrest in July 2018.

An internal investigative process cleared the officer of all wrongdoing apart from using profanity.

But Chief Dale McFee says meeting with Rukundo this week opened his eyes to the need to improve follow-up — especially in refugee and racialized communities — to help repair relationships.

"The complaint process doesn't really do any kind of reparation or reconciliation," said McFee, who met with reporters Thursday. "We go through the investigation. Let's say there's no findings. That doesn't mean that we've actually resolved the relationship."

The new initiative comes about after a Minneapolis police officer was charged with murder in the death of a Black man named George Floyd, an incident that shocked millions and sparked calls for reform across North America to address systemic racism in police services, government, schools and media.

On Thursday, city council asked for a report about models that could redirect funds from police to the community. That report will be used when council decides this fall whether to freeze the 2021 police budget at 2020 levels. The city initiative is intended to increase safety, inclusion and confidence in police and other institutions among Black, Indigenous, people of colour and other marginalized Edmontonians.

In his address to council, McFee outlined many changes made during his 16 months as chief to enhance inclusion, community-relations, accountability, transparency and reduce calls for service.

He said the reconciliation initiative will be overseen by the new branch of community safety and well-being.

"Let's say they fear the police or it's had a negative impact on the police — then I think we need to send a different skill set within our police service to say how do we better understand? Can we do something different?" said McFee, whose background is Métis, comparing it to Indigenous healing circles.
Police chief Dale McFee says his meeting with Jean-Claude Rukundo opened his eyes to the need for an avenue of reconciliation for complainants. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

'We continue to seek justice'

In July 2018, Rukundo went to the scene of a collision involving his wife. When asked by police he refused to leave and was arrested.

Rukundo and his wife say the officer had his knee on his neck for four minutes before sliding it to his back. Rukundo said he couldn't breathe. Police say the knee-on-neck restraint lasted no longer than 40 seconds.

Rukundo was charged with resisting arrested and obstructing a peace officer. The charges were dropped in February 2019.

At their meeting on Tuesday, the chief and Rukundo agreed the discussions would remain private. Rukundo and his wife released a brief statement to CBC.

"While we acknowledge the value and importance of working together to ensure future encounters with police remain peaceful, we continue to seek justice for the events of July 27, 2018," Rukundo wrote.
Sifa Ngeze and Jean-Claude Rukundo say they are still seeking justice after meeting with the police chief. (Peter Evans/CBC)

On Wednesday, city council took steps to evaluate the impact of reallocating some of the police budget to community services — as proposed by thousands of Edmontonians. Mayor Don Iveson acknowledged that not all people experience the same level of safety and protection by law enforcement.

My bias for most of my life has been that police made me feel safe and I now get more fully that that is not the case for everyone in Edmonton.- Don Iveson

"I acknowledge that most of us in positions of power in this room are white and that folks directly impacted by our ongoing decisions on this issue are in many cases minorities in our community and people of colour, and this means that we need and want community input," Iveson said.

"I have personally been doing a lot of reflection and thinking about how to address the very real fact that certain communities feel over-policed and under-protected within our current safety models. And I need to acknowledge that my bias for most of my life has been that police made me feel safe, and I now get more fully that that is not the case for everyone in Edmonton." 

City council and police want changes to the Police Act that would allow complaints against police to be investigated by an independent body. The province is working on updating the legislation.

A public hearing on policing will begin Monday at city hall.

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