Edmonton police to investigate removal of homeless people from LRT

Edmonton police are launching an investigation into an incident Sunday night where officers told homeless people seeking shelter in extreme temperatures to leave an LRT station. 

'We must do better and for this we are sorry,' acting police chief tells city councillors

The Bear Clan Patrol in Edmonton posted a video to their Facebook page on Sunday, showing Edmonton Police Service officers ordering people who had been sheltering in the Central LRT station to move outside. (Bear Clan Patrol Edmonton)

Edmonton police are launching an investigation into an incident Sunday night where officers told homeless people seeking shelter in extreme temperatures to leave an LRT station. 

Acting police chief Al Murphy announced the move Wednesday morning at a meeting of city council's Community and Public Services Committee. 

"We should have arranged transportation or helped in accessing the services our partnering agencies have in place to keep our most vulnerable safe and warm," he said. "We must do better and for this we are sorry." 

Murphy said the Professional Standards Branch opened an investigation after receiving a public complaint on the matter. 

Police will work with the city to review processes "to ensure there's a clear understanding of the extreme weather protocols and our mutual responsibilities," he said.

Police announced the investigation after Mayor Don Iveson called for a review of the city's extreme-weather protocols 

Iveson referred to the video footage of the incident that has circled social media since Sunday evening, showing officers moving homeless people from city property into extreme cold and unsafe conditions. 

"During these extreme weather conditions, we have procedures that are to be followed to ensure all Edmontonians, including our most vulnerable, are kept safe," Iveson said. "It would appear these were not followed during these instances." 

Iveson asked city administration to review extreme-cold protocols, how the city works with community groups, EPS and shelters to community the policy, and how and when it is enacted. 

The city began its emergency cold activation Feb. 4 with two buses looping the city to shuttle people to shelters. 

Rob Smyth, manager of citizen services, said outreach workers and peace officers have been on the buses every night helping people.

"[The] situation that unfolded over the weekend at an LRT station is not reflective of our community's values, nor the tireless efforts of many social agencies, Homeward Trust, city staff and the Edmonton police service who came together in response to this extreme weather."

Shelters added capacity during the cold snap and LRT station is no longer used as part of the city's extreme cold response, he noted. 

"At all times during this activation, there was room in the shelter system for all who sought access to it." 

Administrators are expected to report back by late March.

Bear Clan Patrol wants to see action

Melany Beatty, a Bear Clan Patrol Edmonton Beaver Hills House volunteer, witnessed the incident at the Central LRT Station on Sunday and filed the complaint with the EPS Professional Standards Branch.

The group met with EPS leadership on Tuesday but Beatty said they wouldn't to commit to the actions being recommended by members of the Bear Clan Patrol.

"I think they should commit to leaving people in warm, safe — or less cold — places for the rest of the winter of 2021. People are actually dying on the streets in Edmonton. They are," Beatty said. "We don't want the Edmonton police to be a catalyst for that."

Judith Gale, leader of the Bear Clan Patrol, took the video of Sunday's altercation. She wants to continue to working with EPS to help officers act with compassion when dealing with vulnerable citizens in the extreme cold.

"I'm just grateful that I had the forethought to bring out my camera phone and record the entire altercation," Gale said. "I am glad that it's been a conduit to ignite some change in our EPS community."

With files from Travis McEwan