International students clash with students' union over U of A campus security policy

A newly-approved University of Alberta Students’ Union policy to lobby for changes to on-campus security and policing is seeing opposition from international student representatives.

International student representatives want to ensure law enforcement presence

The University of Alberta Students' Union approved a new policy to advocate for reviews and reforms of campus security and policing to address concerns by members of the student body. (David Bajer/CBC)

A newly-approved University of Alberta Students' Union (UASU) policy to lobby for changes to on-campus security and policing is seeing opposition from some international student representatives.

The policy was approved Tuesday during the UASU's final council meeting this academic year. It outlines 20 principles related to the union's advocacy work, including pushing for more transparency and reviews of University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) to determine what practices should be changed, abolished or improved.

The International Students' Association (ISA) took issue with several points, bringing forward a presentation and speakers during the council meeting. Of particular concern was advocating to the municipal government for improved safety on transit, with a focus on harm reduction and community-based strategies.

Vice president external Gurbani Baweja said while the ISA is supportive of those measures, it wants to explicitly ensure the continued presence of uniformed officers as part of that work.

"Because the countries where we come from, we know if there's a law enforcement officer present, people will actually behave in a lawful manner," she said in an interview Wednesday. 

Baweja said a middle ground to the approach being advocated for would be to lobby for community workers to be paired with uniformed officers.

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The ISA says safety on transit is a primary concern, referencing an April 2021 incident in which an international student was stabbed on the University LRT platform.

According to data tracked by UAPS, there have been five assaults on university campuses in 2022 so far, seven in 2021, and 13 in 2020. Those numbers are lower than pre-pandemic years.

Differing perspectives

A survey last year by the ISA showed 88 per cent of the 248 respondents said they were comfortable with the presence of Edmonton police on campus.

In the 2020 UASU annual survey report, 55 per cent of international respondents felt more safe around UAPS while two per cent felt less safe. On the topic of Edmonton transit officers, 51 per cent felt safer and 1 per cent felt less safe.

Those numbers are significantly different from other identified groups, including gender minorities, Indigenous, and LGBTQ2S+ students. For transit enforcement, those numbers range from 28 to 34 per cent feeling more safe and 19 to 31 per cent feeling less safe.

Rowan Ley, president of the University of Alberta Students' Union, said the policy offers modest proposals on reviewing security on campus. (Submitted by Rowan Ley)

Rowan Ley, outgoing president of the UASU, said the purpose of the consultations that led up to the policy was to find a balance of perspectives.

"It's not about necessarily everyone being happy at the end," he said.

Ley, who voted in support of the policy approval, said few of the principles are prescriptive.

"The policy is basically a series of modest proposals for ways we can figure out what's not working as well and make it work better," he said.

"This policy is not about defunding the police. It's not about abolishing UAPS."

The Indigenous Students Union was involved in the creation of the policy. President Vaughn Beaulieu-Mercredi, who is also a councillor representing the arts, said many Indigenous students are uncomfortable around uniformed law enforcement on campus.

According to another UASU survey, five per cent of First Nations, Métis and Inuit respondents reported experiencing racial discrimination or unfair treatment from UAPS or law enforcement on or near campus. Twenty-five per cent had seen it happen to other people.

Beaulieu-Mercredi considers the policy a middle ground that opens up conversations to address the concerns of Indigenous students.

"I 100 per cent would have been happy with the policy saying, 'No cops on campus, abolish the police' and done," he said. 

"But obviously, that's just my opinion, and isn't reflective of the student body."

The policy is set to expire in three years unless renewed.