Edmonton

National Gathering of Elders seeks apology after woman stopped, questioned by Edmonton police on LRT

A national Indigenous organization is calling for an apology from the Edmonton Police Service after a woman and her family were accused of not paying for transit while riding the LRT to an event on Thursday.

Video shows Edmonton police officers questioning event attendees' proof of payment

A screenshot from a video taken by National Elders Gathering attendee Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail. The video shows two Edmonton police officers questioning Wabano-Iahtail and her family about transit payment included in her entry to the event. (Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail/Facebook)

A national Indigenous organization is calling for an apology from the Edmonton Police Service after a woman and her family were accused of not paying for transit while riding the LRT to an event on Thursday.

Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail's pass to the National Gathering of Elders at the Edmonton Expo Centre included free use of buses and the LRT. But event organizers say Wabano-Iahtail and her family experienced "disrespectful treatment" in an encounter with Edmonton police on her way to the event.

"Organizers have reached out to ETS Officials to request an explanation of why this happened and ask that the Police Service publicly apologize to Jocelyn and her son," the National Gathering of Elders said in a statement.

Wabano-Iahtail posted a video to Facebook that shows two Edmonton police officers asking for proof of purchase of a transit ticket. One officer says he will call Edmonton Transit System to check on whether transit is included in the event pass. Once off the phone, the officer then asks to check Wabano-Iahtail and her family's identification.

The officers begin speaking to Wabano-Iahtail's son, who has a disability, and she repeatedly asks them to stop. She asks the police officers to come with her to the event, and they all exit the train at Coliseum Station and continue the conversation for around five minutes before the family walks away and the video ends.

City officials confirmed to CBC News Friday that the LRT service to and from the Edmonton Expo Centre was free for all attendees.

Judy Kim-Meneen, co-event coordinator of the National Gathering of Elders, confirmed the details of the video.

"[The police officer] was asking for proof of payment. Jocelyn showed him the badge, saying 'No, this badge gives us complimentary access to this LRT because we are attending the National Gathering of Elders,'" Kim-Meneern said.

"The police officer was not aware of it. He kept asking them, saying 'No, the badge is not a proof of payment.'"

What happened on that deck is representative of what happens to us on a daily basis.- Jocelyn  Wabano-Iahtail

Wabano-Iahtail said she believes the incident was an instance of racial profiling.

"My son's partner, his girlfriend, is Caucasian, and you can tell very much that Hope is Caucasian. And they were willing to let her go. But they kept us detained, my son and I, and the other young men that were with us," she said.

"It's obvious that we are Indigenous."

Wabano-Iahtail said she has not received an apology from EPS. 

"What happened on that deck is representative of what happens to us on a daily basis, and I am calling the settlers out and saying, 'No more,'" she said.

"After much discussion and sharing, our family expects a Cree-principled apology from the Edmonton Police Service and the city and nothing less."

In an emailed statement Sunday, EPS said it is part of the job of police officers on LRT trains to look for people who have not paid transit fares.

"In this incident, officers did their job in a respectful and friendly fashion," the statement said.

"When they called for clarification about free transit for conference delegates, they were given inaccurate information. We regret the inconvenience to the conference delegates involved."

'There should have been better communication'

Kim-Meneen said she feels the police showed a lack of empathy and understanding, and believes the incident highlights a breakdown in communication between Edmonton transit and city police. 

She said she spoke with EPS a week before the National Gathering of Elders. An agreement was made that anyone with a badge to the event would have free access to the Edmonton Transit System for the duration of the gathering.

She said she sent a copy of the badge so city police and transit employees would know what it looked like.

"I was frustrated on behalf of Jocelyn. I felt sorry that she had to go through that," she said. "Attacked, basically, penalized for who she was because she did not have proof because she knew that the badge got her access. It was just a sheer frustration, that lack of communication in all directions that led up to this point."

​Kim-Meneen said ETS contacted her after the incident to confirm the badges counted towards bus and LRT fare, and that their employees were aware of this.

She said she's wondering why it was city police and not ETS transit officers that were questioning Wabano-Iahtail about fare payment. She said she has not heard from EPS.

"I would like to know their side of the story, because no one has approached us about it ... on what exactly happened," she said.

"There should have been better communication."

With files from Kyle Muzyka

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