New Mé​tis police chief offers hope to Edmonton's diverse communities

Advocates who work with Edmonton's Indigenous, immigrant and LGBTQ communities are welcoming the choice of Dale McFee as the city's first Métis police chief.

Community leaders applaud solid track record for increasing diversity during previous stint as police chief

Incoming Edmonton police chief Dale McFee is receiving praise for his track record of inclusion. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

Community leaders are welcoming the selection of Dale McFee Edmonton's first Mé​tis police chief. 

Advocates who work with Edmonton's Indigenous, immigrant and LGBTQ communities say McFee has a track record for inclusion. 

Under his leadership as police chief for eight years in Prince Albert, the number of Indigenous officers grew to 38 percent. 

'I'm excited to work with him," said Allen Benson, CEO of Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

"Being engaged and committed to expanding the involvement of the Indigenous community in policing says a lot, and it says a lot in terms of the openness then to be able to work with the new Canadians and the immigrant population.

"Many of our Indigenous people, as well as our new Canadians, who have histories of trauma, feel helpless and hopeless. This new police chief actually gives us hope — hope that we much need in Edmonton."

McFee, who has been the deputy minister of Corrections and Policing in Saskatchewan since 2012, emphasized the importance of inclusion while speaking to media in Edmonton for the first time on Wednesday.

"I believe diversity and inclusion are our strengths, and I look forward to utilizing these strengths in helping build and keep communities safe," said McFee, 53.

"I am committed to ensuring that I meet with our many community leaders as soon as possible to ensure that they have what they need from us to help address issues in their local environment."

'Understands diversity'

Over the years, former chief Rod Knecht drew criticism for the handling of issues affecting the LGBTQ, Indigenous and black communities.

"I look at some of the decisions that have been made previously, and this guy understands diversity in a way that I think the former chief perhaps didn't," said former police commissioner Murray Billett.

Billett, who praised the commission for choosing a "a very clever police chief," said he's pleased by McFee's focus on early intervention to ensure those requiring mental health and social supports get the help they need.

On Wednesday, McFee described how the Prince Albert police force increased Indigenous representation by moving away from traditional strategies such as setting up booths at career fairs.

"We did all those things, and the reality is it solved nothing," said McFee.

Instead, he said, the police force worked with the federal government to secure surplus funds and staffing. Then they asked Indigenous leaders, elders and casinos to endorse policing candidates.

"We taught them all the things that they need to be successful but not at the expense of other members," said McFee. "It was surplus staff, and then when they were successful, we were successful. It wasn't hard to do it was just basically thinking different."

'Open to diverse ideas'

That approach appeals to Mark Cherrington, a volunteer with the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights. He said right now there is a disconnect between the make up of Edmonton's police force and the communities it serves.

"It seems like the police commission understands that and has looked for somebody that can be more open to diverse ideas and appreciating the diverse community that we have in Edmonton," said Cherrington. 

"I'm extremely happy that this isn't just hype, this is outcome based, that this police chief has made a real difference in the diversity of the police force in Prince Albert."

The coalition recently helped several business owners and customers in the city's African community file human rights complaints against police officers they accuse of harassment. They have requested a meeting with the chief.

"I'm hoping to see he reaches out to the many communities that make up our city, including the African-Canadian community that has been, from their perspective, victimized by a strong police presence and felt intimidated and fearful of a force that's supposed to protect them," said Cherrington.

Advice from Indigenous elder

McFee, who is returning to the hockey town where he was born, shares a strong passion for the game. He played left wing for the Prince Albert Raiders for four seasons, served as assistant coach and is currently on the board of directors, where he was once president.

In addition to drawing on lessons from his Mé​tis culture, McFee's love of hockey and his sense of humour shone through Wednesday.

"As a Mé​tis guy growing up, as a police leader eventually, a community leader, I always remember a quote of an Indigenous elder that told me … I would be measured by the creator on what I did with the time and talent he gave me. I don't know how much time he gave me, but I sure know there's a lot of talent in Edmonton. And I mean, other than the Oilers."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

Reporter

Andrea Huncar is based in Edmonton. She reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, policing, courts and radicalization. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca