Police carding an ongoing irritant in Edmonton's Somali community

Members of the Somali community in Edmonton say police relations have improved but still need work— particularly around the practice of carding.

Young Somali-Canadians complain police officers stop them 'for no reason'

Ahmed Abdulkadir said the police practice of carding is a major concern for youth in Edmonton's Somali community.

Members of the Somali community in Edmonton say police relations have improved but still need work— particularly around the practice of carding.

"The most common thing that we hear from the youth is, 'The police stopped me for no reason,' " said community advocate Ahmed Abdulkadir. "Specifically those who are driving around."

Abdulkadir was responding to the findings of a report presented to the police commission Thursday that interviewed 57 police officers last year, as well as 301 Somali-Canadian youth.

While 70 per cent of those surveyed from the community identified the difficult relationship with police as a key issue, carding was not specifically mentioned in the report.

But Abdulkadir, who heads up Ogaden Somali Community of Alberta Residents, said the random stopping, questioning and documenting of Somali-Edmontonians has given rise to negative views of police and the "perception the police are against them."
Police Chief Rod Knecht said EPS doesn't believe carding is a problem in Edmonton. (CBC )

A year ago, Edmonton police said the service would not make changes to its controversial street-check policy following an internal review.

EPS reached that conclusion following a CBC Edmonton investigation into street checks and Ontario's move to ban the practice, which was found to disproportionately target racialized groups.

But Abdulkadir said this type of racial profiling is one of the biggest concerns among youth, "so that's what we want to solve."

Thursday's report noted Somali-Canadians and Edmonton police recognize that the deliberate efforts of EPS have significantly improved relations since a low point in 2011.

But the report said while senior officers and community leaders had made great gains, there was still tension and misunderstanding between the two groups at the street level.

Three younger patrol officers expressed negative perceptions of the community, said the authors, noting it "may influence why some officers initiate contact with Somali-Canadians, and the subsequent tone of these interactions."

One officer stated: "They are the problem."

Negative views of police

Many officers told researchers they believe negative views of police stem from negative experiences with police in Somalia.

But Abdulkadir said most youth are Canadian born and their views about police stem from experiences here.

"The majority of the kids that are here, are born and raised here," said Abdukadir. "The perception of the police they have is what they have seen here. That's the only experience they have with the police.

"We need to figure out why the youth have that perception."

The majority of the kids that are here, are born and raised here ... The perception of the police they have is what they have seen here. - Ahmed Abdulkadir

Abdulkadir said he feels optimistic about the progress being made.

In June, he said, community members, police and others participated in what is known as a "Gar" in Somali culture, where two groups experiencing conflict sit down and voice their concerns.

He said issues raised by elders included gangs and unsolved murders of young Somali-Canadian men.

Youth of Somali heritage have also begun meeting with other racialized groups to tackle identical issues they face around racism and justice.

Abdulkadir said part of the solution is a police force that better reflects the diversity of Edmonton.

Police chief Rod Knecht, who also attended Thursday's meeting, said increasing the diversity of the force is a priority for him, but tougher to deliver on.

Edmonton-Somali youth also called for better multicultural representation, but many said they would not join EPS, said the report's co-author, Sandra Bucerius, a criminologist at the University of Alberta.

But Bucerius, who also noted EPS was recognized nationally for community policing practices that could be used by other forces, said 81 per cent of youth canvassed indicated they wanted to build a stronger partnership with police. Frontline officers indicated they felt the same way, she said.

"The study showed that our members really want to learn, they want to know more," Knecht said. "And that's a positive thing."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca     @andreahuncar

About the Author

Andrea Huncar


Andrea Huncar reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, youth at-risk and the justice system. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca