OUTSaskatoon brings concerns from LGBTQ community to police chief

Officials from OUTSaskatoon say members of the LGBTQ community in Saskatoon don't feel safe when dealing with police, but a meeting held on Friday was an important step toward establishing a stronger relationship.

Chief Cooper says service has recommitted to building a strong relationship with LGBTQ community

Participants in the 2017 Saskatoon Pride Parade in Saskatoon. The Saskatoon Police Service and OUTSaskatoon met on Friday to discuss concerns about policing in the city from the LGBTQ community. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Officials from OUTSaskatoon say members of the LGBTQ community in Saskatoon don't feel safe when dealing with police, but a meeting held on Friday was an important step forward to establishing a stronger relationship.

The relationship between the LGBTQ community and the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) has been tested in recent weeks. In early June, an officer was placed on administrative leave after making posts on his personal social media accounts the service said were "harmful and offensive" to the LGBTQ community.

Then, during a sentencing at Saskatoon's Provincial Courthouse on June 17, it emerged that a member of the Saskatoon Police Service threatened to out a gay man to his family after he became combative and disorderly during an arrest. 

"We didn't really hold back," said acting director of OUTSaskatoon, Krystal Nieckar following the meeting on Friday. "We shared our feelings. Our concerns. Our fears. We talked about history and Troy — he sat through it all." 

At the meeting, the two groups discussed reallocation of police resources, the roles police unions play in disciplinary processes for officers, gender-based violence and the role that gender plays in detention.

"The police force isn't going to go away," she said. "So how can we work as an organization? That's our job, to work to ensure the members of our community actually do feel safe and right now, they don't feel safe. And ensuring the police force is hearing that people don't feel safe because of their actions and their behaviour." 

Krystal Nieckar, acting director of OUTSaskatoon, says she left the meeting with Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper feeling hopeful that change will happen. She says OUTSaskatoon and the police service will continue to meet to ensure there are long-term changes made within the service. (Submitted by Krystal Nieckar)

Nieckar said the organization was critical of the police service throughout the meeting, but said Cooper was receptive to their concerns and seemed willing to "dig in" and do the work necessary to make sure the relationship between the two groups is a strong one. 

"I left the meeting feeling hopeful that things will change," Nieckar said. "But we also need to see the change. We want to make sure that we're being accountable to the 2SLGBTQ community and that SPS is being accountable to the entire community." 

Cooper said previously the relationship between the city's police service and the LGBTQ community is an "incredibly important" one and one that he wants to maintain. The police service is now investigating the matter where the officer is said to have threatened to out the man.

In a statement sent to CBC on Saturday afternoon, Chief Cooper said the dialogue was productive and the service is ready to work with OUTSaskatoon, noting it has "recommitted to building a strong relationship."

"There are plans to meet regularly and we discussed options for enhanced training and policy development," he said in the statement. "We all recognized that there is work to do but that by working together we can ensure the 2SLGBTQ community feels safe and well served by SPS."