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'Absolute bare minimum': Police anti-racism efforts criticized in Calgary

Last Updated Mar 24, 2021 at 1:57 pm MDT

A Black Lives Matter rally held in downtown Calgary on June 1, 2020. (PHOTO: Tom Ross, 660 NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Following a fresh series of hate-motivated attacks in Calgary this past weekend, the chief of police addressed some issues that have come to light in the city.

During a Calgary Police Commission meeting on Tuesday, Chief Constable Mark Neufeld and police officials discussed the spate of attacks that have made headlines, as well as police actions at the weekly protests being held in opposition to COVID-19 health protocols.

“I do get the public sentiment, people are largely pissed off with–especially right now while we’re flirting with a third wave of COVID-19–with what they’re seeing in terms of what I think is rather poor judgement around your community and public health orders,” said Neufeld.

He said this is a “challenging situation” with how they handle the protests and they are getting “beat up” over their handling of it, particularly on social media.

“I’m not making any excuses, I’m simply saying this bumps up against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

On the criticism of officers wearing thin blue line patches, including two officers who responded to an alleged assault during a protest on Saturday, Neufeld said feelings around the patch differ widely.

“There’s a lot of people on social media saying, ‘If you’re wearing these symbols you should be terminated, you’re a racist, you’re a fascist.’ I don’t believe that, quite frankly, and that’s not how we look at that insignia inside the organization,” he said. “Can it be rehabilitated? I don’t know the answer to that. That will come in the conversation but at the end of the day we will get to the right answer.”

Neufeld and the commission were confronted on the issue of the thin blue line patches by local activist Taylor McNallie with Inclusive Canada. She said the imagery is clearly rooted in racism, in line with a troubling history of police around the world and in Canada.

“To the rest of the population, the symbol represents a blue wall of silence, an informal code of not reporting misconduct among law enforcement officers and stands in solidarity against the very people you’re supposedly meant to protect,” she said.

Neufeld said in his statements to the commission that while the symbol has been used by far right groups, particularly in the United States, he still feels it has a more positive connotation in Calgary. However, it has also been used by far right groups during protests in this city as well.

McNallie told 660 NEWS this shows there is an issue of cognitive dissonance on the part of local police.

“It’s not hard to figure out what the issue is with this symbol, and know these conversations have already been had,” she said.

She said the fact that citizens like herself only have a few minutes to voice their concerns to the commission, while the chief can speak for much longer and in her words get “defensive” about the criticism, highlights another disparity.

“So there’s no opportunity for a two-way conversation,” she said. “It’s just proof they are doing the absolute bare minimum. Even with their anti-racism committee, meeting once a month is not going to do anything.”

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Neufeld said conversations around topics like the thin blue line symbol will be continuing, although prior discussions were put on hold following the death of Sgt. Andrew Harnett on New Year’s Eve, and said social media was not the best place to hold court on the issue.

Speaking of social media, McNallie initially shared photos and video of the alleged attack on Saturday, where a man in a wheelchair was punched by a man wearing a white supremacist shirt during the anti-mask protest. Neufeld criticized the post during the commission meeting and said the video “starts where the person that posted it wants it to start,” and he will try to get more information.

McNallie, who was not at the rally herself but received the information and photos through a group chat with people who were witnesses to the incident, said accusations that the video is somehow doctored are incorrect and it was shared as is. She said the police should come forward with any body-worn camera footage to corroborate claims the incident went differently.

Neufeld said there is a chance charges will be laid once more investigation has been completed.

While the police said they are continuing to develop more changes in relation to the newly formed anti-racism committee, McNallie said it is becoming tiring to voice up during these meetings and other police meetings around the province, to continually bring up the same topics without any action being taken.

“Racialized people are sitting in these meetings for hours. We’re putting in so much emotional labour, we’re not getting paid for our time, we’re reliving our trauma. We are providing our problems while also providing solutions and they still just keep coming and asking, ‘Well, what do we do? We don’t know what to do, what do you think we should do?’ And it’s like, we’ve been telling you for years.”

At the end of it all, she said people should not be surprised about these incidents, also including the attack against two Muslim women in Calgary this past Sunday and a series of anti-Muslim attacks in Edmonton over past months. McNallie said this is not about a rise in incidents, it’s just that they are getting more publicity after being pushed to the background for so long.

“As a Black woman, this is just normal. This is Alberta,” she said. “It’s very frustrating when people continue to say this isn’t Alberta, this isn’t the Alberta I know, this isn’t the Canada I know. It’s a very privileged viewpoint.

“This is the only life I’ve ever known.”