Council heads toward meeting with Calgary police to address systemic racism after public hearings

Thousands came out to the Black Lives Matters rally and candlelight vigil at Olympic Plaza in Calgary on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.

Calgary’s police chief and police oversight body will address systemic racism in front of city council next month.

The conversation, planned for Sept. 10, comes after council spent three days in July hearing from more than 100 people about racism in Calgary. Black, Indigenous and racialized speakers frequently brought up police as a source of fear, saying they’ve been profiled, harassed and harmed by officers meant to protect public safety.

Before the hearing, thousands of people marched through Calgary’s streets in June to call for action against police brutality and anti-Black racism.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in July that council may have been “too deferential” to the Calgary Police Service in the past, and after the hearings, “it’s time to have

a very tough conversation

with the police.”

Related

Council passed a series of recommendations in July with an official acknowledgment that systemic racism exists in the city government and institutions, including CPS. But in the wake of the hearings, local advocates have

called for concrete action

to back up promises from city leaders to tackle the ways racial inequality is embedded across Calgary.

Activists have also called for the

creation of a civilian-led body

to investigate complaints against police officers.

CPS spokesperson Michael Nunn said in a statement Tuesday that Chief Mark Neufeld will present to council, and some deputy chiefs might also join.

According to Nunn, CPS is “committed to addressing issues related to systemic racism in the Calgary Police Service” and the Sept. 10 meeting will see the force outline “goals and priorities” for moving forward.

“We also listened intently to the public hearings conducted in July and are also setting up a meeting with members of the expert panel established by the City of Calgary. While these listening and engagement activities are important, we now need to use what we have learned to make meaningful change,” Nunn said.

 From left; Francis Boakye, Nyall DaBreo, and councillor George Chahal take part in a Calgary City Council anti-racism hearing on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

Calgary Police Commission chair Bonita Croft added that she and Neufeld will give details about plans to improve accountability and transparency at CPS, as well as “embed inclusion, equity and diversity into the Calgary Police Service and the way it serves our community.”

“Building trust between the police and all citizens requires constant, consistent and intentional work,” she said.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra chaired the systemic racism hearings alongside Malinda Smith, the vice-provost of equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Calgary.

Carra said the public hearing offered a stark look at the barriers for visible minorities, who make up more than 30 per cent of Calgary’s population, according to Statistics Canada.

“One-third of Calgarians have a much different relationship with our police service than I do, as a white guy,” Carra said. “And that became extremely clear. That is not acceptable.”

City council doesn’t directly oversee CPS, but they are responsible for setting the force’s overall budget, since policing is a city service.

“We ultimately hold the pursestrings, so we want (CPS) to be very clear in their commitment to anti-racism and their programmatic approach to anti-racism,” Carra said.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek, one of the councillors who sits on police commission, said council has the right and responsibility to ask the police how they plan to respond to citizens’ concerns.

On the final day of July’s systemic racism hearing, a joint statement from CPS, police commission and the two unions representing officers acknowledged systemic racism “in all our institutions.”

Gondek said that was an important first step, and it’s time to ensure the right supports are in place to create change.

“We heard during the hearings that you can’t fix the system without engaging the people the system is biased against,” she said.

“It is ridiculous for us to think that we can solve the problem ourselves when we are part of the problem. It’s going to require some external expertise of people coming in … what I’m interested in is engaging some external experts who have helped other organizations do this well.”

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