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Edmonton police commission meeting interrupted by advocates angry with encampment response

The latest meeting of the Edmonton Police Commission devolved Thursday when members of the public interrupted police chief Dale McFee’s comments on encampments.

Ten people signed up to speak at the meeting. All criticized police involvement in recent cleanup of encampments and their interactions with those living on site.

Katie Ingram questioned why the commission had not called a special meeting to ask the police service about the encampment response.

Commission chair John McDougall later told media the closures were done over Christmas break so many of the commissioners were busy or away.

He did say there was communication with commissioners during that period.

Ingram claimed the cleanups were not being run by the city but “by a rogue police chief.”

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Ingram told the commission it was “more than concerning” that the police were coordinating with the province, absent from the commission.

She was referring to a joint announcement Wednesday where McFee joined provincial ministers to open a new centre where encampment residents can be brought after tents are taken down.

Click to play video: 'Reaction to Alberta announcement on Edmonton homeless navigation and support centre'

Reaction to Alberta announcement on Edmonton homeless navigation and support centre

City council was told about the centre the day prior but was not involved in the announcement or setup of the centre.

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Speaker Brad Lafortune questioned whether responding officers had cultural sensitivity training given many encampment residents are Indigenous.

Kelty Pelechytik told the commission it was “painfully obvious” the chief must resign. She said she has visited multiple encampments and did not feel there was enough Indigenous and mental health support for those on site.

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“I’m extremely concerned with the overreach: the policing into areas that are not usually to do with policing, and that police are not qualified and trained to deal with,” Pelechytik said.

When it was time for McFee to give his report, advocates got frustrated and interrupted his pre-written speech.

As McFee said his officers were acting with compassion, they yelled that what the chief was saying was not true.

“There’s going to be differences of opinions and if I’m the person that needs to be blamed so be it,” McFee told media following the meeting.

“But we need to do the work and we’re going to continue to do the work.”

John McDougall, chair of the Edmonton Police Commission, told Global News the commission has “the utmost confidence in the service.”

That work includes an escalation of encampment dismantling. In the first 24 hours after the increased action was announced, McFee estimates four encampments were taken down.

He said by Thursday, 15 people had been removed from encampments. Of the 15, 10 had accepted offers to go to the new navigation centre where they would be connected with social services.

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