Edmonton’s police department is making changes to its training, recruitment and detention programs in an effort to curb discrimination against the LGBTQ community, a year after the force’s chief apologized for decades of homophobia and targeted aggression.
The changes, announced Friday, are only the first steps in addressing the police’s role in the marginalization of the community, Chief Dale McFee said.
“This is a journey, not a sprint,” he said. “We won’t always be perfect, we may make mistakes along the way, but this relationship is and will remain a priority for [the Edmonton Police Service].”
The department plans to create a mandatory LGBTQ recruit-training module that will focus on “historic trauma, understanding marginalization and connecting with people’s experiences." The program will be for both sworn and civilian members of the force.
The department will also add gender-inclusive options, beyond the typical binary of male and female, to its detainment-intake process. By acknowledging non-binary and trans identities, the department said it hopes to encourage the use of preferred pronouns and chosen names, while curbing the practice of putting people into male or female detainment areas that may not correspond to their gender identity, therefore putting them at greater risk.
Advocates within the LGBTQ community said they will continue to monitor the department’s progress to ensure its promises are followed by action, but welcomed Friday’s announcement as a positive step.
“It’s a pretty interesting turn of events because years ago, when I came out, it was us being chased by the police and being ignored by the police. And now they’re reaching out to us,” said Murray Billett, an LGBTQ advocate and former Edmonton police commissioner.
He said the one thing the department needs to acknowledge, however, is that minority Indigenous, racial or religious LGBTQ individuals might have more trepidation in dealing with the police than the rest of the wider community, and that this trust may be harder to gain.
Last May, Mr. McFee made a public apology on behalf of the Edmonton police to the city’s LGBTQ community, saying that the department’s actions caused pain and broke trust. The department then launched consultations with Edmonton’s LGBTQ community last fall.
Some people in the community, however, want to see more concrete plans for the reconciliation efforts, saying that talk, with no details on implementation, doesn’t get the community very far.
“I would like to see a more detailed approach of ... what steps are going to be taken, with the timelines to all of them,” said Estefania Cortes-Vargas, the executive director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton and a former NDP MLA.
Estefania Cortes-Vargas, who prefers the gender-neutral pronoun they, also outlined the need for a neutral third party, such as an ombudsman, to work with both groups to process complaints and concerns, because they feel there is still too much mistrust on the part of the LGBTQ community for them to properly communicate with the police.
Mr. McFee said this was not something the department currently planned to pursue, saying they would rather focus on building a relationship with the community so that they’re comfortable bringing concerns straight to the department.
The police force also said it would update its recruitment and hiring practices in an effort to bring more members of the LGBTQ community into the force itself.
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