EDMONTON — The police chief in Alberta's capital says there's racism in Canadian policing, but he worries that any reduction in budgets could lead to a loss of officers and programs brought in to address diversity.
Protests related to the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died under the knee of a white police officer, have called for the defunding of police departments across North America.
Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said Floyd's death was fundamentally wrong and that the officer needs to be held accountable.
"That, by any stretch of the imagination, can't be defended, can't be justified, and we all need to say that doesn't happen and can't happen," he said on a Zoom call Thursday.
While McFee said he believes policing in Canada is ahead of the United States, it's not perfect.
"Systemic racism exists ... in every community. I think we need to be open and honest about that," he said. "It's in health outcomes. It's in child apprehension outcomes.
"But it doesn't mean it's rampant."
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said in a media interview this week that she was struggling with the definition of systemic racism within the national police force.
Alberta deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said Monday that Canada is different than the United States and he didn't think racism is systemic in Canadian policing.
He did say that racism is "prevalent" in all aspects of society, including in police services.
McFee said he didn't want to comment on the RCMP, but noted he has known Zablocki for a long time and he has a proven track record in policing.
Groups such as Black Lives Matter are calling for policing money to be redirected to services such as affordable housing, mental-health programs and community-led organizations.
McFee said he knows people are frustrated and angry, but he suggested it's time to take the emotion out of the situation.
"As a police chief, I am fully committed to change," he said, but added it needs to be the right change.
"If you defund police, based on collective agreements, you ... lose all your new hires and you lose all of those programs," he said.
"Then you become an enforcement agency again, which makes zero sense."
McFee said Edmonton Police Service programs dealing with community safety and well-being would be cut, because funding is necessary for front-line policing.
"You have to have a number of people to go to the calls, and you have to solve a homicide, and you have to solve a terrorism incident and you have to solve an organized crime incident, and you have to solve all violence and major property crimes," he said. "So you have a majority of your police service that is still going to have to go to calls."
McFee said the second cut would be officers who were hired in the last three to five years because their contracts have a last-in, first-out provision.
"We've hired diversity in an extremely aggressive manner," he said, listing people from various backgrounds as well as officers with degrees in social work and communications.
Statistics provided by the Edmonton Police Service from 2015 to 2019 show between 42 and 57 per cent of new hires annually came from under-represented backgrounds, including women and visible minorities.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2020
Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press