News and Statements
Open Public Statement regarding CityNews Article
For Immediate Release
Joint Statement on EXPO Closure
1 August 2020
Due to a lack of adequate housing in Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton, Alberta), the problems related to the closure of the EXPO Centre temporary shelter facilities and lack of contingency plans being in place to support this transition is resulting in those living in poverty having their right to life, liberty and personal security denied.
We would like to remind you that Edmonton has committed to:
Being a Human Rights City as articulated in the EndPovertyEdmonton roadmap, where rights of all are upheld and where all belong, participate and are included;
Efforts towards Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples through the City Plan and ConnectEdmonton;
The Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness to ensure that everyone has a place to call home with the supports they need to maintain it;
A Violence Reduction Plan via collaboration between REACH Edmonton and Edmonton Police Service;
The Affordable Housing Strategy to ensure there are housing options for all Edmontonians; and,
Engagement of newcomer, immigrant and refugee communities through the Edmonton Local Immigrant Partnership.
We believe that all in this city should have safe, accessible and affordable housing. Without such, one remains stuck in a cycle of poverty, violence and illness.
While we recognize the temporary EXPO Centre was established to respond to COVID19 needs, it’s closure on Friday July 31st is going to have severe impacts on the city. Our concern is that there will be increased loss of life, violence, abuse, and social tension. The EXPO Centre provided a much needed opportunity to build a space with a comprehensive suite of services accessible to people.
This will no doubt put added stress on the Edmonton Police Service to respond to complex cases and will require collaboration and resources to support community based approaches. We need to be vigilant in ensuring that the burden of COVID19, poverty, and trauma in the community do not lead to the increasing criminalization of the most vulnerable. This does not mean that additional funding be directed to policing but to localized community based efforts that provide appropriate and culturally relevant support. It also means that mandatory requirements, such as masks, do not burden the homeless community and that we have an obligation to provide masks, not to issue fines. There needs to be understanding that a fine based culture only serves to deepen the criminalization of poverty and increases social tension.
Thus, we as a collective are calling for immediate action for:
the City of Edmonton and Government of Alberta to support the joint proposal for the day shelter in front of the Relaunch Committee and get this effort in motion swiftly. We ask for a long term commitment for this day shelter and other day/night shelters but also a commitment of those agencies involved to work collaboratively with grassroots community to ensure accessibility for all.
Mandated and funded community agencies must reach out and provide direct support and contributions to community based efforts, such as street outreach, camps, and grassroots groups to connect to vulnerable community members directly and ensure basic needs are met. They will seek to work in the spirit of partnership and friendship.
Immediate resource mobilization to non-profit organizations and grassroots community groups who are having to step up to fill the gaps in these government responsibilities in the provision of basic human rights. These agencies and individuals are working in already strained situations and require support and resources in order to maintain their energy and well-being while supporting Edmonton’s most vulnerable.
In addition to our immediate calls to action, we also call for mobilization and action on the following:
Preparations put in place for a further public health crisis due to the spread of COVID19 among our homeless community. Alberta Health Services needs to work closely with shelters to determine their protocols and procedures around what they will do and how they will support those who test positive.
Immediate investment into the long term provision of safe and accessible 24/7 shelter services throughout the city to enable people to connect to housing and support services. Not only is the continual and increased mobility of people without housing between services to survive a public health concern, but it does not allow people to focus on anything other than survival.
All levels of government conduct an emergency review of existing surplus spaces and mobilize these for use and transition immediately and without delay. People need access to housing urgently and we must act with an eye to the closing window of warmer weather.
Edmonton Transit Services partnership and collaboration to provide mobile accessibility to services and supports as well as temporary housing.
Immediate movement to open up existing public toilet, washing, laundry and water fountain facilities.
Post-secondary institutions offer and find ways to make their dormitories available for transitional housing.
All larger faith centres work to make their spaces available to provide transitional housing and supports.
Immediate provision of masks to people in high traffic areas and transit stations to ensure protection of public health but also accessibility to masks, without criminalization.
Immediate cessation and zero tolerance for any police misconduct against those who are homeless including tent slashing or pepper spray. Any instances of misconduct should be heard by a citizen led mechanism.
Mobilization of public outreach and education to ensure community members are receiving access to information and communication to support them in accessing the supports and services they need.
One of the greatest negative outcomes of shifting locations and approaches in service provision is that it creates confusion, anxiety, stress and uncertainty for people who lack housing and other supports. The lack of access to information and education on these changes and shifts makes it even more difficult to navigate for people who are struggling to survive.
“Many of my clients did not know Expo would be closing soon or that the hours were changing for the last two weeks. We need to make sure we are recognizing people's dignity by letting people know better what decisions we are making that will affect them.”
Provision of education to community members to understand how to support and care for those that are vulnerable in the community. Provide the tools they need to not ghettoize or criminalize people but instead to help support them to connect to supports and services.
The situation in Edmonton is going to unravel very quickly in terms of safety and public health. We question the decision to move forward with the closing of the EXPO shelter at the expense of potential violence, public health and sanitation, and individual safety and security. The plans are moving in place to relaunch how bars can open and wearing masks in public places, but what about the most vulnerable people in our community?
We want to stress that the most substantial issue in all of this is the utter lack of affordable and appropriate housing in the city. Until we do a better job dealing with that and addressing the right to adequate housing, these issues affecting our community will never go away and will continue to be an ongoing and increasing drain and burden on public budgets and social well-being.
Coalition for Justice and Human Rights
John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights
Righting Relations Edmonton
YEG Community Response to COVID19
Elizabeth Fry Society
Self Advocacy Federation
The House of Justice
Creating Hope Society
Native Counselling Services of Alberta
Recommendations to Edmonton City Council on Policing
Release Date: June 15, 2020
Dear Edmonton City Council,
The slogan “overpoliced and underprotected” rings true far too often in Edmonton; especially for our most marginalized communities. The necessary way forward must involve greater accountability, demilitarization, and listening to communities. It also must involve a shift away from defensive posturing to explain and justify, to a true commitment to the protection and support of all in our communities through a lens of dignity, security, and respect. This must include a commitment to uphold Treaty 6 and to acknowledge the long term genocidal history of law enforcement with the First Peoples of this land and the sustained violence that Indigenous peoples face as a result.
The Coalition for Justice and Human Rights is concerned with the lack of action and attention from EPS on critical investigations in the city affecting traditionally oppressed community members. We are particularly concerned with the Canada Day death at the hands of EPS officers of an Indigenous man as well as unsolved homicides in Indigenous communities as well as the Black Muslim community. Violence against oppressed communities has been covered up and under wraps for too long. We are also concerned about the continuing street checks that put undocumented and temporary foreign workers at risk when they are reported to CBSA as well as the slashing methods used to push community out of temporary encampments.
We applaud the openness and courage of Edmonton’s City Council to hear from the community and critically look at the way that Edmonton Police Service is funded, but also in terms of taking a leadership role as a municipality which can influence provincial and federal shifts for radical, but much needed and more efficient and effective, ways to “police” our communities.
We ask that City Council:
Shift funding dollars allocated to weapons and securitization of the police force towards social outreach and support services to our most marginalized communities to ensure they have effective advocacy supports, protection and safety. The model of this support must be determined WITH community and not become a model of social work that is embedded within colonized and institutionalized approaches.
Lobby the provincial government to ensure shifts to the Police Act to ensure greater accountability of policing forces in Alberta.
Advocate to the province to increase resources to ASIRT to give it the capacity it needs to conduct investigations and facilitate police accountability as well as to maintain independence and impartiality.
Mandate that EPS officers engage in a set number of hours per month in debrief and healing work as well as efforts to build relations and understanding of the different communities in the City that is community led and facilitated.
Place a moratorium on any reporting from street checks of vulnerable citizens to provincial or federal agencies such as the Canadian Border Services Agencies. To be a Sanctuary City, a place where people can access help without fear, the City must be the first point of protection and support for community members.
Place a moratorium on the slashing of tents in tent encampments by EPS or other enforcement officers. A clear penalty for any infractions of this act, such as a month without pay, should be clearly identified and put in place to deter officers.
Implement an immediate and independent citizen’s restorative council to act as a space for people to file concerns and complaints regarding Edmonton Police Service or other enforcement officers.
Install dash cams in all EPS cruisers and ensure appropriate audio connection to the officers at all times. We also request that police officers be equipped with body cameras to ensure safety and accountability of community and law enforcement.
EPS can be a force for good within our community. It can be better and it must be better. This starts with difficult conversations and critical reflection and proceeds to meaningful policy change. The Coalition encourages City Council to engage in this work and we as a group of community members and agencies are prepared to support this important work moving forward. The impunity of police violence can no longer be accepted and we trust that City Council will commit to upholding human rights and work towards finding equitable access to justice.
Critical Matter - Indigenous Seniors in Care in Slave Lake
For immediate release
June 10, 2020
The rights of seniors have been top of mind for people as the COVID19 pandemic set in and we watched with fear and sadness as seniors were heavily impacted in care facilities across the country. The stories that we don’t hear however are the stories that hit the hardest.
This Monday, June 7, 2020, Joseph Auger passed away in Slave Lake Alberta in Points West Care facilities and we can no longer remain silent when we see human rights violations against seniors.
Prior to COVID19, community advocates had been working together since July 25 2019 to document and raise awareness of the particular isolation and neglect of seniors in Slave Lake Alberta. What resulted from this work was the unearthing of over 40 stories of seniors in the community who were struggling with dignity and well-being in care. The most concerning of these stories were those that came up about Indigenous seniors in care facilities.
Staff at the local Friendship Centre were finding it more and more difficult to go and observe the conditions that they found their Indigenous seniors living in. Not only did they find that these seniors were unable to access food, but also living in unsanitary and neglectful conditions. Those that lost their English, are left unable to communicate or self advocate. They are isolated and alone, while suffering mental and emotional stress. Many of the Indigenous seniors at care facilities in Slave Lake are residential school survivors and are being re-traumatized in this setting, needing culturally appropriate counselling and support, including someone that speaks their language.
In February, we asked for an independent external Cree speaker to go into Points West home to speak with seniors in the Care centre and their families if present. We did this in order to confirm the stories that we were hearing in community. What this individual witnessed was traumatic and a report has been written that we were about to release. In this report, the consultant found that “while Points West prides itself on high quality standards and the 10 Principles of the Eden Alternative; they are not meeting their own standards and not living by their own principles which is apparent by the reviews of former employees in Points West (included in the report) and not only in Slave Lake but in other Points West facilities as well”. This report includes a listing of media articles highlighting the ongoing battles of former staff.
As a collective of concerned agencies and community members, we are calling for:
An immediate public inquiry and review of Points West facilities led by Indigenous members and representing both community and leadership;
The Government of Alberta to create a program that enables Indigenous community members to keep seniors at home and enables access to the aids and support required to allow dignity for seniors;
Immediate increase of qualified staff at Points West Facilities to ensure a one to three ration of care to seniors. Also a call out, in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Call to Action, that priority be given to hire Indigenous staff with language capacities; and,
The procurement and provision of nutritious, culturally appropriate foods for Indigenous seniors. Building a partnership with the Friendship Centres to provide these meals may be an innovative solution to this challenge.