More people have lost their lives to the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) than any other police force in Canada so far this year. As of writing, four people have been killed by the EPS so far in 2022. The four deaths by the EPS has already surpassed the number of fatal police incidents that occurred in each respective year since 2000. Tragically, this accounts for 30 per cent of all people killed in Canada by the police this year. The police forces of the larger cities of Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto have yet to have any fatalities, while the Calgary Police Service (CPS) has had one. The only other city in Canada with multiple fatal police incidents is Surrey, British Columbia with two.
The first fatal incident occurred on Feb. 22. Police responded to an armed robbery in downtown Edmonton and pursued a suspect on foot into a residential area. EPS would ultimately open fire on the suspect, killing him. Later, investigators would find an imitation gun at the scene; however, the role the imitation gun played in this incident, if any, is not clear. Most tragically of all, an innocent man sitting in his basement apartment nearby was hit by a stray bullet fired by police and would die from his wounds in the hospital.
A second fatal incident occurred on March 13. The police were called to deal with a man who has 24 outstanding provincial warrants and one federal. After some surveillance by police, a tactical unit was called in to help with the arrest. Once the tactical unit went in, a conflict ensued and the tactical unit opened fire on the suspect, killing him. How many officers opened fire on the suspect, or the amount of shots fired, has yet to be released to the public.
The final fatal police incident occurred on March 25. Police responded to a call about a man who seemed to be brandishing a handgun. When the police arrived, the man refused to cooperate with them and faced them while he backed away. In attempts to “de-escalate” the situation, the police used a stun gun on the man twice, and eventually, four police officers shot the man, who would die in hospital later. The police would later reveal that the ”handgun” the man had was an “imitation firearm”.
It should be noted that the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) and EPS have a policy of not releasing the names of people who die from police shootings. While this practice has been criticized by Edmonton city councillors for lacking transparency, recent events in Calgary where the CPS has defied orders from their “civilian oversight body” not to wear thin blue line patches have shown how little regard some police have for their critics.
Those hoping for a thorough inquiry into these shootings will likely not get one, or at least will not be given the report. Any incidents of police misconduct and police shootings are investigated by ASIRT. ASIRT is meant to be an independent civilian body that oversees the investigations of police wrongdoing for all of Alberta. Besides the administrative and support staff, ASIRT is made up of 22 investigators. Seven are from the RCMP, two from the EPS, two from the CPS, one from the military police, and finally the last 11 are billed as “civilian investigators” but are in fact peace officers. This is literally the police investigating the police. It is no wonder that since ASIRT’s formation in 2008, less than 45 officers have ever faced charges, and not one of those charges has been for police actions resulting in death. Police officers in Alberta know they can use lethal force and face zero consequences.
Since the year 2000, only one EPS officer has been killed in the line of duty. Also worth noting is that the increase in the use of excessive force from the police comes at a time when crime in Edmonton overall has been trending down. From 2018 to 2020 violent crime in the city decreased by eight per cent, the largest decrease in crime in nearly 10 years.
This recent wave of police shootings comes less than a year after a task force appointed by the City of Edmonton came up with a list of recommendations to prevent the use of excessive force by police. As one of the members of the committee, Rob Houle, correctly pointed out, “I think the evidence is there that they haven’t really taken this report seriously.”
With the economic fallout of the pandemic and constant austerity of the UCP government, more conflict and confrontations with the police can be expected. Statistics show record increases in homelessness in Edmonton in 2021. Last year was also Alberta’s deadliest year for the opioid epidemic ever, with more than 1,700 deaths relating to overdoses. As people get more desperate, they are bound to get into more confrontations with police, who have shown an inability to de-escalate situations or handle incidents involving people going through a mental health crisis.
Police killings happen because the policing system is not designed to help people in vulnerable situations. Fundamentally, the police exist to defend private property and the interests of the capitalists and their profits. The job of the police is to uphold the law, but the law is not written in the interests of the poor. As the French poet Anatole France said, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.” The law is written for the bourgeoisie, the owners of businesses, who direct police to keep homeless people from sleeping or loitering near their buildings. The police help facilitate the exploitation and oppression of all layers of the working class and poor.
All the recommendations in the world cannot change this fact. The working class cannot depend on the police to defend them, because the police are not designed to do so. The working class can only depend on itself and its own strength and initiative for defence. However, workers do not need to only play defence. By getting rid of capitalism and the ruling class, all the wealth in society can go to benefit those who created it instead of going into the pockets of the rich. By transforming society in such a way, we can begin to put an end to the hunger and desperation that justifies the existence of the police in the first place.