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Edmonton police deny keeping 'list' of critics after union's complaint against city councillor

Edmonton Journal logo Edmonton Journal 2022-03-03 Jonny Wakefield
Michael Janz speaks to supporters on election night 2021. The Ward papastew councillor recently announced a code of conduct complaint filed against him by the Edmonton Police Association has been dismissed. © Provided by Edmonton Journal Michael Janz speaks to supporters on election night 2021. The Ward papastew councillor recently announced a code of conduct complaint filed against him by the Edmonton Police Association has been dismissed.

Edmonton police are denying claims they keep a “list” of critics after the officers’ union filed a complaint against a city councillor.

On Wednesday, the Edmonton Police Service issued a statement regarding city integrity commissioner Jamie Pytel’s recent investigation of Coun. Michael Janz , whose social media posts drew the ire of the Edmonton Police Association.

The association’s complaint, filed by president Michael Elliott, took issue with Janz’s online engagement with “known” critics of the police service, including defence lawyer Tom Engel. The complaint alleged those critics “(misrepresent) facts about the EPS and its members.”

Pytel’s report found none of Janz’s social media activity breached council’s code of conduct, leading Janz to call the complaint “a blatant attempt at intimidation intended to silence an elected official in the first three months in office.”

Following the release of the report, writer, podcaster and former council candidate Troy Pavlek wrote a tweet claiming Elliott’s complaint “confirmed they maintain a list of ‘critics’ of the EPS.”

EPS’s statement Wednesday denied that claim.

“We are aware that the contents of the association’s complaint have been misconstrued on social media to imply that the Edmonton Police Service maintains a list of police critics and actively participates in the surveillance of the alleged critics,” spokeswoman Cheryl Sheppard said in an email.

“The EPS does not participate in such activities and does not maintain a list of alleged police critics.”

Elliott, an EPS staff sergeant, is on vacation and said in a text that he would comment further Monday. However, he called claims that the police association keeps a list of critics”ludicrous.”

In an interview, Pavlek said that whether an actual list exists is a “semantic” debate.


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“The intention of the complaint is very clear,” Pavlek said. “The Edmonton Police Association knows certain people to be critics of the Edmonton Police Service and they believe that it is prohibited by the councillor’s code of conduct for a city councillor to interact with those people.”

“Whether they maintain a list or whether they just instinctively dislike certain people, the intent is very clear, and the intent is what’s frightening, not whether or not they have bullet points or numbers.”

Engel, for his part, said he sent a letter to the police association demanding they provide details of cases in which he has misrepresented facts.

 Michael Elliott, president of the Edmonton Police Association, speaks to media in 2021. Michael Elliott, president of the Edmonton Police Association, speaks to media in 2021.

Policing has become ‘hyper-charged,’ former councillor says

Scott McKeen, a former city councillor and police commissioner, said the affair is an example of how “hyper-charged” Edmonton’s policing debate has become in recent years.

McKeen traced the change to the summer of 2020, when council held hearings on reducing police funding in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. That summer, council approved an $11 million reduction over two years to the police service’s annual budget increase. Another reduction came in last December , with newly elected councillors saying they wanted more funding directed to social services.

Since the budget reductions, Elliott has begun tweeting regular updates about crime and disorder in the city, including photos of seized weapons.

“There are hurt feelings on that police service right now, stemming back to those hearings,” said McKeen, who voted for the initial decrease and did not run in the 2021 election. “They feel, I’m sure, like they’ve been Edmonton’s punching bag.”

“What happens then is you see a police association getting more activist in its responses, because they’re defending their reputations,” McKeen said.

McKeen encouraged council, the police service and the police association to “dial down the rhetoric.”

The episode also comes days after University of Alberta Prof. Temitope Oriola wrote an op-ed arguing the Edmonton Police Commission has been insufficiently critical of the police service. Oriola wrote the piece in response to an op-ed by commission chairman John McDougall, who defended the police service’s response to noisy “freedom convoys” visiting downtown Edmonton.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

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