Edmonton police owe LGBTQ community an apology, former police commissioner says

Kevin Medin was once questioned by an Edmonton police officer for simply sitting in a park.

It was 1992, and Medin had just moved to Edmonton. He was out for a walk in Victoria Park when the police officer spotted him at a picnic table, asked for ID and told him the park was closed. The sign said it wasn’t. 

Medin asked for a badge number, which the officer was reluctant to give.

“He just really gave me a rough time. It was a terrible welcoming experience,” Medin said.

“It took a while to get over that. I didn’t have a positive impression of the police department in Edmonton at all.”

Back then, police patrolled parks looking for gay men. The experience made Medin, who is gay, consider moving back to Calgary. 

Edmonton has not always been a welcoming place for the LGBTQ community. In 1981, 50 police officers raided the Pisces Health Spa, a downtown bath house. Around 60 people were arrested.

Medin thinks a formal apology from police is a necessary step forward in righting historical wrongs.

Edmonton police say conversation underway

Last month, the Calgary Police Service issued a formal apology to the LGBTQ community for discrimination over the years. In 2016, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders apologized for raids on bath houses in 1981.

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, the Edmonton Police Service said conversations about whether an apology is appropriate “have been underway for some time and are continuing.”

It said EPS has been working closely with the LGBTQ community for years to improve relationships through its work with the Sexual Minorities Community Liaison Committee.

Former Edmonton police commissioner Murray Billett co-founded that committee in 1992. The committee was formed to tackle homophobia in the police service, he said. Police kept names of johns private when they were arrested for paying for sex with women, he said, but names of gay men were released they were arrested for having consensual sex with other men.

Billett, who is gay, confirmed that the idea of an apology has been discussed for years. So he’s confused why it hasn’t happened yet.

He said the response from EPS on the issue is “confusing as heck.”

“I don’t know what they have been waiting for, what more proof they need,” he said. “Toronto police have apologized. Calgary police have apologized. This isn’t rocket science. This is an opportunity for the chief to walk away with pride and dignity and honour. Instead, he’s carrying on almost un-Canadian in his approach.

Toronto police have apologized, Calgary police have apologized. This isn’t rocket science.– Murray Billet

“You’re either going to do an apology or not. If the time is now, what more do you need to study?”

EPS has come a long way in mending relationships with the LGBTQ community, Billett said. The police force employs gay, lesbian and transgender officers, and conducts diversity training.

Because of that, Billett said he thought EPS would be among the first in the country to issue a formal apology.

Chief Rod Knecht should acknowledge the mistakes of the past and commit to doing better in the future, he said. 

“We deserve that respect and we deserve that apology, to work together, to move forward to make Edmonton the kind of city we all want to live in,” Billet said.

“That’s what it’s about.”

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