‘They want their $11 million back’
Councillor and head of police association fight
war of words over safety on the LRT
By Dustin Scott
CITY COUNCIL and the Edmonton Police Association are fighting a war of words over $11 million allocated to the police that was redirected to social services – and the LRT is the battlefield.
Coun. Michael Janz has accused police association president and staff sergeant Michael Elliott of political posturing.
“Police need to be doing police work, not social work,” he said in an interview.
The city didn’t make the decision to reallocate that money lightly, he added.
“We asked tough questions about officer misconduct and police spending in the budget. They were unable to provide sufficient answers to our questions.”
In the weeks following the vote, the police association president, Staff Sgt. Michael Elliott began tweeting regularly about violence and drug use on the LRT. Elliott directed each message towards the mayor’s office, while tagging several city councillors and media outlets in each post.
“I have been tagged in many social media posts to spark an online discussion,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told The Magpie. “We have always taken a thoughtful approach on how we engage with such posts.
“The EPS play an essential role in keeping our city safe, and I am very grateful for the work they do to keep our communities safe.”
Janz was less diplomatic.
“Elliott knows how important getting people back on the LRT is to the mayor and the city council. He is going out of his way to make it look unsafe. They want their $11 million added back to the budget.
“It’s pretty straight forward. Follow the money. If you look at when the budget announcement was made and when Elliott started to tweet about the LRT, the motivation is pretty obvious.
“Edmontonians know that we are paying more every year. And we have questions about value for dollar. I wish he put as much effort into Tweeting about crime in other parts of the city. But he doesn’t, which makes it all the more transparent.”
Cheryl Voordenhout, an EPS media-relations advisor, dismissed the controversy as “baseless”
“The busiest month was December 2021, with 313 calls for service. Safety is a top priority for the EPS. One major area of concern is that, since the repeal of the loitering bylaw in 2021, calls for service in transit stations have increased. Moreover, the severity of violence per offence is three times higher than any other part of the city.”
Last month, Steve Bradshaw, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569, which represents bus drivers and peace officers, called for more city and EPS action.
“We started a media campaign over the last month or so,” he said. “And, since then, we are receiving a lot more help from the EPS. It has been helpful because, since the repeal of the loitering bylaw, our peace officers feel like our hands are tied.”
The Edmonton transit loitering bylaw was repealed in 2021, after a report titled No Fixed Address showed that it was too vague in its wording and discriminatory in its application, with more than 70 per cent of all loitering tickets in Edmonton being handed out to people with no fixed address.
However, it should be mentioned that there are lawful ways to remove people from transit if they are being disruptive.
When the loitering bylaw was repealed, the city introduced a new one, the Inappropriate Behaviour bylaw, which reads: “No person may, while on transit property, engage in behaviour that can reasonably be expected to interfere with the safety or comfort of others, including passengers and Edmonton Transit Service employees.”
Janz, who was in favour of the repeal of the loitering bylaw, says: “The things that Staff Sgt. Elliott is posting has nothing to do with loitering. There are legitimate felons. If someone is attacking people with a machete on the LRT, as he posted about on Twitter, I don’t understand what that has to do with loitering.”
Criminal defence lawyer Tom Engel has also taken to his Twitter account numerous times over the past couple of weeks to accuse Elliott of engaging in a political campaign to increase the police budget while providing no solutions – in effect, accusing Elliott of breaking EPS policy.
When asked how he would replace the loitering bylaw, Bradshaw said: “I agree with the city manager that going backward is not a good idea. We need something better in the future; however, I am not sure what that something is.”
Bradshaw pointed out that peace officers (who patrol the LRT) “are dealing with two separate issues. We have a large vulnerable population largely because of the pandemic, and we also have a criminal element that prays on that population.
“It can be challenging to tell the difference between the two groups. And, by the time our peace officers respond to a complaint, they can’t tell who they are looking for, and they have limited authority.”
City council is working on coming up with a solution to the safety concerns regarding transit, Janz said.
“Do we need more medics, security, police, social workers? It will all be debated in council in the upcoming weeks. Either Feb. 22 or 24.”
Despite repeated efforts to contact him, Elliot was unavailable to comment.