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Dismantle the Barriers, Not the Tents: Edmonton’s Encampment Evictions and the Over-Policing of Indigenous Communities


Trigger Warning: This post contains descriptions of police violence.

Photograph shows ReconciliACTIONYEG Blog author Olive Bensler distributing resources at the 6 January 2024 encampment eviction with a homemade sign: “Dismantle the barriers, not the tents.” Photograph by Mervit Mimi (@prints_and_peonies see linktree for more); included with permission.


Tansi Ninôtemik,


ReconciliACTION Blog Author Olive Bensler spent much of January 8th and 9th at Rowland encampment, where Edmonton Police Services [EPS] planned their last of 8 encampment evictions. 


Bensler arrived after Bear Claw Beaver Hills House's public calls for witnesses to attend as there were fears EPS would return to sweep the camps after their arrest of Teyen (Two Guns) Bohnsack. The following afternoon, those fears proved to be well-founded as police arrived and forcefully removed residents and witnesses from the encampment. Three people were arrested: Elder Cardinal, journalist Brandi Morin, and activist Camryn Hannigan. 


Indigenous people face over-policing due to perceived but not actual higher likelihood of committing crimes. 


Indigenous peoples are not committing more crimes than non-Indigenous White people.[1] Yet, the over-policing of Indigenous peoples and communities, especially houseless communities, is a heavily documented systemic issue in Canada.[2] Over-policing refers to the practice of diverting more resources to watch and control the activities of one group of people as “probable offenders” over another that is perceived as less likely to commit crimes.[3] As a result of the rerouting of police focus, the inevitable result is more arrests occur even if the actual crime rate is not higher than in other communities. 


Researchers at Wichita State University recently published a national study on factors which make a person more likely to face over-policing in Canada.[4] Of note is that Indigenous survey respondents identified being arrested almost three times more than non-Indigenous peoples (1.2% versus 0.5%).


Higher rates of arrest were especially prevalent for Indigenous respondents who had previous or current involvement in the child welfare system and residential school, experienced homelessness, faced barriers in accessing education, and were unable to access public transportation.[5] Further, those who faced previous discrimination in accessing banking services, working, or navigating the criminal justice system (amongst other factors) were more likely to encounter these unwanted interactions with police.[6]

 

The harm of over-policing is worsened by police when they fail to account for the unique experience of Indigenous people.


In Alberta, Article 1.1 of the Police Act identifies principles of conduct for policing.[7] In subsection (e), the Act states that “it is desirable that policing service be provided in a manner that recognizes the history and cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples in Alberta.”[8] 


Informed by current and historical police practices, Indigenous people already report having dramatically lower confidence in police than non-visible minority populations in Canada.[9] As such, Indigenous people are more likely to approach interactions with police with a heightened concern for their safety and low trust in the officers. 


It was well known that the Rowland encampment was composed largely of Indigenous residents, and, in turn, this required police consideration of Art 1.1(e).[10] However, it appears that consideration was not given sufficient attention as police used considerable force during the arrests. Of further note is the fact that officers with previous misconduct records were assigned to respond to a highly vulnerable population of Indigenous residents.


For example, on January 8th and 9th, the supervising officer is believed to be Staff Sergeant Jared Hrycun, whose misconduct record includes unsuccessful charges in 2011 for unlawful or unnecessary force.[11] These charges arose from a complainant, Kevin Witney, who stated that Hrycun and another officer violently arrested him following a musical festival before even being told the reason for his arrest.[12] Witney reported that Hrycun and the other officer threw him to the ground, resulting in a head injury and loss of consciousness. While the complaint was unable to prove the charges against Hrycun, Hrycun was recorded intervening at most to prevent witnesses from getting too close to Bohnsack's arrest. At the peak of tensions in Bohnsack's arrest, he did not appear to reduce or regulate the level of force employed. We wonder if EPS would deem Hrycun's conduct as reflective of an appropriate commitment to the principles of the Police Act.


Further, Constable Michael Zacharuk was present at both arrests. He was charged with assault causing bodily harm in relation to a 2019 incident where he used excessive force against an individual in EPS custody.[13] In December 2020, the Law Enforcement Review Board found that he committed an unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority when he falsely described police powers during a traffic stop.[14] In 2019 and 2007, he was charged with unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority.[15]


Videos provided to a ReconciliACTION Blog Author show Zacharuk's engagements with various witnesses and residents as he resorts to aggressive tactics, including pinning Bohnsack down by his neck after he was handcuffed and restrained by four other officers. Amongst those four was Constable Bruno, who does not have a public misconduct record. He removed his taser, activated it, and pointed it at Bohnsack and other witnesses. While he never fired it, this action escalated tensions as witnesses believed Bohnsack was tasered.

 

The encampment evictions were already abhorrent, especially as temperatures were forecasted to reach record-breaking lows. However, a greater understanding of over-policing and the past and present conduct of EPS officers at the Rowland encampment eviction highlights how police action can serve to degrade trust further and enforce violence against Indigenous people. 


If you would like to support Edmontonians experiencing homelessness in this record-breaking cold, please consider supporting the following organizations. 


Tawâw Community Outreach YEG 

  • Tawâw is an Indigenous-led harm reduction outreach group advocating for evidence-based solutions. 

  • Follow their social media pages and share posts.

  • Responding to calls for donations, volunteers and donation drives. 


HARES Outreach

  • HARES Outreach is a grassroots mutual aid network doing street outreach in amiskwaciwâskahikan (otherwise known as Edmonton, Alberta). You can support their work: 

  • Follow their social media pages and share posts.

  • Drop off material donations during outreach hours every Sunday (1-4 pm in Gazebo Park 8331 104th St NW Edmonton unless otherwise specified).

  • Contributing meals for the community during outreach hours

  • Donating financially to their Patreon, Paypal, or e-transfers ( HARESoutreach@gmail.com). 


Nekem (To Change Something) Community 

  • Nekem is an organization dedicated to following Indigenous teachings. They seek to create a resilient community where people belong, find purpose, and support each other in overcoming the destructive impact of societal and cultural barriers. You can support their work:

  • Follow their social media pages [link to Instagram] and share posts. 

  • Financial donations through their website or e-transfers to info@nekem.org or other methods provided on their official pages!



Keep your eye out for Friday's blog post about Frances Widdowson's upcoming visit to the Unviersity of Alberta.


-The ReconciliACTION YEG Team


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CITATIONS


[1] Olga Marques & Lisa Monchalin, “The mass incarceration of Indigenous women in Canada: A colonial tactic of control and assimilation” in L. George, A. N. Norris, A. Deckert, & J. Tauri (Eds.), Neo-colonial Injustice and the Mass Imprisonment of Indigenous Women (New Zealand: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) at 79–102.


[2] Amy Alberton, Kevin Gorey, & Naomi Williams, “Individual and community predictors of arrests in Canada: Evidence of over-policing of Indigenous peoples and communities” (2023) J Ethics Cultural Diversity Social Work 1 (additional info, DOI:10.1080/15313204.2023.2211785)


[3] Lisa Monchalin, The Colonial Problem: An indigenous perspective on crime and injustice in Canada, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016). 


[4] Alberton, supra note 2. 


[5] Ibid


[6] Ibid.


[7] Police Act, RSA 2000, c P-17 at Art 1.1. 


[8] Ibid, Art 1.1(e). 


[9] Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety for Statistics Canada, Perceptions of and experience with police and the justice system among the Black and Indigenous populations in Canada (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2022) <https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2022001/article/00003-eng.htm> accessed January 12, 2024.


[10] Police Act, supra note 7 at Art 1.1(e).


[11] Alberta Police Misconduct Database, "Jared Hrycun", online: https://www.policemisconductdatabase.ca/incident/i-B2CsKd9vkrFYkK


[12] Ibid, see Disciplinary Proceedings Decision at 3. 


[13] Alberta Police Misconduct Database, "Michael Zacharuk", online: https://www.policemisconductdatabase.ca/officer/o-RD1OoGk90YUust.


[14] Ibid, see Shah v Edmonton


[13. Ibid, see the 2019 and 2017 charges. 



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