On Tuesday—the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd—a picture popped up online showing a Canadian flag mounted at half mast with a thin blue line cutting across the maple leaf at the Edmonton Police Association’s headquarters.
The blue stripe, which has appeared on police badges and U.S. and Canadian flags, represents support for policing and has become a symbol for Blue Lives Matter, a pro-police cause that arose in response to Black Lives Matter. The stripe has also appeared at white supremacist rallies.
Edmonton-based criminal lawyer Tom Engel, who chairs the policing committee of the Criminal Trial Lawyer's Association (CTLA), tweeted out the image on Tuesday and called out the police association for “proudly and provocatively flying their divisive, us-versus-them thin blue line flag on their new HQ building.” (The image was taken by one of Engel’s colleagues, Engel told VICE World News.)
Others were quick to respond. “So hang on, they're flying this on the anniversary of George Floyd's death? Disgusting,” one Twitter user said.
“This is infuriating, sickening and right on par for Alberta,” another person said.
Edmonton Police Association did not respond to a request for comment. But in a statement to the Edmonton Journal, its president Sgt. Michael Elliott said the flag has been flying for 2 ½ months, and at half mast this week in solidarity with an Ontario cop who died by suicide after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I don’t know where and how the symbolism of the blue line flag turned into being considered a racist or hateful type of thing,” Elliott told the Journal. “From our perspective here at the association it represents support and solidarity to our colleagues in the first responder world.”
The association also told the Journal that Engel’s social media post amounts to “misinformation” and has resulted in “threatening and derogatory communication.”
Engel told VICE World News the association reached out and there are plans for the CTLA and the association to meet next month to discuss the situation. And while the flag didn’t go up on Floyd’s murder anniversary, “the question is why they continued to fly it,” Engel said.
The association’s response doesn’t cut it for Chad Haggerty, a Métis board member with the anti-racism advocacy group Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation. Haggerty was an officer with the RCMP, Canada’s federal police force, for 17 years before switching careers.
The idea that the blue strip was evoked in solidarity with an officer struggling with PTSD is “BS” or “tone-deaf at best,” Haggerty said.
“If a police organization wants to bring attention to the issue of police suicide or police mental well-being, there are far better ways of doing that than by knowingly ostracizing a portion of the public.”
Last year in Canada cops shot 55 people, killing 34, CBC News reported. Nearly half of all people shot were Indigenous, while 19 percent were Black—despite the fact that Indigenous peoples and Black folks make up 5 percent and 3.5 percent percent of the population in Canada, respectively.
Videos of police violently harming Indigenous, Black, and people of colour all over Canada have surfaced repeatedly in recent years. Last year, an RCMP officer in Nunavut slammed his truck door into an Inuk man; officers in Alberta assaulted Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allen Adam for having an expired licence; and cops in B.C. dragged an Asian university student facedown during a wellness check.
By waving a flag with a thin blue line, the association reinforced what many people of colour already believe: that police don’t represent them, Haggerty said, adding the flag sends a message that “the Edmonton Police Association is proud of the fact that there is a distinction between police and public.”
“That message does nothing to instill public confidence or let marginalized populations know the police are there for them,” Haggerty said.
The association didn’t say if there are plans to remove the flag.
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