Almost a week after some of his officers violently cleared out a peaceful Palestine solidarity protest on the University of Alberta campus, Edmonton Police Chief Dale McPhee finally showed up yesterday to make his case at a police commission meeting.

Edmonton Police Service Chief Dale McFee (Photo:

But not before the doors were locked and the public was barred from the meeting because 100 or so still-peaceful protesters made the official participants nervous.

Notwithstanding the metal detectors and heavy security at Edmonton City Hall since that shooting in January, protesters were told they’d have to watch the proceedings online because, in the words of commission Chair John McDougall, “we had our back to a very, very large crowd. Admittedly they were peaceful … but when you know you have angry people behind you and you can’t see what’s going on, that’s a bit of a challenge.” (Emphasis added, of course.) 

Well, nobody likes criticism. I guess no one thought to suggest that if it made them that uncomfortable to have people staring at their backs and grumbling, they could always turn their chairs around. Really, people, you can’t make this stuff up. 

For his part, Chief McPhee can be heard on various news organizations’ broadcasts claiming that his officers “protect free speech and we protect the very essential right of free expression, when both police and protesters respect their rights and responsibilities.” 

On Saturday in the chief’s opinion those protesters’ responsibilities, apparently, included not camping on the campus of a public university even though there’s plenty of legal opinion that in fact they had every right to do just that. 

Edmonton Police Commission Chair John McDougall (Photo: Edmonton Police Commission).

To quote the recent open letter 19 law professors from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, “Students have a right to protest on Alberta’s university campuses. Their right to protest is protected by sections 2(b) (freedom of expression), 2(c) (freedom of peaceful assembly), 2(d) (freedom of association, and 7 (right to life, liberty, and security of the person) of the of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” 

So confusing. One supposes this is why, now as ever, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one

Failure “to obey all laws and to respect private property,” the chief continued, “and deliberately attempt to bully, harass, dox — in other words, intimidate — the community, impacts the safety of our community and means the police response will come to adapt to the conditions on the ground.”

The effect of police adapting to conditions on the ground, presumably, might include being whacked with a billy club, sprayed with a gas (not tear gas, the chief insists) or subjected to “special munitions” (also not defined) by police officers not wearing name tags or regimental numbers. Leastways, that’s what happened in the wee hours last Saturday at the U of A. 

It should be noted here that there has been no evidence presented to date, notwithstanding the claims of Chief McFee or University of Alberta President Bill Flanagan, that any protester bullied, harassed, doxed, or intimidated anyone. 

Chief McFee will have another opportunity to repeat his talking points today at a news conference, an event from which protesters will also presumably be excluded. 

University of Alberta President Bill Flanagan (Photo: University of Alberta).

What is striking about this situation is that neither the public relations strategy adopted by the university administration nor that of the police seems to be working very well.

The controversy continues to grow, and while there is no objective way for a mere blogger to measure this, skepticism about the appropriateness of the police response seems to be growing too. 

It sure looks as if both the U of A and the EPS acted without paying attention to either the legal niceties of protest in Canada or the unjust but nevertheless very real fact that there is a class system in this country even though we often politely pretend there isn’t.

Rudimentary class analysis – nothing fancy, neither Marxist nor Methodist – would have warned them that just because you can get away with bullying street people camped on the boulevards of a Canadian city doesn’t mean you can get away with doing the same thing to young people camped on the quad whose parents can afford to pay their increasingly overpriced tuition.

Even parents who disagree with their children or disapprove of their activities still love them and want to protect them – and that includes protecting them from out-of-control cops wearing sap gloves and swinging billy clubs.

In the case of the Palestine solidarity encampments at the universities of Alberta and Calgary, everyone understands that the students and their supporters in the encampments were not intent on causing “social disorder” or attempting to wreak violence against the institutions they attend. And everyone includes the universities’ administrations, the police in their military-style uniforms, and the UCP Government. 

Some of them, though, may have been fooled into thinking the cries of the usual far-right hysterics on social media gave them the social licence they needed to open a can of whoop-ass on young people protesting one of the cruellest injustices in modern history. 

But if they did – and one gets the feeling from Mr. Flanagan’s silence and Chief McFee’s belligerence that this thought is starting to sink in – they were making a big mistake. 

No one should be fooled into thinking students here and elsewhere who put themselves in the path of police to protest the destruction of Gaza are snowflakes or crybabies. They understand the risks they are taking and they believe their cause is worth it. 

Indeed, this is exactly how the Vietnam war was brought to an end and how, for all practical purposes, the military draft was eliminated in the United States. 

It’s university administrators who are now turtling and police commissioners and senior officers who refuse to face a few protesters who are acting like snowflakes and crybabies.

Join the Conversation


  1. One of the long standing problems with the University of Alberta’s community engagement is it doesn’t.

    It generally acts as if it is separate and apart from the community it exists in. It does not generally care what Edmontonians think, or the rules that exist, or what is beneficial or makes sense for the community. This is how it is set up as it mostly only answers to the province and the people of Edmonton have long just had to grin and bear this. So this is just the normal behaviour of the University administration yet again.

    The one very important difference this time is the City of Edmonton police were, I feel hastily, called in to deal with a situation by the University administration. So there is and will be a level of accountability to the community that the University administration can normally avoid and does not know how or wants to deal with.

    One mistake by the City of Edmonton police here was to treat the protesting students much like the homeless they evicted earlier this year. They may be just students, but they are inclined to know and assert their rights, they have allies and will have more sympathy due to the over reaction. Another mistake here is the police leadership may also not have much support here from their municipal bosses who are already questioning their actions.

    I don’t know if what is happening in Edmonton now will have a big impact on world events. Probably not, but the over reaction and heavy handed use of power and force may well come back to bite those here who abused their power. It is an unhappy lot, but they have put also themselves in a perilous position by their own questionable judgement and actions.

  2. It’s easy to target the EPS these days for all kinds of mishaps and just plain bad behaviour. But these days, the issues that the police find themselves in leave one left to wonder who or what purpose(s) have they availed themselves to? It seems that the police are largely incapable or unwilling to provide and perform even their most basic obligations. But to tear apart a peaceful, though kind of annoying, protest camp they’re ready to go in with an enthusiasm that’s enough to make it seem that such actions are their fun job one. Being the muscle for a dominant partisan interest has been the interest of any police department, anywhere, for decades. It’s all good with the majority of people, until those actions start to creep and overlap into the public interest. At this point, as the events in Gaza play out to their horrific conclusion, the public interest is starting to become concerned about the ignored reality that an undeniable genocide is being played out in real time and documented and commented on many platforms. Which side of this issue one sits on is a moral position that should be perplexing and point to evidence of Netanyahu’s own convenient and dangerous positions.

  3. If McFee and his EPS want to be taken seriously, they would stop lying to the public at every turn. Alas, since they are cops, they are compelled to lie. McFee is incompetent and if he had even a shred of integrity, he would resign for the good of the city. Since McFee is obviously part of the TBA political cult, he will only act in his own self interest. They seem to not understand that sane people see their actions.

    1. Cool Xenu: If TBA is eliminated, things would be very different. I also wonder how David Parker’s issues with Elections Alberta are coming along. He didn’t comply, and he hasn’t shown his list of donors.

  4. Encountering an over the top geared up officer in “official required uniform” pistol , taser , cuffs , radio , camera , bullet proof vest, combat vibram soled boots yet omitting the required hugo boss commandants headgear in 711 buying a slurpy . Overkill in bubblewrap ’cause everyone is out to get them. Just ask.

  5. With ‘leadership’ like the EPS has, maybe the recent actions of the troops are understandable.

  6. “The effect of police acting on the ground…(protesters) subjected to ‘special munitions’ (not defined) by police officers…”
    Could those “special munitions” have been rubber bullets? on June 3/2020 quotes Dr. Robert Glatter, spokesperson for the American Association of Emergency Physicians. “When fired at close range, rubber bullets can penetrate the skin, break bones, fracture the skull and explode the eyeball. Rubber bullets can cause traumatic brain injuries and serious abdominal injury, including injuries to the spleen and major blood vessels.”

  7. I believe that an anti-killing, anti-war protest was met with violence, is a self-evident indictment of the polices’ actions.
    That they wore no identification indicates they suspected this to be true.
    That the debrief was behind closed doors tells us they know.

    If we, (you and I) aren’t insisting (write your city counsellor, your MLA, the Premier, the Justice minister, your MP, letter to the editor &c.) that both the Chief and the uni president be held accountable – then we are letting break the thin glass window that holds back fascism.

    And, our author has done us the great honour by calling out the routine Canadian classism around our abuse of the unhoused. How will you respond to his gentle admonishment?

  8. Be careful DJC. Your words could lead to increased numbers and intensity of “routine” traffic stops.

  9. I am surprised that this has made news and has been questioned.
    I did not expect any other reaction from a police force and leaders that have shown over and over that justice only exists for those that represent the considered elite classes in our society. Like you I really think we are pretty naïve to believe that there is not a class system in Canada.

    Police forces have shown a complete disdain for activists that put their bodies on the line to protect our environment. In fact we have laws in Alberta dedicated to protect Oil companies and their billions. Do we not? We even have a war room to harass those that the UCP does not like.

    So I am not sure why a surprise with this one when clearly we always take the side of Israel no matter what.

    1. Carlos: I have heard of what the police and even the military have done in places such as Mexico, different parts of Latin America, countries in South America, and in the Philippines. Maybe the UCP wants a full on police state? Whatever the UCP does, is becoming more and more authoritarian. What are your thoughts on this?

      1. My thoughts is that we all should know that police forces have been created to defend the only part of society that governments are interested in. The rich elites and big corporations and businesses.
        Other than that we are just a second thought.

  10. It’s far too easy for the cops to bully those on the streets without possessions nor resources, consequence free. It could be another situation all together when the jackbooted thugs bash the heads of those with money and connections to professionals such as lawyers. Let’s face it, criminal charges against any member of the EPS simply won’t happen. So my question is if a mass civil suit happens and EPS is found monetarily liable will the taxpayers of Edmonton be on the hook for EPS’ malfeasance? In other words, would the rest of us have to pay because a bunch of gleeful goons got to act out their Gestapo fantasies?

    1. Fun fact: A large proportion of EPS members do not live in Edmonton so they don’t care about their shitholefication of the city.

  11. You make several good points, and a couple resonate strongly for me. I was appalled to see the violence against these young people. The juxtaposition of the “convoy” thugs in Ottawa and Coutts being treated with kid-gloves isn’t lost on anybody.

    The students are peacefully protesting without obstruction of
    anyone or any commerce, the killing of countless Palestinians in Gaza. The Convoy bros however, were scared of a little needle, and refusing to understand government attempts to halt the spread of a novel virus. They were allowed to camp out in our nation’s capital for a MONTH and blockade an international border for TWO WEEKS. They had weapons yet, and were planning on killing Mounties, for heaven’s sake. Did they get their skulls cracked?

    It’s not just parents of university students who help out with tuition, and support the University and faculties they themselves graduated from. There are many of us grandparents who do as well- but now are certainly questioning our loyalty to an institution that refuses students’ right to protest and instead says, “Release the hounds!”

    Many of us, too, remember very well the
    Kent State University shootings by the Ohio National Guard- of 19 and 20 year old students who were protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War. One of those kids at Kent State wasn’t even protesting, he was on his way to class. When our own children are being seen as “the enemy” we are in very dangerous territory, indeed. Shame on our University of Alberta and shame on the University of Calgary.

  12. Edmonton police have gotten worse in their behavior toward university students since those days in the late 1970s/early 1980s when they picked up female university students walking home to student residences on campus for the crime of “vagrancy”. These young women were taken downtown to police HQ, subjected to strip searches by male officers, then left to get home on their own, late at night. This is why female students learned to travel in groups to libraries and study halls after dark, and made sure to carry ID and enough money not to be “vagrant” at all times. EPS never changes.

    Today’s students should never forget last week’s violation of their rights. They should continue to demand redress from the Edmonton Police Service and the police chief, the University of Alberta and its president and everyone else involved in this outrageous abuse of their rights and person.

    In other news, the U. of A. welcomes “absolutely anyone” to U. of A. Days this fall. It’s a weekend of “camaraderie, fun and discovery”. Come on down to “celebrate our connection to the Edmonton community and beyond”. The Information Tent in the Quad has plenty of free first aid. If your kids disappear, they’ll help with that, too. Everything centres on the tent. Did I mention the tent will remain up overnight at this days-long event, and you know what that means. Although you might consider yourself “absolutely anyone”, President Flanagan considers you a trespasser unless you’re a student, staff or faculty. You’re not. You know what that means. Run for the hills, like the good citizens of Tokyo fleeing Godzilla! Flanagan’s boys are coming for you with their gloves of steel, mystery gas, flying objects and riot batons, you trespassing, tent-loving, encampment dwellers! How do you like the free first aid now, suckers? And how dare you bring innocent children/future students (or as we say these days, “customers”) as human shields to this event we invited you to attend with your children? P.S. Don’t bring dogs. We all know how much dogs like aggressive peeps in uniform attacking their owners, throwing things at them and chasing them far way, down city streets. And bedsides, the cops are afraid of dogs. Absolutely no dogs!

    Seriously, U. of A.? That’s worse than notifying alumni of “transformative change”, i.e. their former faculty being shut down by Bill Flanagan, then asking them for donations, and maybe the entire value of their estate upon death.

    You can’t make this stuff up, either. You can only point to the peak hypocrisy and doublespeak of it all, and the forked tongue of that great bastion of learning on the the traditional territory of Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, and Ojibway/Saulteaux/Anishinaabe lands, U. of A. President Bill Flanagan. A forked tongue goes with the fork in this road for Flanagan and the university.

  13. The question that I want answered is the following. ” Did the Universities call in the police, or was there political influence in the decision”. We allow protestors to clog highway 1, harass at border crossings, but watch out if you are a student and are peacefully protesting on campus.

  14. “Famine, plague, and war are the three most famous ingredients of this wretched world…All animals are perpetually at war with each other…Air, earth and water are arenas of destruction.”

    The historical reality for the human predator; where, “war is the father of things”

    [“Modern Humans Have Become Superpredators”– ]

    has been and will continue to be expressed forever both as an ontology of violent conflict and the natural order of things on this planet and in this reality:

    1. “No love between our peoples, ever–no pacts of peace! . . . Shore clash with shore, sea against sea and sword against sword–this is my curse–war between all our peoples, all their children, endless war!”

    2. Because, it should be noted carefully that, “. . . the notion that the international order should be peaceful is a relatively recent, Enlightenment invention.”

  15. I don’t believe the issue is whether or not you can protest in university property, yes you can. It’s whether or not you can set up camp on the property and who decides if the actions of the protesters are peaceful and not causing the infringement of others rights.

    1. Well, then, I strongly advise everyone to avoid U. of A. Days in September. If you do decide to attend despite my warning, wear your Golden Bear football pads and helmet, goggles and a gas mask. This is standard university garb now. Ask the students. Don’t forget the saline eye wash! Remember, if you’re not a current student, staff or faculty, you’re trespassing and anything could happen. Anything. Avoid the overnight tent (encampment) in the main quad. And give my regards to Bill Flanagan.

  16. Well said. We need to keep the pressure on this issue until we get some needed answers and some accountability for those abused their power. I wouldn’t surprise me if the students took some legal action the Universities of Calgary and Alberta.

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