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Coun. Walcott warns Police Act changes a harbinger for political influence on Calgary Police Commission

Proposed Police Act changes have one Calgary city councillor worried about police commission credibility with the potential provincial appointment of members.

Last week, the Police Amendment Act, 2022, received royal assent and with it, the provincial minister would have the right to appoint members to municipal police commissions. It also clarifies rules around provincial intervention in local disputes.

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said that police oversight is independent of political influence for a reason. Walcott served on the Calgary Police Commission for a year before resigning. He said at that time he could advocate for better policing from outside the commission.

“These changes are incredibly damaging to the credibility of the Calgary Police Commission, and risk making it a rubber-stamp body that simply does the Province’s bidding,” he wrote in a prepared statement.

Walcott also questioned the province exerting more authority over local policing, particularly because the funding burden is on the cities.

“The City of Calgary funds the Calgary Police Service to the tune of $453 million a year, yet these changes reduce the ability for Calgarians to provide oversight of our own police service,” Walcott said.

“The City of Calgary, and in turn, Calgarians, are increasingly serving the role of a bank, paying for policing that is largely controlled by a provincial Minister.”

The Calgary Police Commission has two city councillors and 10 civilian members appointed through the city’s Boards, Commissions and Committees process.

Walcott’s statement indicates that the province can appoint up to 50 per cent of commission members. The Act itself isn’t explicit in whether the provincial appointments replace current city-appointed members or if they are in addition to that number. 

The act says that the province can appoint one member for every three appointed to the commission, including any group that’s less than three. They can appoint more, as long as it’s less than 50 per cent of total commission members.

Some representation makes sense: Chief Neufeld

When asked about Police Act changes during LWC’s year-end interview, Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said it does make some sense.

He said that given some of the financial contributions the province makes to local policing, have some commission representation makes sense.

“Policing, as you know, is a provincial responsibility but it definitely impacts municipally as well,” he said.

In 2019, the province increased their take of fine revenue effectively cutting funding to provincial policing agencies, including Calgary’s.  At the time, the province said that only Calgary sees that as revenue for their police agency.

Neufeld that the potential appointments aren’t inconsistent with other provinces.

“I guess we’ll see the value that it adds going forward,” he told LiveWire Calgary.

“And frankly, when you think about it, you’re wondering why it hasn’t been that way before, given what they invest.”

Coun. Walcott agreed that there was room for provincial participation. Just not to the point where it would have be the decision maker. The city contributes roughly 70 per cent of the funding, Walcott said, and they only have two appointees.

“It would make sense that for the $100 million that are offered through the provincial grants, maybe there’s one or two representatives there, but up to 50 per cent is a pretty broad range,” he said.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek also had some concerns about what’s supposed to be a citizen oversight body that will look different. She said they don’t yet exactly know what it means for the Calgary Police Commission.

“I’m also very interested to understand the selection process looks like, what criteria will be used, if the province is going to appoint people, and would we do a joint appointment methodology,” she said.

CPC submitted feedback on Police Act

In a response to questions on Walcott’s concerns, the Calgary Police Commission said they have not taken a position on the idea of provincial appointees.

“We did request that certain provisions be put in place to ensure police independence and that local police commissions remain focused on local needs,” read a CPC statement.

They recommended only allowing a Minister to remove provincial appointees with cause, rather than at their discretion. They would also like to see prohibition of the Minister providing direction to provincial appointees.

“Additionally, we would like assurances in the Police Act or regulations that commissions’ local codes of conduct and policies will be enforced by the Minister if provincial appointees do not follow them, that provincial appointees will be required to be residents of the community in which they serve, and that there will be a formalized process for local commissions to have input into appointee selection to ensure that the selections fill any gaps in needed expertise or diversity on each commission,” they wrote.

They said they’re hopeful the province will address some of their concerns.