The RCMP Community Policing statement is displayed in the Ponoka RCMP detachment. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)

The RCMP Community Policing statement is displayed in the Ponoka RCMP detachment. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)

RCMP’s response to online discussions about anti-racism demonstrations

Ponoka RCMP Staff Sgt.’s comments misattributed online

The Alberta RCMP released a statement recently, in support of Ponoka RCMP detachment Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley after he was criticized online for a comment taken out of context.

“The Alberta RCMP would like to acknowledge online discussions that have taken place over the past weeks regarding a recent event in Red Deer,” the statement reads.

“Our intent is to clarify our role at this event and to explain how a comment made by one of our officers was taken out of context.

“When the Sept. 20 Red Deer demonstration was posted on Twitter, video footage of comments made by S/Sgt. Chris Smiley were highlighted. We must be clear that the comments made by S/Sgt. Chris Smiley were widely misattributed to the Red Deer demonstration.”

S/Sgt. Smiley gave an interview to broadcast media that were present at the press conference organized by the Black and Indigenous Alliance (BIA) on Sept. 14 in front of the Ponoka RCMP detachment building.

According to Smiley, he was asked why members didn’t take action against those present who were vocally interrupting the press conference, and he answered that both sides had a right to be heard under Canadian law.

READ MORE: Black and Indigenous Alliance Alberta criticizes Ponoka RCMP

Smiley says a few warnings for language were issued during the press conference on Sept. 14, but as there were no physical threats to safety, the conference was allowed to continue without police involvement.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, a person can be charged with causing a disturbance if they are “fighting, screaming, shouting, swearing, singing or using insulting or obscene language” in or near a public place.

“The police have a profound and taxing responsibility to balance individual rights with society’s need for security and our detachment succeeded with that responsibility during those events,” said Smiley.

An anti-racism demonstration was held in Red Deer on Sept. 20, at which event three assaults allegedly took place and are now under investigation by the RCMP,” said Alberta RCMP in the release.

“The first assault occurred while organizers were arriving to set-up for the event. The RCMP were not yet on site at this time but were contacted, and upon arrival spoke to the victim.

“The second assault took place during the event. The RCMP did not witness this assault but once police officers became aware of what had happened, they separated the parties, provided assistance to the victim, and identified the suspect. A video of the assault was then posted online with comments that police stood by and did nothing, which is incorrect. To clarify, once again, the police did not witness the incident but once we became aware of it, we took immediate action and an investigation was initiated.

“While investigating the second assault, police became aware of a third assault. This incident remains under investigation.”

Protests, demonstrations and rallies that have taken place in Ponoka have been peaceful, with no verified incidents of violence. An alleged vehicle hit on Sept. 10 at which two groups of protesters were present was investigated, but no video footage was ever submitted to RCMP.

READ MORE: Ponoka RCMP seeking footage of alleged vehicle hit

“At both the Red Deer and Ponoka events, RCMP officers were focused on ensuring the demonstrations could occur in a peaceful manner and addressing issues that interfered with this basic right,” said Alberta RCMP.

“It’s important to reiterate that all Albertans have the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration. The Alberta RCMP is a neutral party and we have a duty to ensure all Albertans’ rights are upheld. In the event of an unlawful act that threatens the physical safety of the demonstrators and the general public, the RCMP will take measured steps to ensure that those who unlawfully interfere with or threaten the safety of any person or property will be held accountable in accordance with the laws of Canada.

“The Alberta RCMP is proud to be Alberta’s Provincial Police Service and we are proud of our employees who devote their lives to Albertans each and every day. We have worked hard to build trusting, safe relationships with the communities that make Alberta strong. We are committed to being transparent and accountable.”

Smiley noted that it is a trying time for police all across North America right now, as an anti-police narrative has begun to gain traction, with talk in Canada about defunding the RCMP due to concern over racism in the force.

”I know deep down in those people’s hearts that they know we do not deserve that,” he said.

Smiley referenced former U.S. President Barack Obama, who said to police chiefs in Chicago in 2015, “Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for broader failures of our society and our criminal justice system … We’ve got to resist the false trap that says either there should be no accountability for police, or that every police officer is suspect, no matter what they do.” (theatlantic.com)

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