Moira Wyton, Edmonton Journal, October 1, 2019
Indigenous transit riders are issued tickets and warnings at a rate more than seven times their share of the city’s population, recent statistics obtained by Postmedia from the City of Edmonton show.
Since 2009, Indigenous peoples — who make up six per cent of Edmonton’s population in the 2016 federal census — have been the most or second-most ticketed or warned racial group on Edmonton Transit Service, making up an average of 43.8 per cent of tickets and 44.5 per cent of warnings where race is recorded each year.
Overall since 2009, the number of total warnings for all groups increased fourfold to 20,230 in 2018.
The numbers are “pretty outstanding” but not unexpected, said Dusty LeGrande, director of the Fair 4 Youth program, an inter-agency committee that focuses on forging connections between local youth and law enforcement officials.
“It’s very, very commonly known within Indigenous people,” said LeGrande, also an associate director at iHuman Youth Society. “Many of us have stories of negative experiences with (transit) enforcement.”
Statistics show that other races are also over-represented in tickets and warnings issued by peace officers on transit, though not to the same extent.
Notably, black transit riders comprise more than seven per cent of tickets and 6.5 per cent of warnings, but are only 4.5 per cent of the city’s population as of 2016.
The statistics, obtained by Postmedia through a freedom of information request, are based on peace officers’ written notes and are intended to aid their recall in court if needed, said Rob Smyth, deputy city manager for citizen services. A relatively low unclassified rate — where no race was recorded — has been excluded from Postmedia’s analysis.
LeGrande said the numbers, while imperfect, capture a small but important sliver of systemic racism.
“The Indigenous population has survived genocide, and to exist in a world today where still so many people are getting ticketed … there isn’t a faith in the justice system,” said LeGrande. “And it’s going to take a long time to change that.”
The over-ticketing of Indigenous peoples on Edmonton Transit is known among city officials and law enforcement, but Smyth told Postmedia the city had never looked at the data in this light before.
LeGrande and Erickson do not think the disproportionate ticketing rates for Indigenous peoples are the product of racism on the part of individual transit officers. But Erickson said systemic racism and unconscious bias can have effects that are just as harmful.
“Whether it’s tickets or in the criminal justice system or child welfare system, and as an agency, (NCSA) has been dealing with that over-representation for 50 years,” said Erickson. “This isn’t exactly new information.”
Erickson notes that when a person is vulnerable, enforcing a transit violation that could take the individual into the court system can compound issues.
“When they can’t pay the ticket, then … we’ve got kids going into court systems dealing with tickets, so then it creates another problem in another system,” she said. “It’s a snowballing effect of the systems.”
The city is making changes to address the issue through specific training sessions on Indigenous awareness, homelessness and mental health intervention for officers, but that is in the early stages.
For the last three years the Fair 4 Youth program has been using the same approach on a much more individual level. The program, born out of the city’s Pathways program to provide free transit passes to those in need, brings youth and peace officers together in recreational activities to learn from one another.
“A lot of these young people end up getting tickets due to the fact that they are in a fight-or-flight mode when interacting with enforcement,” said LeGrande. “And if enforcement doesn’t get a respectful response, then they move more towards ticketing, instead of a warning or another solution.”
‘Right to the city’
Feeling safe and welcome on transit is key to an equitable city, said Sandeep Agrawal, director of the University of Alberta’s school of urban and regional planning.
Unlike in many other large cities in Canada, a recent city auditor report found Edmonton does not have an “effective system to manage fare evasion,” which accounts for about two per cent of ridership annually. The LRT stations were not designed with turnstiles or other means in mind and a cost-benefit analysis revealed that implementing physical barriers to stations would not be worthwhile, said a spokesman for Edmonton Transit Service.
That means that fare-checking is performed by peace officers, who also manage other more disruptive violations, rather than machines or transit employees like in Vancouver and Toronto.
Affordable mobility is particularly important to urban Indigenous people and youth, LeGrande said, because they often rely on transit to build their lives.