Canada

He got a ticket, then called the police chief. But the suspension of the first Black justice minister in Canada is drawing criticism from some

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EDMONTON—The swift suspension of Alberta justice minister Kaycee Madu, in the wake of reports that he called Edmonton’s chief of police after receiving a distracted driving ticket, is drawing expressions of concern from some from the province’s Black community.

CBC News published a story Monday detailing how Madu, Canada’s first Black justice minister, had received a ticket last March for using his cellphone in a school zone and later had a call with Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee during which the ticket was discussed.

Both McFee and Madu said he never asked to have the ticket cancelled. Madu said instead he spoke to the police chief about concerns over racial profiling and police surveillance of politicians.

In response to the CBC report, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he asked Madu to take a temporary step away from his ministerial duties while an investigation was launched into “the relevant facts and to determine whether there was interference in the administration of justice in this case.”

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“It’s essential the independent administration of justice is maintained,” Kenney tweeted late Monday.

There has widespread criticism of Madu’s actions.

“You can’t have the justice minister calling the police chief about a ticket, about an active case, especially one involving you,” Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, told The Canadian Press.

However, others have seen the matter differently and say the issues Madu is said to have raised are not only very legitimate, but the sort they would hope he would address in his capacity as justice minister.

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Madu, in his statement, said he called the police chief to ensure he wasn’t being racially profiled or under surveillance in his capacity as a politician.

“At no point did I request that the ticket be rescinded. I would never do that. However, in that particular call, I regret raising the issue at all with Chief McFee,” Madu said, adding that he paid the ticket “promptly.”

“The officer indicated that he had observed me driving while distracted, alleging that I was on my phone. I disagreed, stating that I was not on my phone, as it was in an inside pocket,” said Madu.

In recent years, data has shown that Black and Indigenous people were more likely to be stopped by police in Edmonton.

Bashir Mohamed, a former co-chair of policing with Black Lives Matter Edmonton, said he didn’t see what Madu did as being scandalous, given the historical relationship between police and Black people in Alberta and the facts that have emerged so far.

Madu also mentioned the actions of some in the Lethbridge Police Service as grounds for his concerns about surveillance. When NDP MLA Shannon Phillips was environment minister in 2017, some officers with the outfit were found to have conducted unauthorized surveillance of her.

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“Everything Minister Madu raises as a concern actually happened in the past,” Mohamed said of the call. “It’s clear that there (are) issues with our police services in Alberta.”

“If you’re a high-ranking Black person, then I feel like you’re kind of expected to use your power to push back against feelings of racism,” he added.

It’s one thing if a justice minister tried to get out of a ticket, said Mohamed, but if that didn’t happen, then he doesn’t see an ethical problem.

Mohamed said the situation has shed light on the issue of Albertans not being able to “really talk about police power and also systemic racism within policing.”

“Because here, you have a case of a justice minister actually using his power to pick up the phone and tell a police chief of one of the largest police services in Alberta that this is unacceptable,” he said.

The Opposition NDP in Alberta, meanwhile, has called Madu’s actions unacceptable. New Democrat justice critic Irfan Sabir on Monday called for Madu to be fired from his cabinet position.

“Regular Alberta drivers do not have the ability to call their local police chief and discuss traffic tickets,” Sabir said.

“Madu used his position as minister to initiate this conversation, and regardless of whether he asked the chief to cancel the ticket, it is political interference for him to have discussed it all.”

But Calgarian Akolisa Ufodike, a board member of the Association of Black Conservatives and York University professor who has helped Madu on campaigns in the past, called what happened to him a “hatchet job.”

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“It’s very difficult in Canada, the United States, frankly, to be a Black conservative,” he said.

Based on the reporting so far, Ufodike said the phone call was not about nixing the ticket, but about his experience and the context in which the ticket was given.

Looking back at March of last year, Ufodike said that there had been a rash of attacks on Muslim women in Edmonton as well as the Lethbridge surveillance issue. Meanwhile, racial profiling is a well-established problem when it comes to the relationship between Black people and police in North America, he said.

“There’s nothing wrong with him reaching out to the chief of police and sharing that experience because it helps provide the chief with context,” said Ufodike.

“So, the next time he’s hearing from folks that he’s consulting with that discrimination, systemic racism, profiling, is real, he can look to the experience of the most powerful Black man in Alberta and use that as corroborating evidence.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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