Calgary Police Chief responds to religious neutrality concerns

Calgary Police Chief responds to religious neutrality concerns
Background of Youtube video by Robert Perkins, College of Certified Psychophysiologist.

Calgary Police and its Commission are eager to close the book on religious non-neutrality, but a revealing response to Secular Connexion by the chief suggests there is a long way to go.

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At midnight on January 29, 2024, religious neutrality lobby group Secular Connexion posted their November 2023 letter to Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld, along with his response, dated January 9, 2024. The November letter by Secular Connexion outlines concerns that have been covered previously by Drug Data Decoded, including the presence of a Calgary Police Honour Guard at the Calgary Leadership Prayer Breakfast on October 19, 2023.

This year's Prayer Breakfast featured a keynote address by Nigel Hannaford, a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The speech included transphobic and residential school-denialist comments and received a standing ovation with UCP MLAs and other luminaries in attendance.

In his response to Secular Connexion, Chief Neufeld largely dismissed the concerns as either having been addressed or out of the control of Calgary Police. However, Neufeld acknowledged the problematic nature of housing a chapel inside CPS headquarters, sending an Honour Guard to the Prayer Breakfast, and maintaining up to 20 Christian chaplains in the police force.

Secular Connexion reacted to Neufeld's response, stating that "While this letter would seem to indicate that the CPS is changing its ways, we are concerned by the incongruity of their words and their actions."

This statement follows 16 months of snowballing discoveries about religious neutrality in Calgary Police and Commission, initially revealed as fraudulent trauma therapy training and false degrees paid for by Calgary Police to an unaccredited 'college.' The investigations were conducted by journalist Charles Rusnell in partnership earlier on with Jennie Russell.

Members of the public with follow-up questions for Chief Neufeld or the Calgary Police Commission Chair, Shawn Cornett, may sign up to speak or ask a question at the January 31 Commission Regular Meeting. So far, the meeting agenda contains no mention of religious neutrality.

In anticipation of the Meeting, a board member of Rocky Mountain Atheists, Lois Edwards, is detailing their concerns about religious neutrality within Calgary Police. Ms. Edwards' statement is included below in full.

The board of the Rocky Mountain Atheists became aware of concerning issues that regarding proper training and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within Calgary Police Service. In my investigations, I found issues involving religion that appear to conflict with the Alberta Human Rights Act.

The initial information came from Global News reporting on a business relationship that developed in 2022 between Calgary Police Service and Robert Perkins, the head of the unaccredited College of Certified Psychophysiologists. Perkins advertises himself as an “expert in the prevention and treatment of PTSD.” Perkins trained several Calgary Police members in what he called “critical incident stress debriefs,” provided three staff with certificates in Police Mental Health, and registered two for online degree programs. Perkins’ college also granted an honourary doctorate to a Calgary Police sergeant.

All told, Calgary Police paid Perkins’ school $30,000 for courses taken by officers and staff. In addition, Stacey Ferland, then-Executive Director of Wellness and Resiliency at Calgary Police, obtained a ‘PhD’ in clinical police psychophysiology from Perkins’ college. She had previously obtained a Masters degree in clinical psychology from the unaccredited, online St. James the Elder Theological Seminary whose website advertises that their program offers “Clinical Psychology with a Christian World View.”  

An event had been planned in which Perkins would give a seminar for Calgary Police on September 13, 2022. However, five days before the event, Global News revealed that Perkins was a fraud and that certificates for courses from his school were worthless. The event was cancelled. Since then, Calgary Police and its Commission have conducted internal investigations to uncover potential negative effects that involvement with this fraud might have had on staff and programming.

Meanwhile, Stacey Ferland resigned from Calgary Police, shortly before new reports surfaced about how she ignored concerns raised about Perkins. She was quickly hired as Clinical Manager for clinical programming at Edgewood Health Network, a for-profit company that runs the new publicly-funded 75-bed therapeutic community in Red Deer. The facility is the first-constructed of eleven such facilities funded by the United Conservative government.

We have not found any information regarding who initiated the relationship with Perkins. However, two minutes with Google Maps reveals that the addresses for the College of Certified Psychophysiologists lead to a UPS Store in a strip mall in Vancouver, B.C., a Postal Express store in a strip mall in Anaheim, California, and a MyUKMailbox in Sheffield, UK. It seems impossible that a police department full of investigators could be so easily duped.

Our greatest concern is for the Calgary Police officers themselves. Improper training and treatment for PTSD is dangerous for both the officers and the public they serve. Calgary Police officers and the City of Calgary deserve better.

There is another situation at Calgary Police that increases our concern for proper treatment of PTSD. Calgary Police has a chaplaincy program in which volunteer chaplains are available to officers and staff for support. These well-meaning volunteers have no training in diagnosing or treating PTSD and the existence this chaplaincy program is not in line with the religious neutrality required by the Alberta Human Rights Act. Meanwhile, there was an actual chapel built near the main entrance of Calgary Police headquarters in 2018. While the name of the chapel was changed and religious icons and pews (imported from Ireland) were removed, this religious edifice was a large public expenditure.

The chapel at Calgary Police Service headquarters. Video by Sun News posted February 23, 2018.

Furthermore, according to a Calgary Police Census taken in 2022, more than half (53%) of Calgary Police personnel describe themselves as non-religious. Some of these people could hold trauma from past experiences with religion. There are psychologists and therapists who specialize in treating trauma caused by religious teachings. It is difficult to imagine enduring traumatic experiences involving religion, only to have a “church” forced into your workplace approved by the oversight body, Calgary Police Commission.

The Rocky Mountain Atheists wrote a letter to the Calgary Police Commissioners expressing these concerns. We received a response with an indication that they would be willing to meet with a representative from our society. Our president wrote back requesting a meeting. We have not yet heard back from Commission.

Additional concerning events have taken place.

On October 11, 2023, an all-day First Responders Suicide Awareness Conference was co-hosted by the Calgary Police, Fire, EMS, RCMP, 911 Dispatch, and Legacy Place Society. On the surface, this sounds like a much-needed and worthwhile event, and for many attendees it likely was. It was held at the Centre Street Church.

It is also curious that Legacy Place Society hosted the event. Its stated mission is to “provide empathetic support that builds resiliency individually and within our First Responder and Military Families” and was previously called Diakonos Peace Officer Retreat Society. Diakonos is listed under Christian Retreats Ministries by The Shepherd’s Guide, a Christian business directory.

Another event listed by the Shepherd’s Guide (since removed) is The Billy Graham Society’s Canadian Law Enforcement Retreat, held at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge from November 5-7, 2023.

On October 19, 2023, the Calgary Police Honour Guard was sent to escort the keynote speaker for the Calgary Leadership Prayer Breakfast. While anyone who wishes to attend the event can do so, there is a considerable difference when Calgary Police commits public resources to support it.

The Prayer Breakfast keynote speech by Nigel Hannaford, Stephen Harper’s speechwriter from 2009-15, was described by Global News as follows: “A reactionary speech that exhorted a return to “biblical truths” is coming under fire after the keynote speaker at an annual prayer breakfast used anti-LGBTQ2 tropes and denied that horrors of more than a century of Indian Residential Schools even existed.”

According to one attendee, Hannaford received a standing ovation from “all but one person,” meaning there were likely members of Calgary Police, along with other public servants, standing to applaud hate speech.

During a Calgary Police Commission meeting, Global News asked Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld about the presence of the Calgary Police Honour Guard at the Prayer Breakfast. Chief Neufeld responded, “Was I aware that the honour guard officers had attended? Not specifically, but I'm not surprised because we have attended in the past.” This is one more glaring example of Calgary Police ignoring the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Even more recently, Calgary Police expressed support for another religious organization, the Salvation Army. In a post on X (formerly Twitter) Calgary Police announced that they were participating in the Christmas toy drive called Toy Angels.

Image posted by CPS on X (formerly Twitter). Black rectangle and arrow added to emphasize wording “in support of The Salvation Army”.

Collecting toys and funds for children at Christmas is most admirable. However, as shown in the figure, the drive is “in support of The Salvation Army,” an evangelical church. Support for a specific religious body by Calgary Police, in keeping with the other examples above, is in direct opposition to the Alberta Human Rights Act’s requirement for religious neutrality. Calgary Police could just as easily partner with a secular organization such as the Toy Mountain campaign, which supports FearIsNotLove (formerly Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter)—or better yet, find a non-corporate initiative to maintain optics of community neutrality.

Examples of Calgary Police involving itself with religious organizations continue to accumulate. Not only does this violate the requirement for religious neutrality, it could also increase stress among more than half of Calgary Police members who are non-religious. As someone who has been harmed by religious indoctrination, I am confident that there are non-religious members of Calgary Police with a similar background who may experience compounding harms each day at work.

Police officers and other first responders frequently experience job-related stress that leads to PTSD. Piling on additional stressors in their lives, in violation of human rights law, puts them and the public at greater risk of harm. They deserve secular counsellors and therapists trained in accredited institutions, devoid of subtle or overt pressures to conform to any religious worldview.

Lois Edwards is a board member of the Rocky Mountain Atheists, an advocacy group comprising people with traumatic experiences of religious indoctrination.

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