Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Minorities mostly favour appointment

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COMMUNITY leaders are giving a mostly positive reaction to the hiring of Winnipeg's first police chief who's from a visible minority.

North Point Douglas activist Sel Burrows said Devon Clunis is one cop who can build on the progressive changes brought forward by outgoing Winnipeg Police Service Chief Keith McCaskill.

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"There is a small percentage of the Winnipeg Police Service that are out of control," Burrows said, adding Clunis admitted at a public meeting two years ago the WPS has a problem with a handful of racists and bullies who wear the uniform.

"He's got a tough job but (Clunis) is an individual who is modern and progressive," Burrows said.

Shahina Siddiqui, president and executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association Inc.-Canada, said she believes the appointment of Clunis is a positive move for the city.

"I'm very happy with the appointment," Siddiqui said. "He's a wonderful person and a community-oriented person."

Siddiqui said Clunis has been involved with various groups in the city and is seen as a positive role model within the immigrant community.

Siddiqui said she's convinced Clunis got the top job because he earned it.

"I'm sure he'll do great things."

Florence Okwudili said she doesn't know Clunis but said Winnipeg is sending a positive message to its immigrant community.

"This is an important immigrant story -- someone who came here when he was young and was able to rise up to this position, is great. That's really good," said Okwudili, who is active in the local Nigerian community and chairwoman of the African Pavilion at Folklorama.

Okwudili said even though Clunis was born in Jamaica, his appointment will reinforce efforts to reach out to young immigrants from Africa who have had negative experiences with police in their native countries.

"The fact they are able to see a black as chief is a way of letting them know this is different."

While some see Clunis as a progressive man whose strengths will help transform the service, at least one activist in the visible minority community sees it as a token appointment.

"He didn't get to that position by championing the minority community," Selena Beiber said. "He got that job because... he played ball."

Beiber, an activist within the African and Caribbean communities and president of the African Canadian Cultural Heritage Centre, said there exists a wide gulf between Winnipeg's minority communities and the Winnipeg police, adding she doesn't believe one man, regardless of his skin colour, is going to bridge that divide.

"If you have a cake of sawdust, it's not going to taste any better if you put nice icing on it," Beiber said.

"He's just the icing."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2012 A3

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