Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No place for the pulpit in the police chief's office

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It was last summer, in a column about the city's search for a new leader of its ever-embattled police service, when I first suggested what would eventually come to pass. That Supt. Devon Clunis -- the service's chaplain of long standing and yes, long kneeling -- would be chosen as our 17th police chief.

The column concluded with an unintentionally prescient quote from a retired senior officer who, after noting Clunis had a divinity degree, quipped:

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"So he could always pray for things to get better."

Obviously, Clunis didn't find that funny, although I'm sure some of the rank and file did Tuesday.

A big part of a police chief's job is to avoid political booby traps. Instead, as his first order of business, he went out of his way to create one for himself.

Apparently, he just couldn't help himself.

Stephen Harper, like Clunis, is a member of the evangelical Alliance Church, but the prime minister is astute enough to keep his religious beliefs out of political pronouncements, if not all of his policies.

But, again, Clunis couldn't help himself.

Twenty years ago, mandatory prayer in public schools was struck down in Manitoba as unconstitutional because it violated the section on freedom of thought. The city's soon-to-be top law enforcement official should have been sensitive to that and the views of people who don't believe in God. But, again, Clunis couldn't help himself.

He could have taken the religion out of his plea by appealing to people to help each other and police by doing whatever they felt they could, from volunteering with at-risk children to creating a Neighbourhood Watch.

But Clunis -- a man who has suggested God had a plan for him to become police chief -- just couldn't help himself. He couldn't help himself because while he made his plea for prayer ecumenical, and later reportedly vowed he wasn't proselytizing, his responsibilities at his conservative evangelical church suggest otherwise.

Clunis, of course, is entitled to persuade the unconverted in his private time, but not from his pulpit as police chief, where his responsibility is to serve and protect, not to preach about the power of prayer.

Perhaps he would have been more sensitive if he had recalled it was men of prayer preying on First Nations children that passed down a lethal legacy that accounts for much of the violence that has infected so many aboriginal families in our city.

As for Clunis's future as chief, I want to believe in him and his ability to lead by example. But I've already lost some faith in the faith-based judgment of a new police chief who unnecessarily divides the public, when it would have been so easy to bring them together.

Say a prayer for him if you must.

But if first impressions turn out to be lasting, Devon Clunis doesn't have one. Not as the leader the Winnipeg Police Service, whose members deal every day with the people God forsook.

And for whom prayer was a bloody curse.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2012 A4

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