Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
James Favel, co-founder of the Bear Clan Patrol, says he feels "betrayed and bullied" after being sacked by the community safety organization he led for the past six years.
In an exclusive interview with the Free Press marking his first public comments since being unceremoniously removed by the Bear Clan’s board July 31, Favel said he became a target after resisting board intrusion.
"I feel like I’m back in the school yard. That’s why I’m speaking out now," Favel said.
"I’ve been dealing with bullies all of my life though. The one thing I know is that when you challenge a bully, they’ll push and push, but when they are pushed back, they cry the loudest that they’ve been fouled."
According to Favel, the reason he was removed from the role of executive director is linked to the way he resisted what he called "massive board over-reach that created a toxic atmosphere," making it impossible to run the day-to-day operations of the volunteer organization.
Favel said the board pointed to other reasons for his dismissal, including his appearances on television and acceptance of honoraria for travel and speaking — which they worried could jeopardize the organization’s non-profit status.
Favel hasn’t been leading Bear Clan operations since mid-May, when conflicts with the board became unbearable and he agreed to go "on vacation." He planned on returning mid-July, but was placed on suspension and then, finally, removed.
At the time of his dismissal, the Bear Clan board provided little public information about the change.
In a recent statement to the Free Press, chairwoman Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais made clear the board made the decision to uphold its legal duties to all employees.
"Mr. Favel is well aware his departure was made necessary due to his inappropriate conduct. Certain allegations were investigated and verified by Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health, and Mr. Favel was interviewed as part of that investigation," Robinson-Desjarlais said in the statement.
"Mr. Favel is entirely at liberty to disclose his severance letter from the board. Legally, the board is not at liberty to disclose this document."
Robinson-Desjarlais said as a Indigenous woman and mother living in the Winnipeg community served by the Bear Clan, she will ensure its founding values and mission remain at the heart of the organization.
"I’ve been dealing with bullies all of my life though. The one thing I know is that when you challenge a bully, they’ll push and push, but when they are pushed back, they cry the loudest that they’ve been fouled." – James Favel, co–founder of the Bear Clan Patrol
However, Robinson-Desjarlais also took a shot at Favel, by suggesting the man who frequently has portrayed himself as the leader was in fact rarely on the street with its patrol members.
"To be frank, it has been more than a year since Mr. Favel has walked with a Bear Clan patrol. And Mr. Favel’s direct involvement with Bear Clan’s day-to-day operation has been minimal for some time."
In response, Favel said health issues led to him participating less on patrols, but he was as busy as ever delivering food, working in the Bear Clan "den," and helping patrols form in communities such as Kenora, Ont.
For months leading up to his dismissal, Favel has expressed concern over an increasing Winnipeg Police Service presence on the Bear Clan board and how this could be construed by the community. Until recently, three current or past officers — Devon Clunis, Brian Chrupalo, and Rejeanne Caron — made up a one-third of the directors.
In July, due to a number of controversial social media posts denying systemic racism in policing and accusing people assaulted by police officers as lying, Caron resigned.
At the time, Favel publicly called for Caron’s removal, stating he has always supported police being a part of the Bear Clan Board, but not her views. In response, Caron issued a statement accusing Favel of using the controversy "to build his own public and political persona."
Meanwhile, further complicating the issue, Favel claimed the board is operating illegitimately, and should have held an annual general meeting in November 2019 to elect directors.
In her statement to the Free Press, Robinson-Desjarlais said: "Under Bear Clan bylaws, the board had until July 12, 2020, to call its next AGM. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the province has allowed non-profit organizations such as the Bear Clan to delay their AGMs until the end of September. Bear Clan’s AGM is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 24."
With the firing of a high-profile executive director, community concerns about the board, and questions about the workplace safety in Bear Clan operations, it’s a long fall for arguably Winnipeg’s most important front-line community organization.
"Mr. Favel is entirely at liberty to disclose his severance letter from the board. Legally, the board is not at liberty to disclose this document." ‐ Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais, Bear Clan chairwoman
Launched in 2014 with $900 and 12 volunteers, the Bear Clan has grown to a $1.5-million budget and some 2,000 volunteers in Winnipeg, with chapters in more than 50 communities.
The organization’s most direct work is several hundred-thousand dollars of food distribution, cleaning up poverty-stricken areas (picking up nearly 200,000 used needles annually), and the well-known community safety patrol, which sometimes operates seven nights a week.
The role of the Bear Clan has "exploded," according to Favel, during the COVID-19 pandemic. He estimated he has personally delivered nearly 100,000 pounds of food, and the Bear Clan’s donation agreements with more than 20 grocery stores have increased since March (even when most patrols stopped March-June due to pandemic concerns).
The organization applied for — and received July 21 — $251,850 in further COVID-19 relief funding.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.