Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
The Bear Clan Patrol has a new den leader at its helm after the sudden departure of James Favel, but the board behind the Indigenous-led organization says it remains committed to its longstanding community work.
Late Friday, the organization announced Favel had been replaced as executive director. Few details were released about the reason for Favel’s exit. When reached Saturday, he said he plans to comment publicly after the long weekend.
The former "Papa Bear," as Favel has become known, was one of three leaders who revived the collective — which was first founded in the 1990s — five years ago. The death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine prompted Favel to start holding volunteer patrols in an effort to make city streets safer.
Bear Clan boasts hundreds of volunteers and its operations have expanded to include volunteer search-and-rescue efforts and food hamper deliveries. Dozens of chapters, including groups in Brandon and Kenora, have popped up across the country, each one modelled after the nationally renowned grassroots patrol organization that started in Winnipeg’s North End.
Board chairperson Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais said Saturday Favel is no longer an employee of the Bear Clan, but declined to provide further detail. On behalf of the board, 10 staff members and volunteers, she said she wanted to thank Favel for his six years of dedication to Bear Clan.
"We built a family of people who volunteer their time to ensure safety and to have a presence in the community, to know that people have somewhere to go," said Robinson-Desjarlais, whose uncle David Blacksmith co-founded the original Bear Clan with the late Larry Morrisette.
She said the organization’s purpose has always been to provide a service for elders, youth, children, mothers and anyone who is struggling — and she doesn’t foresee any major change to operations in the coming months, new leadership aside.
For the time being, Kevin Walker, former lead co-ordinator at Bear Clan, has taken over the leading post. Walker started volunteering with the organization in 2018. Most recently, he oversaw community search efforts, co-ordinated special events, recruited volunteers, undertook community networking and organized the North End chapter.
"There couldn’t be a better person to step into this role and step into this leadership," said Robinson-Desjarlais.
It has yet to be determined if Walker's position will be temporary or permanent.
Walker called his interim appointment "a little overwhelming," but he said Saturday he has a good support crew behind him. As executive director, he plans to expand Bear Clan’s local bike patrols into West Broadway, create a specific search-and-rescue crew and keep working on the food-hamper program. (Last month, the federal government announced $250,000 in funding to further expand the program.)
"I would just like to let the people of our community know that we’re still going to continue working hard and be there for them; it’s not going to stop, it’s going to keep getting stronger," he said, from the organization’s North End den on Selkirk Avenue.
Favel’s departure follows another high-profile exit from the Bear Clan’s senior leadership in recent months.
In early July, Rejeanne Caron resigned from her position on the board, following public outcry about social media posts in which she had allegedly suggested anyone who wants to defund police should not be allowed to call 911 and denied systemic racism in policing.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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