July 9, 2020

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Ethnic divide on chief's mind

Clunis, police board grapple with ways to protect aboriginal women and girls

Rinelle Harper and Sean Vincent, right, attend a news conference at a Winnipeg hotel, Thursday, November 20, 2014. The 16-year-old Manitoba teen who was viciously beaten, assaulted and left to die beside a river has met one of the men who rescued her and thanked him.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Rinelle Harper and Sean Vincent, right, attend a news conference at a Winnipeg hotel, Thursday, November 20, 2014. The 16-year-old Manitoba teen who was viciously beaten, assaulted and left to die beside a river has met one of the men who rescued her and thanked him.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/12/2014 (2042 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Police Chief Devon Clunis wants Winnipeggers to engage in a "difficult" conversation about this city's ethnic divide as part of a broader effort to better protect indigenous women and girls.

On Friday, the Winnipeg Police Board unanimously approved a motion requiring the police service to strengthen "activities targeted at solving cases of missing and murdered women and girls" and engage the indigenous community in developing safety plans.

Tina Fontaine

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Tina Fontaine

This direction followed a September city council motion asking the police to take "a proactive approach to prevent, investigate and solve the plight" of missing and slain indigenous women in Winnipeg.

Clunis said the service accepts the police board's motion -- but insisted once again his officers already do an "excellent" job investigating and solving crimes committed against indigenous women and girls.

"I don't think we're deficient in that at all," Clunis said following the police board's approval of a motion that also included calls for quarterly reports into the improvement of protection of indigenous women and girls.

"It's not the race that determines how you investigate a crime. A crime is a crime is a crime. We do a very good job on those investigations."

Rather, Clunis used the police board meeting as another opportunity to proclaim the time has come for Winnipeggers of all backgrounds to consider how the history of indigenous relations with other Canadians -- in effect, colonial history -- has led to a modern socio-economic gap along ethnic lines.

"The current situation we see many indigenous individuals in is part of a past. We have to have that difficult conversation and say what's happened in the past and what we're seeing is a reflection of the past in the current context, so what do we need to rectify that," Clunis said.

"I think some time people simply feel (indigenous) people choose to be a drunk on Main Street or they choose to be involved in the sex trade. No. We need to have those specific conversations and say why those individuals are living in those conditions."

Clunis said, "the affluence some of us are experiencing" is a part of this historic inequality.

The chief said he is not certain who will lead such a debate. He said the police service will not solve the problem of missing and slain indigenous women simply by responding to calls.

Police board members, however, characterized their motion as clearly addressing the need to change policing policies.

"I think the motion sets forth some really specific and concrete direction, which will then get translated into a strategic plan," said police board member Leslie Spillett, the executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk.

"It sends a very powerful and clear message to all of our citizens in Winnipeg that indigenous women and girls' lives matter."

The motion also called for the police service to better communicate its investigations into missing and slain indigenous women, when that communication does not jeopardize investigations.

This is a reference to the case of Rinelle Harper, whose name was publicized by police as part of a successful effort to apprehend two suspects accused of her brutal sexual assault.

Better communication between police and families of victims is also needed, said Spillett, who praised the Winnipeg's police for improving its relationship with the indigenous community.

Both the city council and police-board motions followed this summer's disappearance and murder of Tina Fontaine, which sparked renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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