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Canstar Community News
A Winnipeg city councillor has a plan to promote unity and combat divisiveness through community conversations in the park.
Kevin Klein, who represents Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood, partnered with former Winnipeg police chief Devon Clunis and his wife Pearlene Clunis to kick-start Community Conversations #ForaBetterWpg — a public talk series with the goal of strengthening "the collective social and cultural fabric" of the city, Klein said.
Klein and the Clunises announced the series outside city hall Thursday. Pearlene Clunis told media the idea had been percolating since she and her husband were visiting Florida several months ago and noticed "tension and divisiveness" within the community.
"We had talked about doing these community events to give people an opportunity to be able to have open dialogue, to bring unity and to bring a cohesiveness so we can be protected from the kind of divisiveness that we see all around the world," Pearlene said.
Klein said the community conversations will give residents a chance to share concerns, frustrations and observations with one another to foster diversity, inclusivity and equity while working towards policy solutions.
"The ultimate goal is to bring motions to council," Klein said. "The ultimate goal is to see how we as community leaders can put measures in place or policies in place for the City of Winnipeg, where our jurisdiction allows it, to bring a new way of thinking, a forward way of thinking, to the community."
Pearlene Clunis echoed those goals, noting that the goal was to provide more than just "a venting session," but to encourage conversation and understanding among community members. The talks come on the heels of a long period of isolation for many residents, she said, and in the midst of widespread conversations about racial injustice.
Devon Clunis said he has heard several frustrations and concerns from his community, and felt the time was right to create a "safe venue" for sharing those concerns with community leaders.
"This is giving people an opportunity to come and share and learn from one another, and then go forward in terms of building the right climate, the right culture in our community," he said. "This is what it's all about, we can't simply sit back and watch what's taking place and not do anything about it."
Clunis confirmed conversations around systemic racism in policing across North America were part of the motivation for the event, but when asked about community concerns around police brutality in Winnipeg, Clunis said that terminology could "actually be very divisive" and send the wrong message.
"In my time there I would never say police in Winnipeg are brutal because that's just not a reality," the former police chief said. "I'm not here just to defend policing, but I'm saying police are one part of the community and how we advance the conversations are really critical."
Clunis would not comment on a video captured last week in the Exchange District, where officers can be seen repeatedly kicking and kneeing a suspect who is face down on the ground during an arrest, or on the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Eishia Hudson during a police pursuit in April, citing ongoing investigations into the incidents.
The first community conversation session will be held in Assiniboine Park at Picnic Site 3 (in the northwest corner of the park) June 27 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Klein said the talks would be held outdoors to ensure physical distancing measures could be maintained.
More dates and locations will be announced in the coming weeks, Klein said, and community groups are invited to host their own community conversations by contacting Klein.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
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