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

Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Cunis

Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Cunis

By Black Powder Red Power Media

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.

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.

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.

Highlights from a Winnipeg Police Board motion instructing the Winnipeg Police Service to better protect indigenous women and girls from violence and exploitation:

  • Strengthen police activities targeted at solving cases of missing and murdered women and girls and communicate those activities, when that doesn’t jeopardize investigations.
  • Enhance cultural awareness and sensitivity training among police officers.
  • Improve the police response to domestic violence and increase support to victims of violence and exploitation.
  • Ask Winnipeg’s indigenous communities for help in developing safety initiatives and seek their input into developing the police’s strategic plan by June.
  • Create an indigenous advisory council on policing and crime prevention.
  • Ask the police chief to present a report about investigations into missing and murdered indigenous women to the police board in January.
  • Ask the chief to present a status report about improving protection for indigenous women and girls in February – and then issue a quarterly report, starting in April.

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.

Tina Fontaine, 15, was reported missing on Aug. 9, 2014

Tina Fontaine, 15, was reported missing on Aug. 9, 2014

From The Winnipeg Free Press Print Edition December 6