Category Archives: Contemporary Issues

Current Events and Politics

Saskatchewan judge’s stop at teepee camp could raise perception of bias, expert says

REGINA—An experienced defence lawyer says a Saskatchewan judge’s attendance at an Indigenous demonstration after he ruled on it could expose the court to potential allegations of bias.

Michael Spratt says it’s unusual for judges to have contact with one of the parties in a case that either could end up before them, or has already. Judges act as independent arbitrators and a perception of bias may undermine a court decision and the principle of impartiality, which forms trust in the system, he said.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Graeme Mitchell appeared Sunday at a closing ceremony for a 24-year-old Métis man, whom he ruled was allowed to stay on the provincial legislature’s lawn to finish a hunger strike over high suicide rates.

Mitchell dismissed the government’s bid to remove Tristen Durocher’s teepee and found the bylaws that prohibit overnight camping on the Regina grounds infringed on his charter rights as an Indigenous man.

During his stop at the camp, the judge spoke to the Durocher and accepted a Métis sash from a supporter. Some people there praised Mitchell for his appearance and celebrated his decision.

While issues of reconciliation are important and judges are trained to put their personal views aside before making decisions, Spratt said Mitchell’s presence at the camp could serve as grounds for an appeal by the province.

“These actions, although potentially not inappropriate, may leave the court open to allegations of bias or an appearance of bias,” the Ottawa-based lawyer said in an interview Monday.

“If this was not an Indigenous issue, but if this was a police violence issue and the judge went to a pro-police march after, or if it was a criminal case that dealt with an allegation of sexual assault and the judge went to a #MeToo conference and spoke with the complainant after, would we be as comfortable in those cases?”

The Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Bar Association declined to comment, saying the issue is still before the courts.

Mitchell released his decision last Friday, two days before Durocher’s fast was to conclude. He told those in court that he planned to release a longer ruling later.

In his decision, Mitchell wrote Durocher’s fast “represents an admittedly small and personal attempt to encourage all of us to move a little further along in our national journey” towards reconciliation.

He also gave the provincial commission operating the Regina grounds six month to craft new bylaws, because the current ones don’t allow for “constitutionally protected political and spiritual expression.”

A spokeswoman for the Saskatchewan courts said it would not be appropriate for Chief Justice Robert Richards to comment on Mitchell’s visit to the camp, as Richards presides over the Court of Appeal and there is the possibility of an appeal.

Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice spokeswoman Marieka Andrew said in a statement that the office is reviewing the ruling and it has 30 days to decide whether to appeal.

“The issue of some concern here is the fact that these parties were just before the judge and he still has yet to release … a full written ruling,” Spratt said.

But it could be tough, he said, if the government chooses to appeal solely on because of Mitchell’s visit to the site. Lawyers could also look at the decision and find other grounds for appeal, depending on what else was said in court, he said.

Spratt added that it would be a disservice to exclude judges from having a position or showing support for an issue.

“This is an issue of reconciliation of Indigenous protest and a very important conversation that needs to happen in Canadian society.”

By Stephanie Taylor, posted in The Canadian Press on Sept. 14, 2020

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Families await answers in three fatal shootings of Indigenous people by Winnipeg police this spring

People march in solidarity with the George Floyd protests across the United States in Winnipeg on June 5, 2030.

Eishia Hudson was an artist who loved sports, a 16-year-old girl raised by her grandmother in Berens River, north of Winnipeg, before moving to the city to live with her mother and siblings.

Jason Collins was a 36-year-old father of three children, full of life and love for his family and friends, a power-line worker who worked across the country. His daughter Tianna Rasmussen said he had a heart of gold.

Stewart Andrews, 22, was a young father to not only his one-year-old son, but two stepchildren he was raising with his girlfriend in Winnipeg.

All three were Indigenous, and over a 10-day period in April, all were shot and killed by members of the Winnipeg Police Service. After their deaths, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said “First Nations have been dehumanized, mistreated and have been killed through WPS officer involved shootings” for years.

Five months later, their families are still waiting for answers as the province’s law-enforcement watchdog investigates whether police were justified in using lethal force.

Leah Gazan, an NDP Member of Parliament from Winnipeg, says it is no coincidence the three shooting deaths in April were of Indigenous people. The MP attended one of the rallies led by Eishia’s family in June, when supporters gathered, calling for an end to police brutality amid recent police-involved deaths of Black, Indigenous and other racialized people in Canada and the United States. Those rallies joined others across North America calling for police reform.

Ms. Gazan said Ms. Hudson was a 16-year-old girl who should have been given a chance to learn from her mistakes.

“We’re in a moment, we need to embrace this moment to make real changes, needed changes, and to ensure justice for Eishia,” Ms. Gazan said. “If people don’t find the death of a 16-year-old girl, for whatever reason, a complete tragedy, I think we need to ask ourselves why that is and I think part of it is the normalized violence that has occurred, that has been perpetuated against Indigenous and Black lives.”

Eishia Hudson. HANDOUT

Ms. Gazan pointed to the federal government’s delay in implementing an action plan in the wake of the final report from the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which calls for, among other things, establishing an independent Indigenous civilian oversight body to investigate police misconduct as well as improving victim services for Indigenous women and girls.

Manitoba’s Internal Investigation Unit (IIU) director Zane Tessler says he’s received interim briefings on each of the three cases and is satisfied with the progress investigators are making but can’t give a timeline for when they would be completed.

The IIU, which conducts investigations into serious incidents involving police, will determine if there are any grounds for criminal charges against the officers involved, something it has done only once since it became operational five years ago.

The string of Winnipeg police shootings began on April 8 after 5 p.m. Police were called to a liquor store robbery allegedly involving a group of young who then stole an SUV from a parking lot, leading officers on a pursuit. The chase came to an end when the SUV, driven by Ms. Hudson, crashed into other vehicles at an intersection, where police then fired at her, according to Winnipeg police. Ms. Hudson was pronounced dead at a hospital. Four survivors, ages 15 and 16, were arrested and charged with robbery and possession of property obtained by crime.

Less than 12 hours later, Winnipeg police said they responded to a domestic call at a residence where they found Mr. Collins inside with a firearm, along with a teenager and a woman who appeared to be in distress. Police said they left the home to de-escalate the situation and the teenager escaped through the back door. Mr. Collins reportedly then confronted police outside where they shot him, according to police.

Nine days later on April 18 – with tension in the city high over those two shootings – police say they responded to a gun call, assault and an attempted robbery around 4 a.m. when they encountered Mr. Andrews and a 16-year-old boy.

At a news conference, Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth said Mr. Andrews was shot when he confronted police. He was pronounced dead at a hospital and the 16-year-old was arrested and charged with several offences including robbery, possession of a weapon and firearm, pointing a firearm and failing to comply with a sentence.

Family members say they want to know why police used lethal force on Mr. Andrews, who they say was unarmed.

Mr. Andrews’s mother, Carmel Nasee, told The Globe and Mail she became worried for her son when his girlfriend called her around 5 a.m. that day to ask if she had heard from him. Ms. Nasee, who lives in God’s Lake Narrows First Nation about 550 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, spent the morning calling hospitals and jails looking for her son until she heard on the news that a 22-year-old had been shot and killed by Winnipeg police.

God’s Lake Narrows band councillors visited her not long afterward to confirm Mr. Andrews had been killed. She said her family has been kept in the dark by police and IIU investigators ever since. She found out from the funeral director her son was shot three times.

Jason Collins. HANDOUT

“We miss him so much. Wishing every day that I can hear his voice. It hurts so much,” said Ms. Nasee, who is now caring for her 13-month-old grandson Nicholas. She says she hasn’t been able to grieve yet, distraught with trying to figure out how to move forward without her son and without answers.

The 16-year-old friend who Mr. Andrews was with the day he died paid a visit to the family when they were Winnipeg, said Mr. Andrews’s grandmother Benita Wood.

“He said [Mr. Andrews] never had a weapon, that’s what he told us. He said Stewart was a good guy, he didn’t deserve to die like this. He said the cops shouldn’t have even shot him,” Ms. Wood said.

William Hudson says his family is planning a vigil this weekend at the intersection where his daughter Eishia was killed. Since her death in April, Mr. Hudson has organized rallies in Winnipeg to bring awareness to the justice he wants to see for his daughter and and “all the other lives.”

“What happened here in Winnipeg should be not only news in Winnipeg, it should be all around Canada, even around the world. This is a problem that we have with Indigenous people and it’s not being noticed enough,” Mr. Hudson said, adding he misses the fun he used to have with his daughter, like embarrassing her in front of friends.

The IIU has investigated at least 24 officer-involved shootings in Manitoba since 2015, according to information on its website. Eighteen of those investigations have involved the Winnipeg Police Service and the deaths of 10 individuals, all of them males between the ages of 22 and 44 except for Ms. Hudson. At least eight of the 10 shooting deaths have been individuals who are Indigenous or from other racialized groups.

In 2017, an IIU investigation into the 2015 shooting death of a 39-year old father of two girls by a Thompson, Man., RCMP constable resulted in a recommendation of charges against the officer. The officer was acquitted of manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death, but was sentenced to probation for criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

Manitoba’s director of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Officer, Mark O’Rourke, said inquests into the three April deaths will presumably be called, but only after the IIU completes its investigations, which he expects will be sometime next year. Most provinces in Canada, including Manitoba, are supposed to call an inquest when a person dies in custody or from use of force by a peace officer.

Stewart Andrews. HANDOUT

In 2016, Manitoba Justice Anne Krahn presided over a medical examiner’s inquest into the death of Craig McDougall, a 26-year-old First Nations man who was shot and killed by Winnipeg police on the front lawn of the home he shared with his dad, sister and nephew in the summer of 2008.

Corey Shefman represented the McDougall family at the inquest, where the judge also examined if systemic racism played a role in Mr. McDougall’s death. Specifically, Justice Krahn heard evidence of differential treatment of police witnesses and family witnesses by officers and investigators following the shooting of Mr. McDougall, including how his father, Brian McDougall, and uncle John were handcuffed and forced onto the ground next to where Craig McDougall lay dying.

“It is about the way the Canadian state treats Indigenous people and Indigenous bodies and the lack of care and we see this in the justice system,” Mr. Shefman told The Globe, pointing to the eight years it took to hold the inquest and the “criminal” treatment of innocent witnesses such as Brian McDougall.

In her report, Justice Krahn said she found no evidence of systemic racism or discrimination but some of her 16 recommendations included implicit-bias training and Aboriginal awareness programs for officers and protecting witness rights during police investigations.

The treatment of Indigenous people by city police has been scrutinized before. The 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry report, co-commissioned by Senator Murray Sinclair, who was Manitoba’s only Indigenous judge at the time, looked at the relationship between Indigenous people and the province’s justice system, following the 1988 shooting death of John Joseph (J.J.) Harper by Winnipeg police and the 1971 beating death of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas by a group of white men. Some of the 296 recommendations from the inquiry focused on the need for civilian oversight for police, particularly when it comes to misconduct and serious incidents, and employment and recruitment strategies to increase Indigenous representation in police organizations.

It took the Taman Inquiry report in 2008 – which examined police misconduct in the 2005 death of Crystal Taman, a 40-year-old mother killed by an off-duty Winnipeg police officer who was drinking and driving – and several years more before changes were made to the province‘s Police Services Act, which now includes the oversight body of the IIU.

The province began a review of the act last year, which is near completion, said Glen Cassie, a public affairs specialist for the province. The final report, which was originally expected at the end of March, will provide a gap analysis in all areas of the province’s policing, including governance, oversight and service delivery, the spokesperson said.

This article was first published in The Globe and Mail on August 29, 2020.

[SOURCE]

Ousted Bear Clan co-founder raises concerns over police connections

Board membership, inappropriate conduct allegations led to James Favel’s removal

James Favel, co-founder and former executive director of the Bear Clan Patrol Inc., has raised concerns about the influence of current and former Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) officers as well as a board of directors that he described as increasingly unrepresentative of the communities they serve following his dismissal announced July 31.

The Bear Clan is an Indigenous community organization that conducts street patrols, assists with rides and escorts and delivers food to those in need, among other services. The organization has been working with the WPS and its board includes current and former officers.

Beginning with disputes over how to continue to operate foot patrols and food delivery amid the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Favel said he became increasingly at odds with the board.

“The loudest voices [against continuing patrols] were [current] Winnipeg Police Service and retired Winnipeg Police Service [officers],” Favel said.

“I realized at that moment that it could be said that Bear Clan patrols were shut [down] vicariously by the Winnipeg Police through their membership on our board […] I started thinking in terms of reducing the amount of police on our board of directors and making sure they didn’t hold an executive role.”

In a statement on their website, the Bear Clan stated that two police officers currently serving on the board — Brian Chrupalo and Devon Clunis — were recruited by Favel himself, and that “7 out of the 9 current board members” were similarly brought onto the board by Favel.

Favel was later suspended amid allegations of inappropriate conduct and concerns over accepting reimbursements for travel costs — allegations he’s denied and has since hired a lawyer to dispute.

Favel was the subject of a Workplace Health and Safety investigation, which resulted after complaints of intimidation and unprofessionalism by Favel against a Bear Clan staff member.

There was further tension between Favel and the board following controversial statements made on social media by then-board member Réjeanne Caron — a WPS constable who has since stepped down from the Bear Clan board amid public outrage, which included a petition signed by 2,000 people calling for her removal — which spurred Favel to publicly call for her removal.

Favel emphasized he stands by the decision to work with the WPS and his concerns are about the individuals on the board — not the WPS as a whole.

Favel also said he believes the current board is acting undemocratically — holding a virtual annual general meeting restricted to members rather than open to the public, as Favel said they traditionally have been.

“Proper notification was not given,” he said.

“They’re trying to hijack the election. They’re trying to silence the voice of the community.”

The Bear Clan stated they have not yet held an annual general meeting for the 2020 year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the date for the meeting is to be announced.

Concerns Over the Impact of Operating as a Charitable Organization, Ties to Police

The Urban Warrior Alliance (UWA) — another Indigenous community organization operating in the city — was approached with a partnership by WPS in 2015.

For Harrison Powder, a member of the UWA, the partnership was unappealing — it would require denouncing other Indigenous organizations such as the Crazy Indians Brotherhood, an anti-gang group he said was labelled a gang by the WPS.

“We said there was no way we can do that. We [would] rather help youth who want out of the gang life, but we can’t do that if our name is no good to them,” he said.

“The police try to take control of our groups,” Powder said. “[They] offer funding and pay [you] to be part of their visions. There’s also consequences if you don’t do things their way, like with [Favel].”

For Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, this approach from the police is not surprising.

“Often community organizations want to respond to people’s problems in ways that are avoiding criminalization,” she said.

“The point of community involvement from the perspective of the police is to extend their reach, extend their information–gathering capacities and extend the network of policing,” she said.

“You don’t generally see these partnerships resulting in police changing practices, they’re much more likely to change the practices of the organization that police are partnering with.”

Dobchuk-Land further stated that often, funding structures for community organizations — be they attached to the state or civil society — result in community organizations becoming less accountable to the communities they serve and more so to their funders.

“We actually don’t need funding to engage in the structural changes that would reduce people’s vulnerability to violence,” she said. “In fact, funding structures often limit our capacities to engage in that structural change.”

Favel expressed  frustration in the direction the Bear Clan is going.

“To see it come to this point is just horrific,” Favel said. “It saddens me to no end that we’re fighting this way about this organization that is providing so much for so many people.

“The board is not representative of the community at this point, the community knows it. There shouldn’t be any discussion. The board should just step back and give it back to the community.”

This article was first published in The Manitoban on August 18, 2020. 

[SOURCE]

Bear Clan announces leadership change

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg community organization announced it has a new interim executive director.

The Bear Clan announced late Friday that Kevin Walker has been appointed interim executive director, effective immediately. He replaces James Favel, one of the founders of the organization.

“Bear Clan is proud to appoint Kevin Walker as interim executive director,” said board chairperson Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais in a statement. “He walks several times a week with the patrols. He captures their activities on our Facebook page so our community learns about the important work our staff and volunteers do. He fundraises. Kevin is at the heart of our community — he lives and breathes our community-centric approach to crime prevention, relationship building, neighbourhood safety, solidarity and belonging. We are excited to see him bring these insights and experiences to our community of staff and volunteers.”

In an interview with CTV News, Robinson-Desjarlais explained why the change was made.

“There’s been some things going on, a movement, and we are just looking towards positive change and moving forward as an organization,” she said.

She added they were looking to have some new vision for the organization.

Robinson-Desjarlais was asked if Favel was part of the decision to name Walker the interim executive director and she said she couldn’t comment, other than to say Favel is no longer an employee of the Bear Clan.

“I want to wish Mr. Favel well in his future endeavours and thank him for the years that he did put in for Bear Clan Patrol Inc. As I said, this organization is far greater than one person, and we just wish James well on his journey.”

According to a news release from the Bear Clan, Favel has been involved with the organization for six years.

CTV News reached out to Favel and he said he wasn’t prepared to make a statement at this time.

By: CTV News, published Friday, July 31, 2020

[SOURCE]

Redskins to Drop Name, Yielding to Pressure From Sponsors and Activists

The N.F.L. team in Washington announced the move on Monday and will continue its search for a new name and logo.

The N.F.L. team in Washington announced Monday that it would drop its logo and “Redskins” from its name, yielding to sponsors and Native American activists who have long criticized it as a racist slur.

The team, one of the oldest in the N.F.L., did not announce a new name on Monday as it continues a review to evaluate possibilities.

“Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review,’’ the statement said.

The decision to abandon the name after nearly 90 years came just 10 days after the team said it would reconsider the name. The team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, had stridently defended the name for years.

Snyder said the new name, when it was chosen, would “take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field.”

The decision to change the name by one of the country’s most valuable professional sports franchises comes after hundreds of universities and schools have abandoned team names and mascots with Native American symbols. Professional teams like the Kansas City Chiefs of the N.F.L. and the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball have resisted changing their names and logos, though the Indians dropped the mascot Chief Wahoo last year and recently said they would review the team name.

Washington, though, has been in the spotlight, in part because of its long and checkered history. The team’s founder, George Preston Marshall, named the team the Redskins, which he considered a nod to bravery. Marshall was the last owner in the N.F.L. to sign a Black player, and only under pressure from the federal government.

Last month, Washington removed Marshall’s name from inside its stadium and at its training facility. The city of Washington also removed a tribute to him that was in front of the team’s old home, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Snyder’s shift from total resistance to grudging acceptance in just a few weeks has been remarkably swift in a league that often moves forward deliberately, if at all. But after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody in late May, businesses of all kinds have come under pressure to increase diversity and change policies to emphasize antiracism.

 

At the end of June, some of the team’s biggest sponsors, including FedEx, Nike and Pepsi, received letters from investors who called on the companies to cut their ties with the team. On July 2, FedEx, which pays about $8 million a year to have its name on the team’s stadium in Landover, Md., told the Redskins in a letter that if the team did not change its name it would ask that its name be taken off the stadium at the end of the coming season.

The next day, July 3, the team said a change was likely to be forthcoming, when it began a “thorough review of the team’s name,” after weeks of discussions with the N.F.L. Nike stopped selling the team’s gear, and WalmartTarget and Amazon — some of the country’s largest retailers — said they would stop selling Washington’s merchandise on their websites.

The boycott came after decades of pressure on the team to change the name, which many people (and some dictionaries) consider to be offensive. In 1992, Native American activists began a campaign to compel the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the team’s “redskin” trademark, a legal battle that the Supreme Court ended in 2017, finding that even potentially disparaging trademarks are protected by the First Amendment.

In 2014, 50 U.S. senators sent a letter to the N.F.L. urging the league to step in. And across the country, waves of universities and schools abandoned mascots and sports team names with Native American symbols.

But more than 2,200 high schools still use Native American imagery in their names or mascots, according to a database of mascot names.

All the while, Snyder, who purchased the Washington team in 1999, remained steadfast. “We will never change the name of the team,” he said in 2013, a stance he maintained even in the face of pushback from activists, politicians and some fans.

What finally changed was, seemingly, wider American society around the team. After the death of Floyd, there has been a widespread reconsideration of statues, flags, symbols and mascots considered to be racist or celebrating racist history.

Now that the team has let go of its current name, it will have to find a replacement, a process that requires navigating trademarks and the league’s many licensing deals with partners and can often take years. Teams also want to use the name, logo and even new colors to forge a new identity, a process that can include speaking with sponsors, fans and other constituents.

Ed O’Hara, who has designed team names and logos for more than 30 years, said that dropping the existing name first will buy time for Snyder to find a replacement. The team’s existing colors are unique and powerful, he said. A good name, though, should have an easy connection to a mascot, be easy to say and be connected to the market where the team plays.

“The name is always the hardest part,” he said. “You get one chance to make this right for the next 80 years.”

This report by Ken Belson and  was first published The New York Times on July 13, 2020.

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