Mistrust of the police exists in many communities in Winnipeg, but a recent dialogue at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) tried to bridge that gap.
The U of W brought community members and police officers together for the event on March 10 as a part of the Global College Igbo Educational Lecture Series (IELS), a series on peace-building in a multicultural society.
Dr. Michael Eze, a chemistry professor at the U of W and a convener of IELS, says that the main goal of the dialogue is to foster peace and harmony.
“If you have peace and harmony, everyone will be happy to be within the system. If everybody is comfortable, feels him or herself in his/her comfort zone, then productivity would go high,” Eze says.
North End resident Andrew Beaulieu shows Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis pictures of his wife who was allegedly assaulted by police officers.
Themed as a dialogue on policing in multicultural communities, the event allowed members of ethnocultural communities and general public to sit at one table with representatives from the police.
“Any opportunity that the police have to interact with the public in a forum where that promotes openness is great,” Gord Friesen, inspector of the community support unit with the Winnipeg Police Service, says.
While the event was open to public, IELS also had a number of guest speakers, such as Devon Clunis, chief of police; Florence Okwudili, an active member of the African community and a co-chair of the Institute for International Women’s Rights-Manitoba; Omar Siddiqui, from Canadian Muslim Leadership Institute; Michael Champagne, of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities; and many others.
Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis discusses the roll of police officers in the community with a multicultural gathering of citizens.
Issues regarding public trust in police were discussed, as well as ways for increasing budgets for community outreach activities.
“I think the big (issue) for me is the lack of understanding about what policing truly means in a Canadian context,” Clunis says. “It’s about us articulating and explaining why we do what we do. When people understand, suddenly it will build that trust. Often times some of the lack of trust comes out of misunderstanding.”
Multiculturalism was also one of the main topics of the discussion.
“We have to understand that Winnipeg is one of the most diverse communities we’ll find on this planet and it’s really difficult for police officers to understand each specific individual group,” Clunis says. “Certainly, we have to understand as much as we can, but it’s also important for communities to learn to understand what policing means here.”