Controlling the force

City march against police brutality garners low turnout, strong emotional responses

About 50 people took part in the rally in support of the 13th annual International Day Against Police Brutality on Mar. 15. Joe Kornelsen

Protestors took to Winnipeg’s streets to mark the 13th annual International Day Against Police Brutality recently.

About 50 people walked from Old Market Square to the Manitoba Law Courts Building on Mar. 15.

Along the way, they stopped in Central Park to hear a personal story from Roanna Hepburn, administrative assistant at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of Social Work at the North End’s William Norrie Centre.

Hepburn talked about her granddaughter, whom she alleges was beaten by police officers in the North End in early March.

Hepburn told the assembled crowd that when police came to investigate an argument that her granddaughter was involved in, she was arrested and violently put into a police car.

Hepburn’s granddaughter was then allegedly repeatedly kicked at the police station before being sent to Winnipeg Remand Centre (WRC), a pre-trial holding facility.

Hepburn sent a letter describing the events to city councillors and to Manitoba’s Law Enforcement Review Agency (LERA), and demanded an investigation of the matter. She said she received a response from St. Boniface councillor Dan Vandal and Mynarski councillor Harry Lazarenko, both of whom said they were concerned with what happened. Winnipeg chief of police Keith McCaskill also called her and said that police will look into the situation, and that he will send her complaint to the Professional Standards Unit, which is part of the Winnipeg Police Service, she said.

The family is now considering a civil suit.

In an interview following her speech, Hepburn said that despite its relatively small turnout, the march was an important opportunity to raise awareness of what her family and others have experienced.

“This group of people is bringing attention to what is really going on out there,” she said.

The march was planned by Copwatch, a group of citizens that monitor police activity.

Alex Stearns, a volunteer with Copwatch, said marches like this are significant because police straddle an important line in society.

“People have rights, rights to speech and assembly, but the truth is that these rights are only paper and the police have the power to take away these rights,” she said.

Constable Jason Michalyshen, public information officer with the Winnipeg Police Service, declined comment on issues related to Copwatch or the march.

He added there are institutions in place for people who want to file a complaint against the police.

“If there are complaints that are made then, there is a process that we encourage people to take,” he said.

Currently, citizens should address the provincially-run LERA with any complaints they may have against the police.

The Doer government is expected to make changes to the police act this spring and Stearns said that Copwatch is working on making recommendations for the act.

Stearns said the group also plans to hold Know your Rights training sessions in schools and in prisons, to inform people of their rights when dealing with law enforcement officials.

Copwatch currently holds bi-monthly patrols with video cameras to monitor police activity.

Rachelle Diddens and University of Manitoba student Stacy Boone came along for the march, with placards at the ready.

“I believe we have a problem in this city,” Diddens said. “I think the police are not getting enough training.”

Both Boone and Diddens believe that police mistreatment is an important issue that needs to be talked about more in the city.

For more information on the proposed changes to the Provincial Police Act and Copwatch’s suggestions, check out Sandy Klowak’s story in issue 22 of The Uniter.

Published in Volume 63, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 26, 2009)

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