Trust before peace

U of W hosts dialogue on policing in multicultural communities

Members of various Winnipeg communities, RCMP and the Winnipeg Police Service came together in a public forum to discuss policing in multicultural communities on March 10.

Photos by Daniel Crump

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.

IELS is run by Umunna (Igbo) Cultural Association of Manitoba Inc. in partnership with the U of W Global College. The event was the 14th session since the start of the lecture series in 2006, with a first lecture delivered by the initiator of IELS – Dr. Rey Pagtakhan. 

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.

“(The dialogue) put some of the issues squarely on the table, and there are issues we’ve heard over and over again,” Suenita Maharaj-Sandhu, commanding officer of the RCMP Committee on Cultural Diversity, says. “We also talked about not just what the police needs to do but also what community needs to do in terms of changing attitudes.”

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.”

Published in Volume 70, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 17, 2016)

Related Reads