EDITORIALS

COPS, COWBOYS & INDIANS – “Nothing to see here folks.”

Cowboy

I’ve been sitting on this story for some time now.

It was almost a year ago that I was invited to participate in an interesting discussion regarding the social evolution of the Winnipeg Police Service.

Well, I wasn’t actually invited.

I was contacted by a member of the Service who expressed concerns after hearing a rumour that infamous Police critic Gordon Sinclair Jr was planning to interview several Aboriginal WPS Officer’s to discuss issues of race and racism with particular emphasis being placed on the twenty-fifth (25th) anniversary of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (AJI).

It was obvious from the things I was hearing that trust was going to be a significant issue that might impede frank and honest dialogue.  Mr Sinclair’s history with the WPS is no secret to anyone.  He’s largely viewed as a spiteful irritant who infuses his stories with his own bias and vitriol for an Organization and profession he’s perceived to loathe.

I never saw Sinclair like that.

I’ve always viewed him as a committed journalist who’s been given a platform to share his opinions with a wide audience.  He has a right to express his ideas and earn a living at it if someone is inclined to give him financial compensation for doing so.  That’s the beauty of living in a democracy.

The question that remained was; “What kind of literary licence might Mr Sinclair take with his interpretation of the Officer’s collective thoughts and experiences?”

Enter the retired Police veteran turned committed journalist who’s created a platform to share his opinions, albeit with a smaller audience.  Fortunately, my official request to take part as an observer during the discussions was granted by the Police Service.  The hope was my presence would serve as a counterbalance and ensure an accurate portrayal of the interviews would be published.

The Officer’s selected to the panel, two men and two women, represented over eighty-five (85) years of collective service in Law Enforcement.  They also possessed a great breadth of experience in many areas of Policing that varied from Uniform Patrol, Traffic, Community Relations, Vice, Organized Crime and Homicide.

When Mr Sinclair entered the room I sensed he was somewhat taken aback by my presence.  The perplexed look on his face may have been more of a function of surprise than anything else.  Regardless, he took it all in stride and started the session.

The discussions that followed would be revealing on many fronts.

The Path to the Police Service;

The Officers shared stories regarding their journey into the world of Policing.

One Officer indicated she was only sixteen (16) years of age when she became a mother.  During this time she was working in a restaurant to provide for her child.  The restaurant happened to be owned and operated by a woman whose son-in-law was a Police Officer.  The Officer, Constable Curtis Stefaniuk, recognized her potential and recruited her to join the Police Service.

“He changed my life,” she said.

A male Officer indicated he joined the Police Service because he had a strong desire to help people.  He credits the WPS push to recruit Aboriginal Police Officers as a game changer for him.

The second male Officer broke it down to basics.  “I just needed a job,” he said.  He was busting his ass doing seasonal work for the railway and was looking for more meaningful employment when he applied to the WPS.

The second female Officer credits him for being an outstanding role model for her.  “You have me to thank for your job,” he responds to her as they all share a laugh.

The stories from there took a decidedly personal and intimate turn.

It was remarkable.

The accounts of childhood struggles were not much different from the stories you read in the newspaper when criminal defense attorneys take the podium in a Court of Law to share tragic tales designed to reduce a defendants sentence.  Alcoholic parent (s), family dysfunction, multiple siblings, Welfare, Social Services, Child and Family Services, Food-banks, and adversarial encounters with Police.

There could be no mistake about it, these Officers were exceptional people who had to overcome astronomical odds before they would become Law Enforcement Professionals.

That’s not all.

The choice to be a Police Officer has drawn hostility and scorn from certain family members and members of the Aboriginal Community.  “My brothers hate me because I’m a cop,” one Officer said.  “My mother is not a fan of the Police,” another one admitted.

The Officers all had one thing in common.  A strong desire to make a change and travel down a good path.  “It all starts at home with parents and leadership.  We need people to step up and take responsibility for their lives,” one Officer stressed.  The same Officer was proud to tell us that his son was a successful applicant to the Police Cadet program, a stepping stone to the Winnipeg Police Service.  And so a new family tradition begins….

The stories were powerful and moving.

The Officers were remarkably candid as they shared their experiences.  I could see Mr Sinclair was itching to get on topic.

“Have any of you ever seen cops being racist towards Aboriginal people,” he asked.

“No,” was the collective response.

“Police don’t look at criminals because of the colour of their skin, we see them as criminals,” one female Officer quipped.

“We’re the people putting the handcuffs on.  We’re the focus of their dismay.  The Police are the ones to blame,” a male Officer explained.

“Before people criticize what the Police do they should try to understand that it takes more than just the Police to make a difference,” another Officer suggested.

These didn’t seem to be the answers Mr Sinclair was looking for.  No suggestions of racism, bias or racial profiling.  The Officers preached responsibility, leadership and community.  Their messages were positive and optimistic.

The next question from Mr Sinclair was highly revealing;

“What culture do you feel closer too, the Aboriginal Culture or the Police Culture?”

The question clearly caught the Officers off guard as they struggled to find the correct words to express their feelings.  Then it happened.

“Both, I love both cultures,” one of the female Officers responded.

It was the perfect answer.

The way the question was presented it seemed the Officers were asked to make a distinct choice.  It was as if it had to be one or the other.  It seemed Mr Sinclair was suggesting the two cultures were mutually exclusive and could not co-exist.

As I sat there I thought, that wasn’t a fair question.  This was not Sophie’s choice.  It seemed to me the question was infused with racism and prejudice.

How ironic I thought, Mr Sinclair had come on a fact-finding expedition to uncover racism and prejudice within the Winnipeg Police Service and only managed to expose his own.

Maybe that’s why many months have passed and no story made it to the press.

That’s a shame because there was a story to be told here.

It’s a story about a Police Service evolving to more accurately reflect the demographics of the public it serves.

It’s a story about Aboriginal people who had the courage to break the cycle and create a new reality for themselves and their families.

It’s a story about new traditions, inclusion, hope and change.

If you look deep enough, you’ll see it’s a story that lends a degree of credibility to a philosophical Police Chief’s belief that we can reduce crime through social development.

Unfortunately, it’s a story that didn’t get told.

Cops, Cowboys and Indians, nothing to see here folks.

FACTOIDS:

Winnipeg Police Service Demographics:

Sworn Police Officers

  • 1246 white
  • 158 indigenous
  • 103 visible minorities

Total 1,507

*Source: 2013 WPS Annual Report

17 Comments

  1. When I saw your comment I immediately recognized your name but had to do a little research to refresh my memory.

    In doing so I found an article written by retired WPS Homicide Sergeant, turned part time journalist, Robert “Bobby” Marshall. He did a nice job of analyzing the case and presenting the facts in a dispassionate, objective manner.

    TPI readers can find the story here; http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/a-firestorm-of-political-correctness-116055819.html

    One of the greatest injustices Law Enforcement Officers face is the time it takes for allegations to work their way through the small “j” – justice system. It doesn’t seem to matter what the forum is, criminal, civil, LERA, IIU or Inquiries. Meanwhile, the lives of the affected Officer and his or her family are put on hold while the wheels of justice slowly turn.

    There has to be a better way…

    Thank you for commenting.

  2. Very true…

    Appreciate your comments.

  3. “Objective journalists” are becoming somewhat like unicorns….

    Fortunately, there are still a few around.

    Thank you for commenting.

  4. Great story James. It is nice to hear what can be accomplished through rational dialogue free from anger, hatred, blame, and revenge. Baseless allegations of racism have devastating effects on public confidence in policing and the important work we do trying to build relationships with people from other cultures and belief systems. Such allegations when repeated ad nauseam become the “truth”. These allegations have, and continue to direct judicial outcomes. Outcomes that destroy the lives of good cops trying to do a very difficult job. It happened to me, my family, and my police service. The largest investigation into allegations of racism and police misconduct in Canadian history came down to an allegation that could have been proven false if a critical 7 minute time period would have been evaluated. 10 years later I am still fighting a legal battle. A legal battle to be treated fairly under the law.

  5. Outstanding article from an outstanding individual. Great work Jamie! People are trained to dislike the force. Just like they are trained to dislike certain races or cultures. From the officers I know and have known… They deal on a daily basis mostly with people who are not telling the truth. You don’t need to be a specific race or culture to lie.

  6. Great story. Unfortunately I believe similar stories happen all over. It seems like alot of reporters follow the same SOP. Their interviews begin with bias they want to report and the interview questions are loaded to push that narrative. Its unfortunate we cannot trust our “objective journalists” any longer.

  7. Appreciate your comments Jeff…

    Thank you very much.

  8. Fine sir, you have once again written the good word and from a unique “fly on the wall” perspective. It’s a disgrace that the “reporter” who wanted to conduct the interviews and ask the prejudicial questions, chose not to write about it. Not that he had any, but it speaks to his character as a “journalist”. His biased articles are at the point of laughable, if they weren’t so shameful at his lack of facts. The incident on Stella being the perfect example of assumptions and personal vendettas versus any amount of fact. Retired Sgt, Jewell sir, kudos for being the right man to write the story that the cowardly lion refuses to!!

  9. I’m very flattered, but the credit for that bit of poetry (it took me a bit to recall where I’d heard it) came from Curtis “Shingoose” Jonnie- lyrics from “Reservation Blues”.
    https://misterblack.wikispaces.com/file/view/081-083+reservation+blues.pdf

  10. Appreciate you saying so….thank you for reading!

  11. I love all of your articles. Thx for being an articulate voice of reason for all of us.

  12. You are truly a wordsmith.

    Your comments are always insightful and poetic….

    If I could afford you I’d hire you to write on my site….

  13. I’ve heard descriptions of “both feet in two canoes”. Healthy culture and communities can overlap, and Winnipeg has the diversity and destiny to prove it. I’m concerned about the cultures and subcultures that “thrive” on exclusion…a lonely and limited existence.

  14. I’m guessing he’ll hear about it through the grapevine.

    Thank you for reading.

  15. Very much appreciate your comments Barry.

    Thank you!

  16. Hi, I am Aboriginal, I enjoy reading your articles. The key point in this story is, ” aboriginal people who had the courage to break the cycle ”
    Keep up with your stories and view from the other side..

  17. Bravo! I hope you’ve sent Gordon a copy.

Share your thoughts - we value your opinion!