Brandon, Selkirk eye Bear Clan Patrol groups as movement grows

Groups in two Manitoba cities are looking into starting their own Bear Clan Patrol groups as the movement spreads beyond Winnipeg's Perimeter Highway.

Meeting to organize Brandon group will take place Jan. 19 at the Friendship Centre

Brandon and Selkirk are looking at starting their own Bear Clan Patrol programs, similar to Winnipeg's group. (The Canadian Press)

Groups in two Manitoba cities are looking into starting their own Bear Clan Patrol groups as the movement spreads beyond Winnipeg's Perimeter Highway.

James Favel, executive director of Winnipeg's Bear Clan, said he's been working fairly closely with community groups in Brandon since last summer to start a patrol group in the Wheat City after first being contacted last winter. 

"They [Brandon] have very many things in common with the issues we're having here [in Winnipeg], just on a smaller scale," Favel told CBC News on Thursday. "Thankfully they have people there that are willing to deal with it."

In Winnipeg, the grassroots group's volunteers walk the streets after dark, providing a presence that promotes safety, conflict resolution and crime prevention while looking out for the city's most vulnerable. They have also organized searches for numerous missing people.

Favel said the main drive to start a group in Brandon has been violence in the city. Four shootings occurred in the span of a month in the city of about 50,000 last fall. A string of sexual assaults in the downtown core was also reported in 2016. 

Favel said drugs are another problem organizers have identified in Brandon. 

"It's good to know that our project, our program is strong," Favel said. "What's happening right now is an answer to a call out from many communities for a long time."

The Brandon Friendship Centre has organized a meeting for Jan. 19 to establish a women's council, the first step in forming a Bear Clan group, Favel said.

The Friendship Centre put a call out for potential volunteers on Facebook and nearly two dozen have already expressed interest in volunteering, a spokesperson at the centre told CBC News.

Bear Clan welcomed by organizations 

Brandy Robertson is the executive director of the Women's Resource Centre in downtown Brandon. She said she welcomes another group that will keep its eyes and ears on the city.

"I think the Bear Clan is going to be a really great initiative in the city," she said. 

Robertson said she will be attending the organizing meeting later this month and aims to get the resource centre involved in some way.

Robertson spoke out in September after a string of sexual assaults were reported in Brandon's downtown. She said while no serious incidents have come to light since, it doesn't mean they aren't still happening — all the more reason, she said, to add more eyes and ears to city streets.

"I think just in general, the police do what they can, but we probably need more officers doing more patrols," she said.

Favel said he is also in talks with a group of people in Selkirk who want to form a group in that city. He also got a call last week from Nanaimo, B.C.

Winnipeg's Bear Clan relaunched in July 2015 in the city's North End and now has nearly 400 volunteers. Eighteen other communities, in Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta and soon in British Columbia, have similar groups operating.

Members of the patrol travelled outside of the city in March 2016 to join the search for three-year-old Chase Martens, who disappeared from his home near Austin, Man., only to be found dead in a creek days later. 

Favel said he's not surprised other communities want their own Bear Clan groups.

"We are the boots on the ground, we are the direct action that they're talking about," he said. "It's no surprise to me that more communities want to see that." 

with files from CBC's Jill Coubrough