Browaty's spot as police board chair safe for now, Bowman says
Recommendation to remove councillor is unanimous and 'in the best interest of the public,' board says
The Winnipeg Police Board is requesting Coun. Jeff Browaty be turfed as board chair, but Mayor Brian Bowman is going to wait to make a ruling on the matter until he has a chance to talk with the North Kildonan councillor.
"Coun. Browaty is out of the country right now, and as a matter of courtesy and respect for the councillor I'd like an opportunity to sit down and speak directly with him regarding this matter before making any decision," Bowman told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
In a letter to Bowman, dated Feb. 6, the board said it feels the relationship between its Indigenous Council on Policing and Crime Prevention and Browaty "is not conducive to a good working relationship." The recommendation to remove Browaty is unanimous and "in the best interest of the public," the letter says.
"I cannot underscore enough the significance and seriousness of this matter," Bowman said. "I am taking the recommendation very seriously and I will be taking time to process and to consider the unanimous recommendation that's been brought forward."
Board vice-chair Barry Tuckett told CBC News the letter does something "absolutely unprecedented," and Bowman agreed.
"I don't know if any board has done that before but certainly this board hasn't done it before," Tuckett said. "It's not something we relish and it's not something we took lightly."
The letter, written and signed by Tuckett, notes Bowman has been quite clear on the need for all city councillors and city officials to have an informed understanding of the perspectives of Winnipeg's Indigenous community.
Browaty has been under heat since Dec. 14, 2016, when he questioned the need for all city staff to receive education about the legacy of residential schools.
"Winnipeg already has an absolutely stunning Canadian Museum for Human Rights," he said on the floor of council at the time. "[Paying] employees overtime to attend this type of training, taking them away from cutting grass and providing the services we count on, I don't think that that is our position."
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Browaty quickly apologized but his comments led Bowman and a body called the Mayor's Indigenous Advisory Council to ponder the North Kildonan councillor's future as chair of the police board, which supports the city's reconciliation efforts and works with Winnipeg's Indigenous community.
'They weren't satisfied'
Bowman then requested direction from the police board, which met to consider the matter on Feb. 3, discussing the concerns with Browaty. The board also considered a resolution from the Indigenous council that said while Browaty may have strong skills in various areas, he does not exemplify the needs of the Indigenous community in Winnipeg.
"Jeff met with the Indigenous council and they weren't satisfied. And I have to say that the board also feel that he has some things to learn — he doesn't have sufficient understanding," Tuckett said to CBC.
Browaty also met with the board's Indigenous council, which came to the same conclusion about him.
"He spoke about the three p's of government. I believe it was 'policing, pavement and potholes.' And our council had met and they said, 'What about people?'" said Shauna Fontaine, co-chair of the Indigenous Council on Policing and Crime Prevention.
"I think basically their position is that he does not have that understanding of the culture, its rights, tradition and history. And those are what's necessary. They impact on the relationship with the police services," Tuckett added.
The liaison committee serves as the board's point of contact for the Indigenous council and advises the board on how to consider and implement the council's advice.
I think basically their position is that he does not have that understanding of the culture, its rights, tradition and history. And those are what's necessary. They impact on the relationship with the police services.- Police board vice-chair Barry Tuckett
In its letter to Bowman, the police board says Browaty has indicated a willingness to keep an open mind and learn about the unique circumstances and sensitivities of Winnipeg's Indigenous community.
However, Tuckett said the board feels its chair must grasp that knowledge now.
"We really need to get the trust of the community now and we have to go forward. And we need the person that's leading this board to have the knowledge and understanding and empathy for this community," he said.
Willing to resign over issue
That sentiment was echoed in the letter, which says "it is too important and too urgent to pause while a climate of trust is established between Coun. Browaty and the board's Indigenous council, if indeed it can be established."
Bowman said the council further stated it feels "quite strongly" that Browaty should be replaced.
"They indicated that many members were willing to resign from the advisory council," Bowman said.
"If the mayor doesn't take the concerns of the advisory council, then that's something that the mayor has to be prepared for … then you're not really working towards reconciliation with the council," said Fontaine.
If Browaty continues in his capacity as board chair, it will adversely affect the entire board's relationship with the Indigenous council, the letter adds.
The board feels he is "not able to adequately and effectively carry out the critical role of serving as a liaison between the community, particularly Winnipeg's Indigenous communities, and the Winnipeg Police Service."
When reached by CBC, Browaty said he would release his response to the police board's unanimous recommendation to remove him later this afternoon.
With files from Erin Brohman