Jeff Browaty resigns as chair of Winnipeg Police Board
Board had recommended that the councillor should be removed as chair
Coun. Jeff Browaty is resigning from his position as chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, following a call from the board itself for his removal after he questioned the need for all city staff to receive education about the legacy of residential schools.
Browaty released a statement announcing his decision to resign on Wednesday, two days after the board sent Mayor Brian Bowman a letter requesting the chair be turfed.
In a letter dated Feb. 6, the board said Browaty lacks the understanding of Indigenous culture, rights, tradition and history that a chair needs to build strong relationships with the community.
The board recommended removing Browaty "in the best interest of the public," saying the decision was unanimous among its members.
Browaty cited the board's request and his earlier comments in his resignation announcement, saying he meant no harm or offence.
"In these supposed days of openness and transparency, and continued new and growing taxes, I felt that if training is to be paid for by taxpayers, I wanted to fully know where said funds were coming from and how much it was going to cost," Browaty wrote.
"My framing of the issue was less than eloquent, and for that I apologize."
Browaty's announcement prompted Bowman to recant statements he had made on Monday that he wouldn't rule on the matter until he spoke to Browaty in person.
Bowman issued a news release later Wednesday, confirming the resignation and calling the concerns raised by the police board "unprecedented and serious."
"My preference was to speak directly to Coun. Browaty in person upon his return about the concerns raised and the unanimous recommendation brought forward to me," Bowman's statement reads in part.
"In light of Coun. Browaty's decision to resign, I will now turn my attention towards identifying a new chair of the Winnipeg Police Board."
December comments prompt call for removal
The call for Browaty's resignation came as a response to comments the councillor made in December, criticizing the city's plan to mandate a half-day training session on residential schools for all city employees as part of Winnipeg's efforts to implement the 94 recommendations of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
On Dec. 14, Browaty told council he didn't like the idea of taking staff away from their jobs for the training, saying he supported raising the issue of residential schools, "but where it actually incurs expense, I have to draw the line."
"Winnipeg already has an absolutely stunning Canadian Museum for Human Rights," Browaty said on the floor of council. "[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."
Browaty quickly backpedalled and apologized for his comments, saying he would take the training himself in 2017. He did not back down from criticisms that the plan is not open and transparent, arguing that the cost of the classes remains unknown.
The comments prompted Bowman and the Mayor's Indigenous Advisory council to discuss Browaty's future as chair. The group advised Bowman to allow Browaty to remain in the position.
But following a late December meeting between Browaty and elders, the Indigenous Council on Policing and Crime Prevention told the police board it didn't feel Browaty should continue to serve as chair, and the board upheld the request in its letter to Bowman on Monday.
Indigenous advisory council pleased with resignation
Browaty describes the December meeting with council and elders as "very positive" in his statement, but the co-chair of the council, Shauna Fontaine, said she didn't feel the same way.
Coming out of the meeting and in light of his comments, Fontaine said the council didn't feel Browaty had the education, training or awareness of Indigenous issues necessary for his role on the police board.
"The Winnipeg Police Board has been trying to bridge this gap and work with the Indigenous community through creating this council, so we need to ensure that those that are on there, even if they don't have that understanding, that they're willing to work together," she said.
"But I think he had his own personal barriers that prevented him from wanting to be able to work in that capacity with us."
Fontaine said the council is pleased with Browaty's decision to step down.
Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie responded to a CBC News request for comment on the issue, saying he hasn't lost respect for Browaty as a representative of his constituents.
"People need to know that at no time has anyone thought of Councillor Browaty as a racist. I continue to have respect for Councillor Browaty's honesty and efforts in representing his ward residents," Eadie wrote in an email.
"Unfortunately, his perspective on resolving Indigenous issues are equal to the approach for all Canadians and newcomers. My considerations regarding this matter are based on the continued relevancy and work of the Winnipeg Police Board."
With files from Aidan Geary, Bartley Kives