Manitoba premier defends her criticism of comments made by Winnipeg police chief

Manitoba's premier doubled-down Thursday on her recent criticism of comments made by Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth about violence in the city, but said that doesn’t mean he should step down. 

'This is not the type of activity that we will ever normalize,' says Heather Stefanson

Stefanson speaking into a microphone in a field.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said she is concerned about the message police Chief Danny Smyth's comments sent out, saying it sounds like he is normalizing violent activity in Winnipeg. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Manitoba's premier doubled down Thursday on her recent criticism of comments made by Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth about violence in the city, but said that doesn't mean he should step down. 

"I want Manitoba families to feel safe to go anywhere in our province. And we will work with our front-line police officers again who are out there doing incredible work day in, day out," Premier Heather Stefanson said.

"That was my message the other day."

Stefanson tweeted Tuesday she was "very concerned with the comments" by Smyth on recent crime events. In a later news release that same day, she said she spoke with police union head Moe Sabourin, and "we both agreed the incidents cannot be the new normal in Winnipeg."

Last Friday, in the wake of series of stabbings and robberies at The Forks, Smyth said violence "is not new" and calls for service to that part of the city are in line with past trends and relatively small in the overall picture of crime in Winnipeg.

"What I don't want is to normalize these activities that are taking place in our province. What I want is to send a message to Manitobans that it's safe to get out there," Stefanson said Thursday, one day after police shot a man who allegedly pointed a gun at them in Winnipeg's Osborne Village neighbourhood.

Asked if she has concerns about his ability to lead the police service, Stefanson said "no, I'm concerned about the message that was sent out as a result of his comments normalizing this kind of activity, this violence activity in Winnipeg.

"This is not the type of activity that we will ever normalize."

Stefanson insisted she is not trying to undermine Smyth, impede in the operations of the police service, or try to influence any bargaining attempts by the union which is hoping for more resources around the city.

"I'm not interfering in any of those areas. I think it's inappropriate to interfere in any bargaining area at all. But what is appropriate is to say, and I've said it to our front-line health-care workers … we support you," she said.

Stefanson, who was in British Columbia meeting with the country's other premiers when Smyth made his comments and she tweeted her response, said she has yet to meet with the chief in person.

"We'll have a conversation at some point," she said.

The provincial government will also be releasing a homeless strategy soon and attempting to address other societal issues that are root contributors to crime.

"We've been talking about mental health and addictions and some of the supports that we've been giving around those areas," Stefanson said."These are all the things that we should be talking about in terms of making sure that the violent crime activity does not continue to take place."


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Ian Froese