Advocate for reducing police funding enters Daniel McIntyre ward race

Winnipeg's newest council candidate was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, hopes to become the city's first Muslim elected official and wants to reduce spending on the Winnipeg Police Service.

Omar Kinnarath, who says he's a police abolitionist, seeks to unseat 2-term Winnipeg Coun. Cindy Gilroy

Man poses in front of city hall building.
Omar Kinnarath says he's running to unseat Coun. Cindy Gilroy in the Daniel McIntyre ward because he claims she's unresponsive to constituents. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Winnipeg's newest council candidate was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, hopes to become the city's first Muslim elected official and wants to reduce spending on the Winnipeg Police Service.

Omar Kinnarath registered his campaign on Monday to unseat two-term Coun. Cindy Gilroy this fall in the inner-city Daniel McIntyre ward.

The 43-year-old community organizer said if he's elected on Oct. 26, he'd like to see the city shave 10 per cent off the Winnipeg Police Service's $320-million annual operating budget.

Such a move, he said, would be a step toward a long-term goal of defunding the police.

"I will say that I am an abolitionist. I believe in a future without policing, but before we get there, we need to eliminate poverty, we need to eliminate housing shortages and we need to eliminate crime," Kinnarath said at city hall after he registered his campaign.

"We have to look at abolition as a process, rather than something that's going to come immediately."

Kinnarath said the city has to move more money into crime prevention and poverty reduction.

Gilroy, whom he's trying to unseat, said council has been trying to reduce poverty as well as police spending, and questioned how Kinnarath could achieve these goals more effectively than councillors who are already working toward the same ends.

"I don't know how he's going to do that. These are very complicated issues, but I'm looking forward to further debate," Gilroy said Monday in an interview.

She said she welcomed the presence of a challenger so Daniel McIntyre can be assured of a more lively conversation this election.

Kinnarath, however, said one of the main reasons he is running is Gilroy herself, whom he accused of failing to respond to queries from constituents.

"We need a councillor to be reachable," he said. "We're in the 21st century, right? A big emphasis has to be on on connecting folks, whether it's through social media or whether it's through the ward office."

Gilroy said Kinnarath is mistaken about how she communicates with residents of her ward.

"That's absolutely just not true," she said. "We are responding. We're a very busy office. We have one of the highest call volumes in the city and and we have a good record of getting back to people."

Coun. Cindy Gilroy has represented Daniel McIntyre since 2014. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Kinnarath said he's aware of how difficult it is to unseat incumbent candidates in Winnipeg. In the last civic election, in 2018, the only incumbent to suffer a defeat was Shawn Dobson, whose former St. Charles ward was dissolved. He was forced to run in St. James against another incumbent, Scott Gillingham. 

Kinnarath nonetheless insisted he is better known in his ward than Gilroy and more active as well.

"I live in the West End and grew up in the West End," he said, explaining his parents were refugees from Pakistan and Laos.

"If anyone is to be the city councilor for Daniel McIntyre, they need to be the most vocal, they need to be the most active, and they need to be the most organized, because you're not only representing the ward, you have to represent the poor and working class people of this city."


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