Winnipeg Police Board indigenous council members unveiled

At least one member of the Winnipeg Police Board says a shift in societal attitudes is needed to address root issues when it comes to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, as the board named 16 people to a new council aimed at improving relations between police and aboriginal people.

Police officials speak to board about high number of missing persons in CFS care

Friday's meeting of the Winnipeg Police Board was packed with onlookers interested in learning more about the number of children in CFS care who go missing. (Caroline Barghout/CBC)

At least one member of the Winnipeg Police Board says a shift in societal attitudes is needed to address root issues when it comes to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Leslie Spillett, a member of the police board, said there are many social issues that lead indigenous women to work the streets, and yet they are somehow blamed for their circumstances.

Without a shift in people's attitudes, the root of the problem will never be addressed, Spillett said.

"Why do men get up in the morning and think on their way to work that they're going to buy an aboriginal woman, sometimes a child? Why?" she said.

"Why are our women being targeted as prostituted women?"

This comes just as the board named 16 people to a new council aimed at improving relations between police and the city's aboriginal population.

The Indigenous Council on Policing and Crime Prevention, which was unveiled on Friday, includes community leaders, elders, youth, advocates and family members of missing and murdered women.

The council aims to provide information, knowledge and advice to the police board, which set objectives and policies for the Winnipeg Police Service, on indigenous people's safety concerns and priorities.

The 14 council members include:

  • Bernadette Smith, co-founder of the Drag the Red initiative, which has volunteers searching the Red River for evidence related to any missing and murdered indigenous women cases.
  • Cora Morgan, the new family advocate with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
  • Willie Starr, whose sister, Jennifer Catcheway, has been missing since 2008.
  • Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg.
  • Shauna Fontaine, violence prevention and safety co-ordinator with the Southern Chiefs Organization.
  • Kyle Mason, executive director of the North End Family Centre.
  • Geraldine Shingoose, a residential school survivor and a community leader with more than 25 years of expeience in social work.

Two alternates were also named to the committee.

"I'm honoured that such an outstanding group of local indigenous people has agreed to advise the board on how the priorities we set for the Winnipeg Police Service can better reflect the needs and values of our indigenous communities," Coun. Scott Gillingham, who chairs the police board, stated in a news release Friday.

"Our board is looking forward to working with and learning from this council."

Working on preventative, intervention measures

The announcement came as police Chief Devon Clunis, deputy chief Danny Smyth and other top police officials appeared before the board on Friday morning to discuss the service's second-quarter update report.

The report includes a section discussing the safety and protection of indigenous women that says no new investigations related to missing and murdered indigenous women were opened between April and June of this year.

Smyth said officers have been working on preventative measures.

"What we've tried to do is expand that and enhance that to include some preventative and some intervention opportunities, as well as some community engagement," he said.

"We're really trying to approach this very holistically so that it's not just enforcement and investigation, also includes intervention and prevention."

The police service's counter exploitation unit identified seven new sex trade workers and made "intervention contacts" in 91 occasions between April and June.

Five men were arrested during that period and police conducted six sexual exploitation investigations.

The report is the second to be released since the police board asked the force for quarterly reports on missing and murdered indigenous women last year.

Missing kids in CFS care also discussed

The latest report also states that officers deal with an average of about 550 missing persons reports a month. Of that number, 82.6 per cent involve kids in government care and 71 per cent are female.

Habitual and chronic runaways account for 68 per cent of missing persons cases. The report noted that 22 people had 15 or more missing persons incidents in the second quarter of this year, accounting for 20 per cent of the total number of cases.

Another police report prepared for the police board meeting shows the top 19 addresses associated with missing persons reports are Child and Family Services (CFS) facilities.

Smyth told the board on Friday that the majority of missing persons cases consists of short-term chronic missing persons, primarily runaways from CFS group homes.

Police officials also noted that officers are engaged in about 19 incidents a day involving children and youth in CFS care.

Smyth said police check areas where missing children and youth may go. He added that in most cases, they return on their own either later in the day or the next day.

Clunis said most of the issues brought up by the police board are societal issues, not policing issues, but he agreed that the community as a whole needs to do more to address them.

During the meeting, Gillingham asked officials how often police talk about issues with CFS authorities.

Smyth said police work on a daily basis with StreetReach, a provincial government unit that works with children and youth who are at high risk of being victimized through the sex trade.

He added that police dedicate a lot of resources toward finding missing children because it's important to find them and bring them back safely.

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