How the murder of Tina Fontaine galvanized Bear Clan Patrol's James Favel
*This is a special edition of The Current from Winnipeg where the show hosted a public forum on the issue of policing when it comes to missing and murdered Indigenous women.*
In 2014, the discovery of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine's body in Winnipeg's Red River galvanized a nation around the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. It was clear to James Favel the community needed to take action to make their community safer so he created the Bear Clan Patrol.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
AMT: Tell us a bit of what we would see if we went out on patrol with you.
James Favel: We're averaging between 20 and 25 members per patrol, five nights a week. We're out there covering as much ground as we can. We're averaging between nine and 12 km per evening. We're out there shaking hands and smiling at people passing out food and other necessities. One of the things that's overlooked in our community a lot is we have a lot of homeless people. They don't have access to toilet paper so it's one of the things that we're providing when we're out.
We're out there trying to you know guide people to a better life.- James Favel, founder of Bear Clan Patrol
AMT: So you're doing lots of things, you're not just patrolling, you're just being out there. What's the point of that?
JF: We're trying to attend to the sociological issues of our community, the non-policing issues. We're out there trying to you know guide people to a better life.
AMT: There was something about the death of Tina Fontaine that galvanized you. What was it?
JF: Well it was the disrespect to her person was the last straw for me and my family and my community. And I was only echoing the same concerns and the same cries that my community had been echoing or screaming out at the top of their lungs for a decade or more. You know they just heard me that day.
AMT: Is it true when you sometimes find people who need help and they've got nowhere to go you bring them over to your mom's house?
JF: Yes ma'am.
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AMT: What's your relationship like with the police?
JF: It's fantastic at this point. I've been active in my community for about 10 years.
AMT: Are there times when you come across something where you think the police need to be involved and you can call them?
JF: Absolutely. That's another part of the change that we've experienced in the past. We had no real outlet. And now we have direct access to this sexual exploitation unit. We have direct access to the missing persons unit. I can call in and we get support when we need it.
AMT: And what does that look like? The support that you get. Give me a scenario.
JF: When I see johns interact with one of our street-involved women I can take the plate down and send it to detective and the John, or the registered owner of the vehicle will get a phone call, and he's asked to come and explain himself … or the police will go out to visit him. And that's not something we had in the past.
AMT: How many of you are involved in the patrol?
JF: We have since mid-August received an extra 207 volunteers I think we're up to about 350 in total now.
"For me, I wanted to do something that would provide the safety that would be allow [my daughter] to be home with us again.- James Favel, founder of Bear Clan Patrol
AMT: Do you have your own kids?
JF: I am a grandfather
AMT: And so have your own fears for your own children informed the kind of work you do now?
JF: There was one point when my daughter left home for two years because she was sick and tired of constantly being badgered when she went to the bus stop by johns. And for me I wanted to do something that would provide the safety that would allow her to be home with us again.
AMT: It's really important to hear what you're doing. Thank you for your work.
Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.
Our Winnipeg public forum was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch, Cathy Simon, Kathleen Goldhar and Winnipeg network producer Suzanne Dufresne.