Bear Clan patrols the streets to protect the most vulnerable

The murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine sparked the return of a volunteer patrol group. The Bear Clan Patrol was first formed in Winnipeg's North End in 1992. After several years the volunteer safety group went on hiatus. But now, with James Favel in the lead, they have returned to the streets - stronger than ever.

Bear Clan Patrol - Protectors of Winnipeg's North End


5 years ago
The Bear Clan Patrol was first formed in Winnipeg's North End in 1992. After several years the volunteer safety group went on hiatus. But in July 2015 they returned to patrol the streets again. 1:57

The murder of a young teenage girl drove James Favel to the streets.

In August of 2014, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was reported missing from foster care. Ten days later her body was pulled from Winnipeg's Red River.

"For me and my wife, that was the last straw," Favel said. 

He had been the chair of the Dufferin Residents Association for five years, a group that runs programs to involve and improve his North End neighbourhood.

Winnipeg activist James Favel revived the Bear Clan patrol after the murder of Tina Fontaine in August 2014.
Favel said while he loves the work he does, he needed to do something more. He said he was looking for something that could be a symbol of strength and protection, something with a little more teeth. So he and a small group of volunteers brought back The Bear Clan Patrol.

"We are a community safety patrol, it's just people taking care of people. Our mandate is to to take care of our elders, our women, our children, vulnerable members of the community."

The Bear Clan was first formed in Winnipeg's North End in 1992 and after several years the volunteer safety group went on hiatus. But now, with Favel in the lead, it has returned to the streets — stronger than ever.

"In the beginning I think people thought we were nuts and they kind of stayed away from us," Favel said, smiling. He added that now people greet them, thank them and honk horns as they drive by.

What started out with a few members last July has grown into dozens of volunteers walking the streets every weekend.

"Now … I can't go anywhere without people congratulating us on the good things that they are seeing from us."

Expands patrol to include the missing

The group's mandate has also grown to include helping in the search for the missing. The Bear Clan has taken part in several high-profile cases in Manitoba, including recent searches for 17-year-old Cooper Nemeth and two-year-old Chase Martens.

They also helped in the search for two missing teenage girls in Kenora, Ontario, 16-year-old Delaine Copenace and 14-year-old Azraya Kokopenace.

In fact, it was Darryl Contois — a Bear Clan member and trained search and rescue volunteer —  who found Kokopenace's body.

"That was an exceptional event for sure," recalled Favel. "He looked to the sky and saw an eagle doing tight circles over an area and that led him to her, I mean it gives me shivers when he told that story."

Favel said even though it was a tragedy, it also brought closure to a family missing a loved one.

"It's a huge benefit when you can bring that kind of closure that quickly for that young woman," he said. "We have some good out of it."

The 48-year-old community volunteer said the Bear Clan will keep going out on the streets, searching and keeping an eye on things for as long as they are called.

"This is my community. I live, work and volunteer right here," stressed Favel. "I want everybody to have a smile on their face and live better and feel better about themselves."