Police board mandate letter not a request for more oversight power: Winnipeg mayor

Winnipeg’s mayor has directed city council’s new police board chair to request Manitoba’s justice minister consider changes to the legislation that directs policing in the province, but stopped short of saying he wants the board to have more teeth.

In Mayor Brian Bowman’s June 18 mandate letter to Coun. Markus Chambers, he requested Chambers work with the members of the Winnipeg Police Board and Winnipeg police to prepare a letter for Justice Minister Cliff Cullen requesting changes to the provincial Police Services Act that “will provide for increased board effectiveness including improved civilian governance and police accountability.”

The mandate requests the letter to Cullen be prepared within 60 days.

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However, Bowman said he was not directing the Winnipeg Police Board to request more power over the Winnipeg Police Service when pressed by reporters at a press briefing Thursday.

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“The short answer is no, the directive is that that dialogue occur — I’m not prescribing for the police board chair or the police board, what their feedback might be,” Bowman said.

“I just think it would be useful information for the minister of justice to have the insights and the inputs of the Winnipeg Police Board.”

The mayor’s directive comes during intense scrutiny of police accountability and use of force in Canada and in the United States amid widespread protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old U.S. Black man, in police custody May 25.

Bystander video shows Minneapolis, Minn., police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck, ignoring Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe” until he eventually stopped moving. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder.

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Bowman would not say whether he thinks the Police Services Act should be changed to give the board more power despite being asked directly.

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“What I will say at a high level is … the more that … there can be real and perceived trust and confidence by … our community in the oversight and the accountability of the police, the better it is for everyone in terms of the administration of justice,” Bowman said.

The province is conducting a mandated five-year review of the Police Services Act, the justice ministry has said previously.

“It is in hindsight extremely timely,” Bowman said of the review.

“There’s an opportunity for us to work together with the provincial government and for the police board to provide the minister of justice with their insights and input.”

Chambers was appointed to lead the Winnipeg Police Board following former chair Coun. Kevin Klein’s resignation June 12.

Chambers said he doesn’t want the board to direct police operations, but wants more community input on policing in Winnipeg.

“It is about looking at structural changes to the role the board has with regards to the Police Services Act and having a greater impact on how we work with the police service,” Chambers said of Bowman’s mandate letter in a phone interview.

“Right now, the big cry is ‘defund the police’ — we want to be a better voice and advocate for the community where there are concerns around policing that need to be addressed,” Chambers said.

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Chambers pointed to proactive and community policing models.

“The majority of calls for service right now based on what we’ve seen and heard, is that it’s related to calls that don’t necessarily require a gun and a badge response,” the board chair said.

“Dealing with a person, an intoxicated person, or mental health, or a homeless individual … these are roles … that are more social in nature and require maybe a different agency to attend to.”

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