FIDO – Forget It, Drive On

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Brian Giesbrecht

Winnipeg’s Bear Clan has expelled its Thunder Bay sister group. While the mainly Indigenous volunteer group works closely with police, the collaborative relationship has broken down in Thunder Bay. 

The Thunder Bay chapter began in 2016 – inspired by the success of Winnipeg’s Bear Clan, initially working well in partnership with the police. But, that changed when a more activist leader took over. Then came an unsubstantiated claim of an Indigenous man being given a “starlight tour” by Thunder Bay police around the time a report largely blaming the city’s underclass problem on police racism came out. 

When the Thunder Bay Bear Clan members began posting provocative messages on Facebook accusing police of racism, the Winnipeg parent group revoked the charter of the Thunder Bay group. A new Thunder Bay group now carries on under a different name, with the unhealthy philosophy that the police are their enemy.

A claim that police conduct “starlight tours” is racially-loaded. Such a claim was made in the Saskatoon freezing death of Neil Stonechild. What followed was a highly publicized inquiry with police officers being the natural scapegoat. Claims of racism are easily made, but much harder to refute. Whether or not the claim was true in the Stonechild death is the subject of a fascinating book, When Police Become Prey by investigative journalist Candice Maclean.

Maclean’s detailed book makes a strong case that an overreaching inquiry – and a community too eager to show that it was not racist – sacrificed innocent police officers by firing them and ruining their reputations. (Winnipeggers might remember Winnipeg being labelled “Canada’s most racist city” and the feverish attempts to disprove that label).

Reality is that any prairie town or city could face that racist claim. Also fact is that Indian reserves are Canada’s tragic failure. Too many reserve residents, having come to the cities in search of a better life, have not done well. The result: a large Indigenous underclass, with numerous problems exacerbated by the introduction of new drugs into the mix.

Truth is, there is no immediate solution. Governments and community organizations, like Winnipeg’s Bear Clan, can do what they can, but, ultimately, only Indigenous individuals and families can lift themselves up. This is where FIDO comes in – “Forget It, Drive On”.   

It can happen when police are placed in a no-win situation. In too many encounters, the police deal with intoxicated, belligerent people with the chance of a bad outcome and racism accusations. The temptation is to do as little as possible – whether that means not intervening when a person is making off with stolen liquor or committing another non-violent crime. Subsequent simplistic reports that fixate on racism only make matters worse.

The police should never be the scapegoats for problems they didn’t cause. When a racism accusation is made it should be thoroughly investigated; but where such claims are shown to be groundless, the police should be actively supported. 

Although racists can be found everywhere, the vast majority of police officers and citizens are thoughtful and decent. With Winnipeg’s Bear Clan, we should support them as they carry out their difficult jobs.