Devon Clunis solidified his place in history in 2012 when he became the first Black chief of police in Canadian history. Clunis immigrated from Jamaica with his family in 1975 at age 11 and he began his career in law enforcement with the Winnipeg Police Service in 1987.
Clunis occupied several roles and moved up in ranks from patrol to community relations and then chaplain to the superintendent. He served as chief of the Winnipeg Police from 2012 to 2016. Before 2012, Winnipeg was well known across the country for some of the highest amounts of crime and gang affiliation per capita in Canada. Clunis worked internally with his officers to redefine their roles, reconstruct their purpose, and re-invent their systems to be more inclusive through a human and compassionate and value-based approach.
Devon and his wife Pearlene co-authored The Little Boy from Jamaica: A Canadian History Story was published in 2017 and chronicles Devon’s journey becoming the first Black Chief of Police in Canadian history. The main message in the story is that he could not have succeeded without the many difference-makers in his life, starting with his grade six teacher, Miss Hanna.
Devon and Pearlene’s second book; The Little Girl from Osoyoos: A Diversity and Inclusion Story, chronicles my journey as a young German Canadian child who saw the beauty of diversity as my parent’s welcomed visitors from around the world to our home. It was a profound realization that many Newcomers are experiencing diversity for the first time when they arrive in Canada.
For a Transcript - click here.
The Little Boy from Jamacia: A Canadian History Story
The Little Girl from Osoyoos: A Diversity and Inclusion Story
Devon's Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/clunisconsulting/
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:00:00
This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One territory, the traditional territory of the inishinaabe CRE, Oji, Cree, Dakota and the Denne peoples, and on the homeland of the Maiti nation.
This is Humans on Rights, a podcast advocating for the education of human rights. Here's your host, Stuart Murray.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:00:00
The city of Winnipeg can be the example of how you can do community well. That's a quote from Devon Clunis, and Devon is my guest today, and I'm going to do a quick intro before we get into a conversation with him. But listeners should know that devon Clunis was raised in Harmonyvale, Jamaica. He immigrated to Canada at the age of eleven, and in Winnipeg, the city in which his family settled, devon endured a significant cultural transition. He experienced the discomforts associated with poverty and marginalization, and it was through the care and consideration of invested teachers and coaches that he was able to lift out of his situation and secure himself for the future he dreamed possible. Dobon solidified his place in history in 2012, when he became the first Black Chief of Police in Canadian history. He began his career in law enforcement within Winnipeg police services in 1987. He occupied several roles and moved up in the ranks, from patrol to community relations, and then chaplain to the superintendent. He served as Winnipeg Chief of Police from 2012 to 2016. And it's interesting to note that before 2012, winnipeg was well known across the country for some of the highest amounts of crime and gang affiliation per capita. In Canada, devon worked internally with his officers to redefine the roles, reconstruct their purposes, reinvent their systems to be more inclusive through a human and compassionate and value based approach. And he basically took these outcomes that were produced and were defined as, quote, nothing short of a miracle by Mcclain's Magazine in 2016. Now, Devon, you're also an author with your wife, Perlene. You've written the little boy from Jamaica. So lots to cover in a conversation with a man who has dreamed and has seen that dream become reality. Devon. Welcome to humans on rights.
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:02:33
Thank you so much for an invitation, and such a pleasure to be here with you. Stewart and as I listen to the introduction, and certainly brings back a lot of very warm memories, very thoughtful reflections on what you have to say. So thank you for this opportunity.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:02:45
Yeah. Devon, let's just kind of jump into the early days. You arrived with your family from Jamaica. What do you recall as your first sort of first impressions of arriving in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:02:58
Well, it's very easy to tell you what my first impressions were in 1975, when you arrived in the country. Back then, you would get off on the tarmac, right? And it was September 15. And I remember feeling that sensation for the very first time. And even though it was September, which for the average Canadian, it's nice weather for myself and my sister was like, what is that sensation? Unfortunately, my mother, who was here, was wise enough to have fake winter colds for us. So that was my first impression. But then I remember we lived on Salk Avenue. And I remember the following morning, because we arrived in the evening, getting up and walking down along South Kirk Avenue, which, as you know, it's not very large building, but from where I was coming from, with no electricity, running water, I was just walking up and looking in awe at this place where I was. And then two days later, I'm in a classroom in Winnipeg and just in total shock. I remember the first thing I recognized when I walked in was that not a single soul looked like the bond soonness and again, for a little child, that's a major transition culturally and in every way that you can imagine. Right. Totally reshifting of the way that you saw the world. So it was quite a significant transition. And as I think back on that now, I thought the one thing we failed to do back then was just to have a bit of an orientation climatization for somebody who's going through an experience like that, particularly a child. So the first year was a bit of a challenge, a struggle.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:04:23
And so, Devon, you said that your mother was here in advance of you arriving, correct?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:04:29
Many, and it's not only my mother, but many from the Caribbean and elsewhere, I'm certain, had to leave their families while they went ahead try to get their citizenship. And my mother would tell us a story that she left Jamaica 1973. I was raised by my grandparents for the first almost twelve years of my life. My mother arrived in Winnipeg and worked for a more affluent family. She was their homemaker. And when the visa ran out, she was packing up to come back to Jamaica. And again, you talk about the kindness of individuals. And the family said to her, dorothy, when are you coming back? And my mother told them, well, I can't, I don't have a sponsor. And right there at that moment, that family sponsored my mother and that's how she became a citizen. I was able to bring us over, and I can tell you to consider this later on, but I had a chance to meet the wife of the family that sponsored my mom. What an incredible experience that was for me.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:05:22
Yeah, I bet. And Devon, when you found that you and your sister were at that point in Jamaica and said, hey, yison, we're going to get on an airplane and we're going to fly to Winnipeg, how did you feel about that?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:05:35
In a child's mind, for me was exciting because again, I grew up in an area, no electricity, running water. I would often see the airplanes flying overhead and I would look up and imagine, maybe one day I'll get to be in an airplane. And so it was kind of a bit of an excitement for a child. And again, I had never lived with my mom. My grandparents raised me since I was three months old to almost twelve. And the only way I knew my mom was they had a picture of her on the wall. And they would say that's your mom, she sends money to take care of you. So there was just a little bit of excitement that I would now be going to live with my mom, but also apprehension because she really was a total stranger to me. And I was leaving everything that I knew. All my foundation was essentially being ripped hard. Right. So there was this excitement, fear, angst, but this excitement about being in this new country, Canada, right?
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:06:27
And then, so you get a chance to you and your sister, you get a chance to meet with your mother. You're now new to Winnipeg, you're on Selker Avenue, you're going to school. But when you step back, devon, you've said this a couple of times, but I think it's important that where you lived in Jamaica, no running water, no electricity. So you come to a place like Winnipeg and those things are just everywhere. It must have been almost overwhelming to sort of experience that things that those of us that were raised in this country take for granted.
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:06:57
Oh, absolutely. And you talked about the little boy from Jamaica, and I wrote in the book that, yes, I'm now in a country where I was happy for electricity, running water, all of these things that you just take for granted every day. And many times I would speak to young Canadians and even older Canadians who sometimes would complain about the country. And I said, you know, I think what would really be great for this country is every young person had an opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in a third so called third world country and just experience what is normal for individuals like me coming from Jamaica. And what you have here, I think because people are born into it, they take it for granted. Very much so. And I understand that. But I think when you have that sense of appreciation, because they recognize where you could be. Like, we grew up in the North End, right. We lived in government housing, but I was still happy. And the thing that I was happiest the most about, and my mom always stressed this, was that we have opportunity here. So where we were when I was growing up, that didn't need to be the destination. It was just part of the journey. And so we always had it in our minds, I guess, we're living in government housing, what people call really deeply socioeconomically challenged situations, but we knew that there was hope for the future. So I really want Canadians and Winnipeg girls to recognize that situation that we're in right now. Doesn't have to be the destination because there really truly is open. I have to tell you, one of the saddest things for me is when I see immigrants squander that hope. That was our life, that could have been. And I know what the potential is. I'm not special. Everyone has the same opportunity. We're really doing arrive in this country.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:08:36
And the notion that, as you say, you went to school and you didn't see a lot of people that looked like Devon Clunes, when did you start to realize that? I mean, there were obviously relatives and others from Jamaica, from the Caribbean, because I know there's a great strong cultural I mean, we just came through Black History Month, which Black History manitoba is a very strong organization, and you and I had a chance to chat with the new mayor with the launch at City Hall. But when did you get a chance as a younger person to get a sense that there were not a lot of people at this point that looked like Devon Clunes?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:09:12
Yeah, it really didn't take very long. As I said, arriving in that first classroom, and then every time we'd be out in public, you would look around and you wouldn't see anyone else who looked like you. Sometimes I've been walking with and I won't necessarily like the term white people or black people, I would say my friends who are lighter shades than myself, and we're walking along and we would see somebody we would consider to be black and we would just nod at one another. And then my friends would say, do you know that person? And I said no. Why do you do that? There's not a lot of us here. And it's just that sense. Oh, there's another one. It really struck me when I realized in Winnipeg that I was walking along the streets right now and I didn't have to keep nodding because there were just so many black people who look like me. I'd get a headache if I was acknowledging each and every single one. And that's a good feeling, actually. It's not a bad thing. It was just that slow transition to the place we are but in school. Very much so. I was made aware my first year kids were calling us the infamous N word, and I had no idea what it meant. Stewart at the time, and when I did discover what it meant, a fight ensued. We typically see a fight in suit, in policing, but I remember up that fight. My teacher sat me down and we had a really good conversation and I was still called up word afterwards, but there were no longer any fights because I got this real deep sense of who I was as a black person, particularly after watching the miniseries Roots. I was in junior high at the time, and I watched that miniseries about the slave trade, and I came out of that with just this strong sense that, hey, if my people can go through that and still be here today, I have to walk around my head held really high and be proud, because we are strong. We're resilient. And truly, I can tell you that shifted my whole perspective on who I was and am as a black person. And it doesn't matter what name anyone would call me to. And I can tell you it's like, I'm sorry for you because you have no idea who I am and none of that actually impacted me going forward.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:11:08
Yeah, Noah, and again, you talk so passionately about that, devon, I've heard your TEDx comments and your conversations and it's really uplifting to hear you sort of talk about that. And again, you're very clear to say it's not about me. And at some point we want to make reference to Ms. Hannah. I know you've talked a lot about her, but Devon, at your time you obviously were a good student. I know you're top of the class, which is amazing, but did you migrate to sports for any particular reason in high school?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:11:37
Oh, absolutely. So I discovered basketball in junior high. I attended Isaac Newton Junior High. You talk about being a student and so I graduated hypertop student Isaac Newton, but just started learning to play basketball. I went to St. John's High School and in grade ten was where I truly discovered basketball. And I was passionate about basketball. Started playing in grade ten. In grade ten I was the most improved player, grade eleven, the best defensive player, grade twelve, MVP. But the point I want to really share with you about my experience at St. John's High School was it was about my coaches. Grade ten I had Brian Birdie and he was my biology teacher. And so I sat right at the front of the class and I excelled in biology. And I thought I loved biology. It wasn't because I love biology, because I love this man and I love what he was putting into all these young men's lives and I wanted to be like him. Eleven and twelve, Bill Wedlake was our coach, went on to coach at UW and boy, I tell you, I would just look at this man and I looked again all the time. He was dedicated to us. And at the time he had his two sons who were twins, who would bring them to the practice, they would lead us and stretch in. And what really impacted me, one of the most influential things he ever did for us as young men was invited us over at the end of the season and he actually pulled out his wedding video and all these young men are watching the coaches of wedding video. And at that point Stewart, I said to myself, I want that, I truly did right as a young man. And I've been married now 31 years, it'll be May 2 and it's because of that real seminal impactful moment. Phil Weather did that for me. And so, yeah, I saw those examples because, again, I grew up in a single parent home. I wasn't seeing that around me all the time. But these gentlemen, they were my mentors, they were my role models. And I really want to say this because oftentimes you hear people say they have to look like you, they have to see it. I say when I look back on all these people who had this massive influence on me, they didn't look like me. And I know the value in terms of seeing somebody look like you, but I look beyond just the outer skin. It was the character of these individuals that was driving me passionately to be like them, not the color of their skin.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:13:47
Yeah, interesting. And just as a side note, Devon, Bill is a wonderful, wonderful guy. I know him because my wife was a co chair with Bill during the Pan Am Games. They worked together and she just spoke highly, highly of him and quite an amazing person. So, again, kind of that small degree of separation in Winnipeg, everybody gets a chance to hopefully get to know one another. So, Devon, you're in high school, you're enjoying basketball at some juncture. Where do you decide what your career path might be? And did it go directly to policing or did you look and say, I might want to do basketball, I might want to take a sports opportunity? I mean, how did you find your way to becoming into policing as a career?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:14:30
Here's the interesting thing. As I told you, I loved biology. And I thought I loved it so much, I went to University of Winnipeg. I thought I would study to become a biologist. Really did. And then what I discovered at Ufw was that I didn't like biology that much. But the saving grace was this. I had a part time job at the Bay downtown, which is a hospital and a jump from the university. So previous to this, again, because of how we were socialized, growing up in Canada, watching a lot of American television, I never really felt there could be a relationship between black people and the police. Everything I saw for three was very negative. I'd never seen a black police officer in our city. But I love this job I had to have at the Bay. And it was the first time I had a chance to sit down now and speak to a police officer face to face. And that shifted my whole perspective. And the officer said, when I told him how much I enjoyed that job, devon, why don't you consider becoming a police officer? Never really hit my mind before, and I thought because I also wanted to set an example for other kids who look like me in the greater public, that being black doesn't mean you have to be bad. I thought if I became a police officer, people would see me in the front of the cruiser car rather than the back. And that was the example. And I can tell you honestly, when I graduated, actually, probably before that, because as a recruit driving the cruiser car, you're going on your calls and you could just see the heads that were turning. I remember saying to my partner, I think I'm causing a lot of accidents because everybody's just turning their head. But I also remember profoundly the day when I said to my partner, no one's looking anymore. It became normalized to see the black guy driving the group of car in uniform. And so that's why I went into police. And I had no idea how much police officers got paid. Everyone thought I'd apply for a promotion. I just wanted to do something different, to shift the narrative about what being black in North America meant according to how I was socializing, what I typically saw, how we were represented. That's why I went into police and just set an example. That was it.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:16:31
And what, Devon, would have been the biggest impact that you would have seen during your policing time? Because now I go back to a young Devon Clooney, this little boy from Jamaica who's walking the streets of Selkirk at twelve years of age and not really seeing anybody that looks like him. Now you're on the side of wearing a uniform and you know that when you regardless of the color of your skin, devon, when a police officer comes in a uniform, people are very aware of that. What impact did that have on you?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:17:03
A pretty significant impact. Because what I realized as a police officer is that my interactions with individuals the same way we'll talk about Masana later, can actually change their outlook, change the outcome. And so I wanted to use my position as a police officer to actually help elevate people. So I would do simple things like this journey. People that we consider homeless people say they were bumped. I would spend the time to say sir or ma'am when I'm dealing with an individual like that. And I remember sometimes my partners are like, why are you doing that? I just think it's what we're supposed to do. But it's like, literally, I could see just a light that would go on in somebody's eyes when I would address them with that level of respect. Early in our career, we had young underage girls that were being openly prostituted on our streets. And I would spend a lot of time talking to these young girls. And again, my partners are like, Devon, you're wasting your time. No, that's what we're supposed to do. And I can tell you I love to share this because one day, again, as a constable working in downtown, I received a telephone call from a young girl calling me from Calgary. She was one of those girls who were being exploited on the streets of Winnipeg. And she said, I just want you to know that what you said made a difference. I am back home, I'm with my family, and everything is going really well. So for me, the shift or the recognition was that I could be so much more than a police officer, just arresting people, giving people tickets. I can actually change someone's future. And I think a lot of that, as I said, for me, goes back to what my coaches and what Ms. Anna did for me. And when I saw the potential that we had as a police service, started a dream. We can't just be policing. We can radically shift the experience of social outcome for people in our city.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:18:44
So this young girl that ended up in Calgary, Devon, who called you to thank you and remind you about something that you said, do you recall what that conversation was?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:18:53
Not exactly. As I said, I would spend so much time just trying to counsel these young people to say, you know what? There's a better path for you. The future could be so different. And when she first called me, she said, you probably don't remember it. It took a couple of minutes because there were just so many that I spent time with. But for each one, I can tell you, it was just saying that this doesn't have to be your life. I know what the potential is for you. And essentially with young people, that's exactly what I will do. Because early in my career, I didn't see a lot of young people getting in trouble with the police. But I can tell you, at about nine years in, I started to see a great number of young people, but particularly black and indigenous kids. And I would ask them this question, Stuart, I would say, Why did you do that? Whatever it was that got them into conflict with the law. And the number one response I always received was this I don't know. So I thought, how sad that kids don't have people in their lives or just given some instructions. So literally, I left what we would consider regular general patrol policing. And I became a school resource officer for five years because I said that's where I probably have the biggest opportunity to impact those kids before they found themselves in difficulty. And I can tell you those were the most enjoyable five years of my career because I was pointing kids continually in the right direction. I can tell you how many kids, adults now, they approached me and said, here's the impact you had on me as a school resource officer. Right. For me, that's what policing is about.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:20:18
Yeah. No, listen, Devon, thanks for sharing that. That sort of continues along in your professional career, that you start to work up the so called ranks in the Winnipeg police services. You're a superintendent. I know you're also a chaplain. Can you just tell us a little bit about that side of your passion and your career. Did you study to be a chaplain?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:20:40
Here's an interesting piece about chaplaincy, which is something I did. It actually started in 1998 because I was part of the traffic division at the time. I'd gone to a very traumatic scene. For me at the time, I didn't realize it was two young girls, about 230 in the afternoon, had gotten ran over and killed by a drunk driver. And I was the lead investigator at the scene. I'm super professional, did a phenomenal job. I get back to the station. It's later in the evening now, and the officers who are dealing with the accused came out of the interview room and said, you know what? Guy doesn't care anything about those kids, just about himself. And in my mind's eye, Stewart, here's what I saw. I saw Devon Lewis walking into the interview room, taking out his gun and putting two rounds into this phone. And I said to my partner, we have to leave the station right now. He goes, Why? Said, I don't know. I just know we have to leave. We left, and we drove around in silence for the next couple of hours. End of my ship, I go home, and I have two young girls. And I texted my first daughter, and she's okay. And I checked on the second one, and she's okay. And the tear just starts pouring out. What's wrong with me? I didn't want her to serve Perlene, so I slept in the other bedroom. I woke up in the morning, berlin and the girls are away. I see them, I start crying. My girls are like, what's wrong, Daddy? I'm like, I don't know. Berlin's like Devon. What happened? And I don't know why I'm crying. She goes, this isn't right. And she says, I'm calling her pastor. Called her pastor. He came over, and I just expressed my frustration that I care so deeply for these young girls, their family, and there's nothing I can do about it. And he said some words that were profound and impacted me for the rest of my career. He said, Devon, you're going to see things that you're just going to have to give to God. I said, okay. I can do that. And it was only about a 30 minutes conversation. And we left. He left, and I went back to work. That he me today. We would never allow an officer to go back to work that evening, because that's a pretty traumatic event. And I realized, I said, probably one of the best things I can do in the course of my entire career is to be able to be there for members like that, because many I know, they wouldn't go to a church, they wouldn't call a pastor. But could I be able to provide that type of care for them? Because I knew how important it was for me. So I was approached and asked about the chaplaincy, and I said, Absolutely. And I can tell you, it was one of the most meaningful things I did in my entire career. After 911 in New York, I went to New York City and I provided counseling to their members at the police chapel.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:23:04
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:23:04
Very profound, powerful moments for me. And so I did that throughout my entire career. And officers would just come up to me and my door was always open and we'd have a conversation. But I can tell you this. When I decided I was going to be a chaplain, I was a constable. And I literally thought, that's the end of any upward mobility, because you're going to get pegged as this overly religious guy. But that wasn't the case. It's just because I cared so much about our members and I wanted to be there for them. And so that's how I became a chaplain.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:23:31
Wow. The reason that I think that's important, Devon, is when you look at the fact that in 2012, when you became the first black chief of police in Canadian history, I'm not sure how many, and it doesn't really matter, but I think there's a lot of people that might sort of think, well, you were a beat cop. You're on the street. You kind of busted up some things. You went through policing, as most people do. But I think the fact that you spent time as a chaplain gives a completely different set of kind of moral ethics that you bring as a human being to a job that not everybody might think is part of what you would sort of say in an application process.
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:24:12
Without a doubt, I think when you look at my history, you'll see I don't think there's ever been a chaplain who became chief or my typical pedigree going to places like being a school resource officer. The things I did in policing were never to get a promotion. It really was about caring about people, and for whatever reason, it was attractive to the people who sat on my promotional panels. And I was able to be promoted time and time and time and time again. And even in terms of becoming chief, I was getting ready to retire in 2012. A lot of people don't recognize that. But our chief at the time announced his retirement, and I went to my deputies and said, will either of you serve? They weren't interested in a job. I went to every superintendent and said, we have a responsibility for members and for city to at least apply for this position, and if we don't get it, by all means. I said I would retire, but if I did, I want to continue to serve, because a lot of people are interested in the position to say, I was the chief. And I thought at the time we might get somebody who would come in from outside the city. Who doesn't really understand and have the same passion for a city. And that wouldn't serve us well. So that's why I stuck around and served as chief. And when I announced my retirement, a lot of people thought I was leaving early. No, I actually I stayed on longer than I intended to because I cared so much about the members of the service and about our citizens.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:25:35
Yeah. So, Devon, what's it like to work your way through the Winnipeg Police Services? As you started as a young man, you had a number of promotions. You were chaplain, superintendent. I mean, a lot of people would focus on the fact again that you've made Canadian history by being the first black police chief in Canada. There's a lot of that kind of conversation. But what was it like kind of your first day on the job? I mean, you've now gone to a position of leadership and I don't care, Devon, if it's the Winnipeg Police Services, I should say, or whether it's a major corporation, you are now the leader of that organization. And that first day, that first week, those first people talk about the 100 days. That is a change for you in terms of how people see you and how you're going to judge yourself. How did that have an impact on you?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:26:25
It is a radical shift. You talk about being the first black chief of police. I had no idea that I was the first black chief of police when I became chief. It wasn't until sometime later, my good friend Peter Slowly, who was a deputy chief in Toronto at the time, called me and said, devon, do you realize? And I can tell you it's almost immediately I felt the weight of it. Not because of me and whether I was performed, but I recognize it. And it's just the nature of the world that devon, everyone is looking at you now. And if you fail, it won't be Devon Clonis who failed. It was a black chief of police who failed. And again, it's just a fact. I'm not being critical in any way, shape or form, but I felt just that responsibility to do this job with real excellence. So being the first, there could be a second and a third and a fourth and so on in terms of leading the organization. And again, you mentioned earlier we were a murder capital, crime capital. And back then, all we would do is put more boots on the ground expecting that that would resolve crime. But if you look at my inaugural speech, you'll hear me utter these words we will no longer be police in status quo. We'll be policing through a methodology of crime prevention, through social development. Well, what does that mean, Devon? I remember media challenging me. How is that going to work? I'm saying we have to start getting at the root causes to think we're going to just stamp out crime by dealing with the symptoms. And that was a radical shift for a lot of people, and they just felt it wasn't going to work. So here's what I did. I spent a lot of time in the community and I gave every member of the police service an opportunity to see me face to face. We had meetings right across the organization, and it was labor intensive. And I would ask these two questions. I would say, whether you're a civilian or sworn member, why did you become a police officer? Why did you become a member of the service? We want to help people. I would follow up with, do you feel that what we're doing is working? Do you know not one single member of the organization said, what we're doing is working? And I said, okay, what if we at least try this? We have nothing to lose. If you're telling me what we're doing is not working and they were not feeling fulfilled, what if we try this? And it was amazing what came out of that. People would bring the ideas forward, and I would say, yes, let's do that. And then when we're successful, I would report it back to them, here's what you said, here's what we did. And sure, more ideas just kept coming forward. And you could see the shift. Like, we were the first organization to actually shift the way we address prosecution in our country, where we're no longer victimizing the victims by going out and just trying to arrest them. But we said, you know what? What if it became counter exploitation? And that wasn't my idea. One of the members came forward because when you set a different vision and mission in front of your people, it's amazing what they'll bring forward. And so Winnipeg was being recognized as a leader in policing across this country. In my consulting work, I'm really blessed to be able to do work across the US. And Canada, but it's all things that we did in our city. But when you put that new vision and mission in front of your people, it's amazing what will bubble up. And that's what made us so spectacular in terms of how we police it was making that shift, but really investing in your people, not just saying, here's what we're going to do. You have to put sense and meaning behind it. And it was labor intensive, as I said. And I think sometimes that's where we fail as leaders. We come in and say, here's my vision. No, it has to make sense to the people who are actually going to carry it out. Otherwise it will never happen. And I spent the time to do that both for the members and for the citizens. And that's why the scholarship.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:30:01
Yeah. And when you look at what's going on, and you and I are talking on a day in March and 2023, and there's a lot of conversations that go on about and again, what's troubling in conversations is people need to put titles on a conversation. And I want to talk about defunding the police. People sort of say, well, we should defund the police. Well, I mean, I've had conversations with people that sort of say, well, no, we should have no policing. There should be no budget. And I'm saying but think about it. I mean, that's just absurd. But there are people that look at, what does that mean? And so when you step back and the role that you put into place and that whole of that community sort of approach that you did and how you changed the way that your police officers went to the streets and what they were looking at. In your capacity as a consultant, what sorts of measures do you look at in terms of how to change the thought from the public's perspective?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:30:53
Yeah, I think what we're missing right now is, as you said, we're attached labels without actually putting up fence and meaning. So when I became Chief of police remember murder capital. Crime Capital? I went to Premier Greg Stellinger at the time, and I said these crazy words. I said, no more money for police. Said, but give me four crime analysts. And I said, I'll make this a win for you, because with those crime analysts, I'll be able to ensure that what we currently have, we're using very effectively. Or remember what I said earlier? The key thing I did was to engage the members, spend a lot of time with the populace. And when I asked the people what they wanted, not a single one talked about more police. So when people say defund, we were defunded like a decade ago. It's not new what people are saying. Here's what we would like. We want greater investment in social services, crime prevention through social development. That's what it's all about. But they imagine that you could suddenly cut $30 million off, for example, the Winnebag police services budget without first grading the safety net, because those calls will continue to come. I think we'll be setting the very individuals who are in dire need of policing up for some significant social pain. I agree with the concept. We don't want to see escalating police budgets, but first we have to ensure that we have a healthy community, healthy society. That's where the real issue is. So we have to first fund the front end to ensure that we have those safety nets in place. And you will naturally see that decline in the need for policing. But when we just put a title without explaining, every police leader that I've worked with across North America, they agree. They don't want to see more need for policing. We're all on the same page, but I think we need to have really intelligent, informed, evidence based discussions around this. There is no way you could today cut 30%. I think what a lot of people don't really understand is that 300 plus million, that might be the police services budget. The Chief really has control over a very small percentage of that and he's not fear mongering. And he says, if you really want to cut, it means we're going to have to cut members and we're up to cut the types of calls that we'd be able to respond to. So we need to have honest conversations, look down the road, make intelligent decisions and say, at this point in the future, here's where we'd like to get to. And if we make prudent decisions at the front end right now, we can get there. But to make emotional, visceral decisions just because we want to punish the police, the people who are actually going to be punishing are those who are in the greatest need of policing right now. We have to have honest conversations.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:33:27
Yeah. Dubon, I love the way you sort of phrase that and put that kind of in front of us. And I want to come back to explore a little bit about what you said when you said the city of Winnipeg can be the example of how you can do community well. When you made that comment, what was going through your mind? What was your sense? Because at that point you had actually retired from being Chief of police and people, I think, were wondering, what were you going to do? That's a very bold statement for this community. I love it. But the fact that you were able to sort of put it out there, let's talk about that.
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:34:03
And I still believe it's true. I absolutely do. I was in Ontario for 15 months helping to establish the Inspector of Police and live in Mississauga. And I can tell you, as you travel around a city or a location that size, easy for you to feel anonymous. Winnipeg is large enough, but as we shared earlier, still connected enough, where people know one another and they care that we can do that in the city. Sometimes I think, again, here's where we fail. I'm saying we as Canadians, sometimes when we wrestle with actually what people call discrimination or racism, whatever you want to attach with, because we're wrestling with that, we think we're such a horrible place. I say you travel to places in the world, there's no wrestling because there is no not even any sense of that. It's fairly homogeneous. Or if you come here, you'd better just be like us, otherwise there's no accommodation. This is why I believe we can actually do that. My wife and I often have this discussion about the city of Buenafe, that we see it having the potential, really, to be this shining light, because you can more than likely find someone from just about every country on the planet in our city. When you look at an event like Okorama, where we go and we celebrate and we appreciate what we each have in our individual cultures. When I first arrived in the country, the word that we used to use was tolerate. And I remember thinking, I don't want to be tolerated. But in Winnipeg, we actually celebrate that diversity. Now, hear me, I say this clearly. Canada is not perfect. No city is perfect. But one negative interaction or incident between cultures should not define the city. And I think sometimes we use a negative to define who we are, as opposed to the massive positive that's occurring in the city every day. Because I've traveled in the United States and across our country, and I don't find a city for me that is as cohesive as the city of Winnipeg. And I say it again, clearly. I am not saying that we're perfect, but we're so much further along on the journey in terms of unity, equity, diversity, and inclusion and many others, that we should start to highlight what we do really well, as opposed to constantly magnifying the negatives. Not saying not to deal with it. We should deal with it. But the negatives are not who we are. Let me put it this way. It's no different than why I want to be a police officer. You would see a black person committed a crime. It's all across the media. That's what black people are. No, it's not true. Look at me. Look at all my friends. None of us are criminals. The negative should not define who a person or a city or a culture is. But I think sometimes, because we get so fearful expression, the climate in which we're living right now, heaven forbid we should say, no, that's not us, because we don't want to be canceled. Right? We don't want to be labeled as such and not dealing with our issues. But it's not the most racist city by any stretch of the imagination. Canada is not the most racist nation. The fact that we wrestle with these things tells me that, oh, it's good that we're wrestling with them, because when you're bringing so many individuals in from different cultures, there will always be a bit of a rough. But no, we sit down and we have meaningful conversations and we learn how to do community well. We can do that in the city.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:37:14
Yeah. Devon it's such a powerful message. I guess one of the challenges how do we create that environment where these conversations can happen? Because the negativity always finds it to the top of the heap. And again, I'm not here to throw shade on any media organizations, but it's just interesting that you made reference in your Ted Talk about going driving with Parliament to, I think it was Nova Scotia or Pi. And you talked about the beauty of the country and the respect that you had. Not obviously, as a police officer, you respected indigenous peoples, but your view of the land and that opportunity. And again, I love the way you shared that, Devon, because for so many people, we need to get from point A to point B as fast as we can and then back and forth. Rather than stopping for a moment, as you did, just share a couple of comments that you felt when you and Perlene drove across this part of Canada.
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:38:10
When you take the time to really appreciate just the majesty of the country in which we live. And Perleen and I often reflect when you go back to the indigenous people's experience, and again, in city of Winnipeg, almost 100,000 plus indigenous population, and for me, as policing, I thought we had huge opportunity. I made a comment early on as chief of police that we really need to look at the fact that what we're dealing with in terms of the indigenous people's experience, it's the repercussion of what occurred in the past. And we can't just trying to deal with the current situation without reflecting on that. And again, media challenge me. That's not what a chief of police are supposed to be talking about. Yes, absolutely. As we travel across this country, and again, I see the majesty and I see how we have taken so much from the land and from the original peoples of this land and seen that really, they need to benefit from it. And every single one of us who are immigrants, and a lot of immigrants come to this country with no real deep understanding of the history of this country. We do that very well. In terms of trying to at least we're talking about reconciliation. I do work in the United States. I work on First Nations communities in the United States. There's not even a discussion about reconciliation. I'm not saying that we're there yet, but the fact that we've actually started a journey, that for me, is what I said is very hopeful. In the city of Winnipeg, as my time as chief, we went around to the First Nations community around the city and said, how can we assist you? How can we help? Because I recognize the ebb and flow back and forth, and people are coming to our city and being victimized. Certainly it's not our jurisdiction of policing, but we can go beyond policing. And we actually spearheaded an initiative with the city in terms of when we put out RfPs to ensure that some of those benefits go back to some of these First Nations. So I say things like that, that we can do. This is why I say that we can do community well and we can actually accelerate reconciliation. And something else I think we're really missing is that when individuals like me come to this country, yes, there needs to be a deep education on the history of our nation so that when we see indigenous peoples in challenging situations, we're not thinking that this is just somebody's choosing to be like this not the case. But I think we're doing that better than a lot of other places. We're not perfect, but let's accentuate the positives while we deal with the negatives. I keep coming back to that.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:40:34
On that note, let's spend a little bit of time before we wrap this up, Devon, with Ms. Hannah, somebody that obviously had a big impact on your life. To share that, please.
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:40:46
Miss Hannah changed the entire course of my future. As I said, my first year was very challenging and I didn't know I was struggling academically until the end of the year. Now my mother was working two jobs, she has no time to help her kids with homework. And I'm sitting with my mom and these two teachers and at that point we're informed that Devon has failed grade six and he has to repeat grade six. Two teachers again, none of them look like me. There were no black teachers in the school. The one teacher says he's just not a very smart little boy, let's put him in a class for slow learners. But I can tell you now I'm age twelve. My mind will just screaming no. But I can't really advocate for myself and my kids. My second teacher, Miss Anna says these words george, she says, Devon, if you come to school an hour early every day next year I'll be here and I'll help you. Why would this Caucasian teacher want to help this little black boy? But I just knew in my head that's the right decision. I remember thinking to myself, I'm going to feel really dumb because I'll be older, but that's the right decision. Devon so faithfully following year an important part to recognize that I went to school an hour early. My little sister had to go to school an hour early as well because my mom had gone to work alone so she sacrificed as well. But I would go to school early and Miss Anna was faithfully there to meet me. And after about three months I remember her saying these first words, she said, Devon, this is so easy for you. School is getting very easy. Got academic award after academic award. And I remember in Isaac Newton Junior High, grade nine, I finished the academic work almost two months ahead of all the other kids and the teachers were so kind. They actually allowed me to help tutor other kids.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:42:26
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:42:26
Remember graduating and just going off for award after award after award? I'm like and so you know, fast forward now I become a police officer in 2007, I'm promoted to the right inspector. I get to wear a white shirt, supervised 200 plus people like Devon. Little boy from Jamaica, you grew up with no electricity, no running water. You came here, you failed grade six. You just want to be a police officer. How did she get to this place? And it struck me right away, I didn't think I was brilliant. I said, Miss Anna, I need to go back and find her. So I went to the school board office in uniform and I said, I'm trying to find this teacher because I want to thank her for the impact she had on my life. And in error, they told me that Miss Anna passed away. But every time I would share my story, I would speak about Miss Anna and the power of one to make this amazing difference in a life, never knowing what the ripple effects of that will be. Now, in 2012, I've been a competition to become chief of police. And Devon's Face and his name is always in media. And one day I'm at home and I get a call from one of my staff sergeants who says, devon, I don't know if this makes sense, but my neighbor works at the school board office. They remember you coming and looking for this teacher. She hasn't passed away, but she's in the hospital with a terminal illness. And I ran to Perleen and I said, I can't believe it. Ms. Anna is still alive. And I still get emotional every time I tell the story right now. I said, Ms. Anna is otherwise I get a chance to thank her. So, Stuart, I went and I put on my best suit and I went down to the hospital room, saw her name on the door, I knocked on, I walked in. It was 35 years since I've seen Miss Anna. And I walked in and there she is. And like, Miss Anna, you remember a little boy named Devon Dunes? Just smiles and like, yes. And I'm praying that you become the next chief of police, Ms. Hannah. Thank you. I can even apply for the position. If not for what you did all those years ago, I wouldn't be where I am. And I said, you probably did it for hundreds of other kids but never heard. Thank you. So I want to thank you for every single one of those kids, too. And Miss Anna. I sat, we had the sweetest conversations. Sure. And she passed away three weeks later. But a little boy, yeah, he became Winnipeg 17 chief of police. And as you said earlier, the first black chief of police. And I never walk around thinking they're on a special. I walk around thinking, look at the difference one person can make. And that's exactly what drives me to continue to do what I do. Hopefully I can have that kind of impact, a ripple effect, as Nathan I did.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:44:45
Yeah, well, and I think you have, Devon, in many ways. And you and Perleen wrote a book. You co authored a book called The Little Boy From Jamaica. What made you do that?
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:44:56
So here I started writing because people say, devon, you need to write your adult story. And I started writing it. I was about 30,000 words in and I shared it with Perlene. And as brilliant as she is, she said, Devon, this makes us a good children's story. And so, literally, we set aside the adult version and together we sat down and drafted a little boy from Jamaica, because she said, it really is about the potential that's in every child. And when you look at the changing face of our nation and kids like myself, who are coming from very challenging environments, more challenging than mine, even when you look at indigenous kids who have to leave their First Nations community, come to the city for schooling, wow. We want to be able to give them hope and really talking about the immigrant experience. And so that was the first one, and then we wrote the second one, which was a little girl from a Sus, which more so from Berlin's perspective, but really profound in that it talks about experience and diversity as a Canadian, German, Canadian child, right. Blue eyed, blonde hair, all of that. But what we also need to understand steward is this and pointed it out to me that for many of us coming from different countries, it's actually the first time that we're experiencing diversity. We often think it's just natural porn, canadians who need to understand and appreciate. But with the changing face of the nation, it's really important for us to recognize that we need to teach that concept to every single person while also arriving here for the first time. It's the first time we're experiencing it. So we have to learn and grow together. So that's why we actually have a lot of hope, because those two books have teachers guides that actually have real good exercises for teachers to engage students in building the understanding that we're talking about. So if some people or adults might miss it, we really want to help encourage and educate the next generation so that Canada can be exactly what you and I are dreaming of. Yeah.
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:46:50
And I'll make sure that in our episode notes, Devon, that I include both those books in case people are listening and saying I'd like to get access to them. Because, again, that's important. The perspective that you bring is it's all about teaching, right? And it's all about learning.
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:47:04
Stuart Murray (Host) 00:47:05
Yeah. So, Devon, I just want to say thank you for a number of things. The list could be long, but I'll keep it to a focus of, obviously, your time. Appreciate that. Thank you for being the leader you are in the community, and thank you for this message that you bring. That is one of so much compassion and so much positivity that sometimes we're trying to swim upstream against this negative tide that's coming our way. But your message is strong, and you've walked the walk in terms of what you've been able to do. So we'll continue to watch as you make changes in the world as you have done to date. And I thank you for your time and look forward to many more conversations with you, Devon. And please give my best to perleen. And thank you for spending some time with me on Humans on Rights.
Devon Clunis (Guest) 00:47:55
Thank you so much, Stewart. Have a good day.
Thanks for listening to humans on rights. A transcript of this episode is available by clicking the link in the show Notes of this episode. Humans on Rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray. Social Media Marketing by Buffy Davy music by Doug Edmond For more, go to humanrightshub CA
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