EPISODE SIXTEEN: DEVON CLUNIS
Devon Clunis is the newly appointed Inspector General of Policing for Ontario, Canada. After climbing the ranks as a 25 year veteran of the Winnipeg police, Devon was named Chief of Police in 2012, making him the first Black police chief in all of Canada. While he retired in 2016, Devon has split his time between enjoying retirement and consulting with police organizations across North America. In the summer of 2020, after the death of George Floyd and the subsequent calls for change and conversations surrounding the relationship between race and police, Devon felt a call to action. He accepted the position as Ontario's first Inspector General of Policing for the province. In this episode of Between Headlines, Devon shares his early childhood experiences of immigrating from Jamaica to Winnipeg, the teacher that influenced his life and how he went from a teenager avoiding police to becoming the highest-ranking officer in the city. He also shares his reaction to police violence against the Black community, his thoughts on Black Lives Matter and his approach to policing.
Alison Hall, Devon Clunis
Alison Hall 00:10
You're listening to between headlines. I'm Alison Hall. So I want to start right at the beginning. And I'm sorry, should I be called? Can I call you? I know formerly Inspector General of the Ontario police. Yes. Okay. And I imagine your formal title title, then what I should be calling you technically is Inspector General.
Devon Clunis 00:42
Just okay. That's the full title. But as I said, call me the Devon.
Alison Hall 00:46
Okay. Fantastic. That's a lot easier on me. It's a little more conversational. So I appreciate it. Devon. I really want to start right at the beginning. Because you have for a former police chief in Canada, you have a really unique background. You grew up in Jamaica, and you immigrated to Canada at a young age. Tell me about that.
Devon Clunis 01:07
Yes. Well, you know, my early years, the first 11 years of my life was just wonderful. Growing up in a beautiful little place called harmony Vale, just the name of it makes you feel good. And it really was a small little community where truly everyone knew everyone in the community, a child was safe enough to worry about the things that were worried about in North America. And literally, I would walk to school every day. And the walk truly was uphill for most of the way it was a full hour walk to school one way. And as I said, no electricity, no running water, actually quite poor, but didn't realize that were poor until we arrived in Canada. So at age 11, in 1975, you know, I was being raised by grandparents. So at age 11, came to Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba to live with my mother for the very first time. So as myself and my sister and I remember it very clearly, it was September 15 1975. So I remember leaving a community where you knew everyone, everyone looks like you. You understood your culture. You get in an airplane, and a few hours later, we're landing on the tarmac and Winnipeg, and back then you would actually get off on the tarmac. So I never been cold in my life. But I remember as we exited the airplane, just having that sensation, like what is that feeling? Never felt that before. And my mom was wise enough to realize these kids would be cold. So even though it was September, she had
Alison Hall 02:32
exactly September in Winnipeg.
Devon Clunis 02:35
But again, the fact that we've never experienced that sensation of what this cold is, and so remember, the next couple of days, we live on a street called Selkirk Avenue. Again, not a large street by any stretch. But in Winnipeg earlier days, that really was a very high economic area of the city. A lot of buildings but not high buildings. But for me as a little boy, now 811 coming from the country in Jamaica, I remember walking up and down Selkirk capital, just looking at all the stores, right. And then two days later, I am sitting in my first classroom in Winnipeg. And that was the very first time that as I walked into that classroom, and I looked around, it just really hit you that you are different. You are spending out in the crowd, there was not a single child who look like me in that class. Now, again, remember, this was 1975. Today, I think we would do it quite differently. There would be this law orientation, you will tell the child This is what you will be experiencing. There was none of that in 1975. I was just plunked into the classroom. And you're supposed to just simulate orientate yourself and you're supposed to be successful. That first year, I did not realize how much that little boy was struggling. And you know, when I think about it now, I said, How did he possibly make it through that first year because there was none of orientation, as I said, and it wasn't until the end of that first school year that I was sitting with my mom and two teachers. And they advised us that that little boy had failed grade six. And you can just imagine the feeling I had at the time. And one teacher said very clearly and let me state and none of those teachers look like me. They look like you. Because as I said there weren't too many people that look like me in the city at the time. And one teacher said he's just not a very smart little boy. I just remember in my head something screaming saying no, I can do this. And but what am I going to do? I'm just a child. And my saving grace was a second teacher whose name is Miss Hanna who became a very significant part of my entire life. To this day, Miss Anna said davon if you come to school an hour early, I will be here and I will help you. It meant I still had to repeat grade six. And so there was the option that was put in front of me will put you ahead into grade seven in a class where slow learners or demonic can come to school next year an hour early every day and meet with Miss Hanna Something in my head Allison, I have to tell you I know at age 12 said to me the one that is the best choice for your future, you need to repeat grade six, and take Miss Hannah up on her offer. But I also remember thinking to myself, I'm going to feel really dumb, because I'll be older than the other kids. And somehow, in that 12 year old boy's mind, I think he made the right decision. He said, next year, I'll get up and I'll go to school an hour early and truly, I got up, went to school an hour early every day, and Miss Hannah was there faithfully every day, to meet a little boy every single day.
Alison Hall 05:34
It is incredible teacher.
Devon Clunis 05:36
And again, she didn't look like me. So why did she care so much about this little black boy. But I can tell you as much as I remember the words of the teacher who said, it's just a smart, very smart little boy, I remember about three months into, you know, Miss Hannah, mentoring me, when she said these words. She said, Yvonne, this is so easy for you. School became incredibly easy. By the time I graduated grade 90, you can go back to my junior high school 1979 in the north end, deeply socio economically challenged part of the city, you will see my name on the board graduating one of the two top students in that school. So from worse to first, because somebody decided we're going to invest in this little child. And then you know, again, I went to high school, again, in a deeply socio economically challenged part of the city, St. John's high school, and I played basketball. And my coaches often look like me. But I just really wanted to be like them, because I saw just what they were doing in terms of given to young men like me. And so, you know, one of my coaches was my biology teacher, and I just excelled in biology. So I thought I must really love biology. Well, I graduated St. John's High School. And I have to tell you, during that time of my life, anytime I would watch television, which was predominantly American television, I would see that kids will look like me. And police really didn't have a good relationship. But there was something I had, again, that was screaming in my mind. And that's not true because of what you look like or where you're coming from or where you're growing up doesn't mean that you have to be the bad guy. I remember making a very early decision as a teenager that one day, I'm going to do something to set an example. I want people to realize that as a matter of where you're coming from, or what you look like, you don't have to be put in a certain box with a certain stereotype. So during my time at St. John's high school, I said that's what I wanted to do. But I didn't know how I was going to accomplish that. But because I did well in biology, I thought I must really like it. So I'll go to university and study to be a biologist. When I went to university, I wanted to study to be a biologist. And I discovered something very profound there. And discovered that I really didn't have this deep love of biology. There was a teacher that I cared about so much that I want it to be like. But the other transformational thing that occurred for me during my time there was at a part time job at the bay, debase department store in downtown Winnipeg insecurity. And Previous to that anytime I would see a police officer literally, because of what I saw on television, I would go the other way. I was never in any type of trouble with police, like said I was I want to do good things with my life. But I just thought because of what I saw on television, police and dovan, you just don't have a relationship. But during the time of doing that job for the first time, I actually had a chance to sit down and speak with a police officer face to face. And I think it's really critically important to recognize this. When we sit down and have a conversation with people face to face. It often breaks down that misunderstanding the stereotype that we might have developed because of what we've seen. And that officer who knows look nothing like me look more like you. So the ball if you like the security job that you're doing so much, why don't you consider becoming a police officer. And I thought, ah, if I became a police officer, people would see me because I've never seen a black police officer in our city. And they would see that yes, you can be the good guy in the front of the cruiser car, as opposed to what we see on television feed in this negative image of what it meant to be black. When so in 1987. That's why I went on I applied to become a police officer simply wanted to set an example. And I have to tell you, you know, as I went to apply, I thought, well, if they don't select me, I said it will be their loss. And so the reason I had that sense, it wasn't because of any type of arrogance. It's you know, I remember in junior high was, I think it was I was in grade nine when the miniseries roots came up. When I have to be honest with you Previous to that, I would often walk around feeling less than because of the color of my skin. But when I watched that miniseries, here's what I took out of it. I said if my people can go through that in terms of the African slave trade, and still be here today, I have a lot to feel really proud about. So now when I went to apply for the police service, I went there saying I have something to offer them. And if they don't accept me, well, it's just too bad for them. And I'll find some other way to live out this desire. And so I applied and I was accepted. And again, I remember walking into recruit class want to wait for the Winnipeg police service. And it was myself of color, and was one of the gentlemen who is from India. And I thought, again, we looked around, and I thought, there's not a lot of us here. So I'm just going to be really quiet, because I don't want to get kicked out of recruit class. I graduated December of 1987. I was so proud. I, you know, I remember, just as I got into that quiz, a car, and I'm driving, and I remember, like they walk into beat and some of the most socio economically challenged areas of our city. And I just challenged myself as a police officer that what I want to do is actually deeply impact the social conditions in which people are living, like, for example, I would see people who are homeless that people consider to be bombed, and I said, I need to just treat them with the sense of dignity. And that's how I would do it. So I would say, sir, or Ma'am, to an individual, and it's like, you could see a light that would go on in their eyes, when the person in uniform would just treat them with that sense of dignity and respect. And so that's how I challenge myself in terms of my policing to really change the social conditions that people will find themselves in. And some of the proudest moments have been when I've gotten feedback from individuals who have said simply that what you did, or what you said, has made a real significant difference, I can share one real meaningful story, for example, young women who are being prostituted on our streets. And, you know, I think typically police officers would see that I wouldn't think anything second about trying to get them out of that situation. But I would spend a lot of time talking to these young girls and say, you know, there's got to be something better for your future. And oftentimes, officers would say, like, why are you doing that you're wasting your time. And I said, No, I'm not wasting my time, I can make a difference. And one of the proudest moments in my entire career was in Winnipeg receiving a telephone call from a young girl calling me from Calgary. And she says, I don't know if you remember me. But when we spoke for a few minutes, and that I did remember, there was a young woman who was being taken advantage of on the streets of Winnipeg, but she said, I am back home, my family. Now, I want you to know that what you said made a difference. I'm back home with my family, and everything is going really well. So that's a potential I started to see in us as police officers. And I can tell you, you know, in 2002, I received my first promotion, I became a supervisor, then I started to challenge myself that now as a supervisor, no longer on the front lines, I need to be able to share that perspective of what policing can be with the members that I get the opportunity to serve. So they can go out now and serve the community with that same mindset. And, you know, slowly but surely, I started getting promoted up the ranks. And in 2010, I got promoted to what's called a superintendent Now, that's a fairly high rank, you know, police service, I would sit around the table with all of our deputies, and the inspectors and other members would come in and report to us, you know, the things that have occurred in our city overnight. And at one point, I asked this question, I said, what are we hearing crime or deep social issues? And I said, Well, no, you know, what, we're hearing social issues, but the VA we deal with the crime? I said, No, I don't think we're being the best that we can be if all we do is just deal with the crime, there has to be more that we can do. But they're like no Deval, we deal with the crime. And that's just the way policing was it not just wasn't just about our city. And so I was quiet for about a month. And then, at the next briefing, I raised the same question. Are we hearing crime or deep social issues on we deal with the crime? And I thought no, as police, we're actually failing the community. If we're not trying to get ahead of the crime by dealing with these deep socio economic challenges. Think about that little boy devaughn. If somebody didn't help him, maybe I would be one of those prime issues that we're dealing with. So I was getting actually quite frustrated. And I was planning to retire from policing because I thought we weren't being as impactful as we could be on a community. And literally, in 2012, I was thinking about retiring what our chief announces retirement. And then I put this challenge in front of me, I said, you know, maybe I'll apply for the position, and if I receive it, I will stay. But if I don't, then I'll retire and really try to impact social change in other areas. And so I applied for the position. And something really amazing happened during the time that I was applying for the position because when I became an inspector a couple years earlier, you know, I thought about my life, I thought about where I was where I was coming from, I said Deval, you're a little boy who grew up in Jamaica, no electricity, no running water. You just wanted to be a police officer. Now you've been promoted many times. At the time I was leaving a division of 200 plus people. I said, How did you get to this place? Because you're so brilliant. And I thought No, it's not. Miss Anna. I need to go back and find the fan and banker because if not what she did, I wouldn't be where I am. So I'd actually gone back to the school board office in uniform because I wanted him to know like, I wasn't a stalker, a legitimate police officer. And I said, I want to find this teacher because I really want to thank her for my life. And he said, unfortunately, Mr. Knight passed away. And I thought, How sad. So I'd always tell people the power, the power of one person to make this massive difference in an individual's life, and you never know what the ripple effects will be. So now fast forward in 2012, I'm in a competition to become chief of police in my face, and my name is consistently in media. And you know, on television, and one day, my home and I got a call from one of my officers who says Yvonne, I don't know if this makes sense, but my neighbor works at the school board office, they remember you coming in looking for this teacher, she hasn't passed away. But she's in the hospital with a terminal illness. I can tell you, Allison, I ran to my wife. I said, purline my bride's name, I said, I can't believe Miss Santa is still alive. I get a chance to find her. Like literally, I put on my best suit, went down to the hospital, found her room. Now I hadn't seen my son, I'm 36 years. I knock on I walked in and there's misurata. And I said Miss Hara. Do you remember a little boy named Yvonne clunis? Misano looks at me? And she says, yes. And I'm praying that you become the next chief of police. In Santa Fe, thank you that I can even apply for the position. Because if not for what you did all those years ago, and it still makes me emotional, even telling it. How many times I tell it. I said, if not for what you did all those years ago, I wouldn't be where I am today. And I said, you probably did it for hundreds of other kids. But you never heard. Thank you. So want to thank you for every single one of those kids do and we just sat and we had the sweetest conversation. And I can tell you that Miss Hannah did pass away three weeks later. But shortly thereafter, that little boy that she gave her time, became the 17th, chief of police in winnipeggers. History, and the first black chief of police in all of Canadian history. The fact that I'm here talking to you today is because of Miss Hannah. So that's how this whole occurred. Allison? Wow.
Alison Hall 17:31
What an incredible story. Wow, Miss Anna. But also, it sounds like you really have so much intrinsic motivation. And each time that you've faced a challenge in your life, you figure out a way to overcome it by having that internal conversation with yourself, which I think is just so fascinating to listen to how you had those conversations. Tell me what it was like when you hit that mark.
Devon Clunis 17:59
I really wasn't thinking about the role or Gabon cleanness The reason I applied for the position was I thought I had a responsibility to serve our members. And I actually encouraged everyone who was in my position, there were a number of superintendents who could apply that every single one of us has to apply, our chief is return. And we need somebody who understands our organization who knows our city to serve. And so when I was appointed Chief of Police, I have to be honest, I wasn't aware that I was the first black chief of police in Canadian history until one of my colleagues from Toronto called me and said, Yvonne, do you realize you're the first and then I have to be honest with you there was almost like this. Oh, my goodness, then I felt the weight of it. Because it was not about the bond clunis anymore. I have to be honest with you, in that I realized that if I fail that best, people wouldn't look at the bond and said, Well, he was a poor chief of police. It was the wrong point is that black chief of police, the first in Canadian history failed. So at that point, you know, honest with you, I really challenged myself, I said, I have to do everything I do here with the utmost excellence. And I think I put unnecessary burden or pressure on myself. Some of my days were like 15 hour days, honestly, and somehow had the energy. But I was working now not for davon clunis, I'm being honest with you here. It wasn't about the reflection that it would have on every other person of color, when they had the opportunity to apply for a role like this, that people have to say, No, we can do it. And so that's why I was working at this job at that point in time. It wasn't so much about Avon, but about all those who would come after me. And so it was at that point that I recognized that this was something significant for the entire black community across this country.
Alison Hall 19:46
That's a lot of pressure.
Devon Clunis 19:47
It was and as I said, I think I put probably too much pressure on myself. But at the same time I really wanted to excel at this job because I realized it was an incredible opportunity. You know, when you look at all The work that Miss Hanna put into that little boy, I really had to challenge myself like this was an opportunity that the one place was not going to squander. And even the fact that I'm here now as the Inspector General of Police in for the entire province of Ontario, I think speaks to the manner and the way in which I did the job.
Alison Hall 20:20
Absolutely, it does. And so let's talk about that. What was your philosophy as the chief of police in Winnipeg? And what changes did you make to the way, Winnipeg cased?
Devon Clunis 20:31
Thank you for asking that question? Because this was significant, as I told you, and you know, when I was a superintendent that I ask the question, what are we here in crime or details, relationships. And so when I became the chief of police, if you go back, you'll see in my inaugural speech, I said these words, he said, we will no longer be policing status school, we will be policing through a methodology of crime prevention through social development. And initially, people thought by common alien, what does that mean, we've always put more police officers on the streets. It's about fighting crime, that's how we'll be successful. And I said, really, if that was working, we wouldn't be in the condition that we're in. So when you start looking at the root causes, right, that's the ultimate cure. If you're in a disease, when you went to the doctor, you wouldn't want the doctor to treat the symptom. You want to say, get to the root of this. And for me, crime is this social disease. And if we're going to actually, you know, rectify it, we need to get to the root of it. So I started talking about things like ensuring that every child has a decent education. Could you imagine what would happen if for a period of time, we would simply say we're going to ensure that every child has a decent education? Think about a little boy told you about? And then we're going to ensure that people are living in neighborhoods that are you know, has some sense of social, equitability? These are deep social issues, which are at the root of crime, we're going to make sure that people actually know how to parent. And so what I did, that wasn't just avantone saying this, I actually had phones across the entire city. And I asked the citizen, what is it that you want, I can tell you there was not a single person said we want more policing. And then I had the similar forums right across the entire organization. And I asked every member, why did you become a police officer? They will tell you, we want to help people. But I said, Do you feel that what we're doing is actually having the impact? Are you feeling fulfilled? Can I tell you in an organization of almost 2000 individuals, not a single one said yes. I said, Well, what if we tried this? And so all the great things that people thought of on clinics? Did I have to tell you, it came from the citizens, and it came from the membership? For example, I talked earlier about you know, women who were being prostituted, do I have to tell you Historically, the way that policing has dealt with that situation is that we would target the women. And yes, sometimes we would go after the job board, I put this vision in front of our members that we can be so much more to the community. It was a member in what's called our vice division who came forward and said, Chief, what if we no longer targeted the women, but we actually saw them as victims, and we try to find a way to help them. So we change and we call ourselves to counter exploitation unit. We no longer wrestling for that. We're trying to get them out of it. And you know, one of the first police services in our country to do that. And now it's basically status school. And so these deep social issues is what we started to work against. And I can tell you the first year I went to my Premier, and I said, No more money for policing. Can you imagine on a police officer saying, We don't want more money for policing. But I say just give us some crime analysts so we can actually be more effectively what we're doing. And I can tell you that first year we saw crime dropped 13.9% in our city because I said all of us have to be a part of this. This issue that was there we're finding is just crime. It's not just a police services responsibility. It's an entire community responsibility. They can tell you, community members are coming out of the Woodworks and Chief, we want to be a part of this. So it was no longer a police like an island unto ourselves in that we're going to rectify this. We're just one part of this entire community component, a big initiative moving forward where every single person has a part to play. So that was the key changing the mindset from this reactionary police to know let's deal with this deep social issues. And we're conduits were catalysts to real meaningful community cohesion and change. And it's been significant for us.
Alison Hall 24:24
Wow, it sounds like you, you were really ahead of your time, a lot of what you're talking about, I have to make the connection to what people are calling for. Right now. There's, of course in the past year, an extreme look and seeing policing in a new light and how police services should best be used and how they can work in the communities and more effective ways. Of course, the budgets are very much a hot topic. And it sounded like from the inside in this very powerful position. You were working on all of that,
Devon Clunis 25:00
without part I have to tell you is really gratifying. And I often tell people like I've had the opportunity to work across the US and across Canada and gone back to Jamaica to share some of these perspectives. But I often say to people in Winnipeg, you don't have any idea, the excellence, you know, that's been done, or what's done here, that yes, we were way ahead of our time. And so as I said, initially, when I started speaking like this, people thought I was an alien. And so it is a little bit gratifying to look back and say, you know, I go to these major conferences, I look at all these studies that are being done. And I said, that's exactly what we've been doing for almost a decade. So yeah, that is gratifying.
Alison Hall 25:39
And I mean, even just the role that police play traditionally, you know, they're the first responders in every sense of the word to basically any call. And they can be there can be drug overdoses or family disputes, or as you were talking about, you know, people with homelessness issues, like so many different things, and one person can't be an expert on every single social issue. That is a huge burden for police to play. And I mean, I think that it's really promising that so many people are having these discussions, not necessarily to take away support for police, but to actually put support into the system to solve those issues. Do I have that right, that that's some of the stuff that you guys were doing?
Devon Clunis 26:29
I think you absolutely have that right. And really, I believe it's the only real successful path forward. police can't be the panacea to everything, nor should they be, as I said, most of those issues are really a community centered issue. Yes, we can be a part of it. But we can't be expected to resolve all of that, nor should we, and it's not the most effective way forward. And so when you look at the the volume of police work currently and realize that, so different studies, say 6070, upwards of sometimes 80% of what we're currently dealing with, have no real direct correlation with what we consider to be crime. These are deep social issues. So why are we paying police officers to attend to these calls, and sometimes actually creating more trauma in the community that actually doing good, there is a better path forward. And I'm saying what we fail to do oftentimes is do a real meaningful analysis to say, are these initiatives working, and maybe even they might have worked maybe even 10 years ago, but society does change. And if we don't evolve, what might have been effective in the past? It's not effective today. It's kind of like we talked about the situation with viruses, right? Oh, that didn't mutate. You know, maybe what we're using in the past is not effective. And you have to get some type of a new cure moving forward. And so we really need to evaluate what we're doing and say what will work in our current context, but not only Oh, we need to look to the future. And so we need to definitely, we need to have some significant change. And I think we're trying to lead that change right now, even with the work that we're doing here in Ontario.
Alison Hall 28:03
Yeah, absolutely. And I definitely want to get to all of that work, and then hear about it. I just have to ask him to make the connection. Of course. I mean, one of the the reason why everyone is focusing on the role of policing in the world today is because of the very tragic events that happened earlier, in 2020, especially in the spring and summer of 2020, with police using force and tragic events happening. And of course, then the Black Lives Matter movement really getting up and running. And so many people getting involved around the world, analyzing their relationship with bias and with race, and people starting to really do the work to understand this entire, not only policing system, but systemic racism, and cultural, our entire culture and how it works with race, especially in the United States. But I know that that same conversation is happening in Canada and worldwide. What was it like for you to watch from afar, not too far away? And what does it all mean to you?
Devon Clunis 29:12
Yes, as I said, You know, I feel privileged I've had the opportunity to live and work in United States, certainly across our country. And again, you know, somebody was born live in Jamaica have traveled back many times. So what I have to say to you, I I bring this broad perspective to it. It was really painful watching the situation with George Flint. And I can tell you I reacted to it probably from a couple of different perspectives. First, as a person of color, obviously, as I said, who has lived and work in the United States, I can tell you when I travel across the United States, I'm very aware of the color of my skin. You know, I've traveled with a large group of police officers were bicycles across probably most of the United States. I travel back and forth with my wife, when we winter in Florida. And I can tell you, when I travel, I try to stay primarily on major roads. And not because of just demands on fear. But actually, I've been learned by police officers. So that's why when I travel across the United States, I've ridden bikes and traveled all across Canada, I can tell you, I'm pretty much less aware of the color of my skin, I will pull off into any small town traveling across Canada, I just will not do that United States. I have friends, black friends, who are born and raised in the United States now living in Canada, they will tell you there's a distinct difference. So when I saw what occurred with George Floyd, my first reaction was just as a black person, I imagined that that truly could have been me. And so yes, I had that very deep, visceral response. But I also responded in terms of being a police officer, because I realized that I will tell you this, whether you're in the United States, or in Canada, the vast majority of police officers, right, they would just be just as upset. But I realized that witnessing the action of those specific officers, it would take every single police officer, and that I had significant concerns more than just really as a human being. I thought that one human being could do that to another. It just really saddened me, there was this deep sadness that just came over me. And so when we hear people say, Black Lives Matters, as a person living in this shade of skin, absolutely, I feel grateful that somebody would stand up and say, yes, our lives matter. I feel supported, I feel encouraged, I feel incredibly valued, that someone believes my life matters when they saw what happened to George Floyd. But I think what's really sad for me when when people hear that term is that they now it's almost synonymous with what we saw in terms of the real violent reaction to police cars on fire communities, on fire, and stores being looted. And it's really sad that that is the correlation that people draw. So what I want people to really understand when they hear that term, Black Lives Matter, people simply saying we're hurting, we feel deep pain. And we really want to have a different outcome in terms of, you know, our intersection with police and so many parts of community. That's what I hear when I hear that term. And that's what I hope people take from it. As we move forward, that there is a better path forward for all of us, it would be great if I wouldn't be able to travel across all of the United States without having to think about the color of my skin. But we need to realize that it's something that we're working towards thank you for sharing that that's
Alison Hall 32:33
in credibly personal, and I will never know what that's like. And so I really appreciate that, as different as the United States and Canada are having grown up in Canada. And now being in the United States, I definitely agree with that sentiment. They also are similar in various ways. And racism is a problem in Canada as well. And especially not just with the black community or against the black community. Of course, it's not here as well. There are many different people of color who experience racism in Canada, there's a very large indigenous population. And that is something that Canada definitely needs to work on. And I know that's something that you've talked about in the past, even the relationship between police and the indigenous community in Canada, what role do you think should be played there to work on that relationship and to mend it in a lot of ways?
Devon Clunis 33:27
Oh, significant work needs to be done, I can tell you like, as a chief of police in Winnipeg, again, Winnipeg has more likely the largest urban indigenous population in Canada. And again, the disparity is just it's heartbreaking when you see the impacts on indigenous peoples, particularly those right within the city. You know, I talked about Main Street and seeing people in those real difficult situations, and the vast majority are indigenous people. So there was a point in time where I made a statement that people thought, well, it's a political statement, and a chief of police shouldn't be making a statement like that. But I said, we need to start really thinking about this Oracle repercussions, right? what we're dealing with today has deep historical repercussions. And we can't simply say people are in these conditions because they choose to be, we need to look at the ripple effect of what's occurred. Just like we look at the ripple effect of what Miss Hanna did for me, that's why I'm in this position. We look at what's been done to indigenous peoples in the past and why we're seeing them in these particular conditions, in areas diversity in terms of marginalization, so I really challenge us to do something different. And what we did as a police service, there are seven First Nations communities around the city of Quebec. And so I created a position I actually sent officers out to these respective communities, say how can we build linkages? How can we help improve situations so that people aren't leaving the First Nations reserves and come into the city and being victimized. We even champion what I call really a deep socio economic initiative that in terms of procurements for city of Winnipeg contracts that are certain portion will be will ensure that we have people from indigenous communities were part of that. So some of the economic spin offs can return back to those communities. So there is a lot of work for us to do. But I say individuals like myself, who finds herself in positions of influence, that's all we can actually help to use this as a as an opportunity to rectify some of those deep, historic atrocities really, that occurred. So there's a lot of work for us to do. But I think part of it is just building that awareness of understanding for the masses who don't recognize what's occurred in the past. They think people in these conditions actually choose to be under these conditions. And that's just not the case.
Alison Hall 35:41
Absolutely. You retired from the chief of police position in 2016. But you continued consulting and working with different police forces, and you came out of retirement officially this past summer and into the fall, to join the Ontario government as the Inspector General of Police. A huge position. I mean, what made you want to return rather than riding off into the sunset with your wife?
Devon Clunis 36:11
Let's be fully honest with you. We got Alison, I did not want to return I love my retired life. Okay. We would spend the winters in Florida or other parts of the Caribbean, my wife hasn't been in winter, in terms of Winnipeg type, winters are being cold for the last eight years. We were actually first approached about this position in January last year when I was in Florida. And I said very clearly, nope, not interested. And I provided a number of names of other individuals are thought to do a very good job at this. We got back to Winnipeg in March, you know, when the government asked us to come home in terms of COVID. And of course, on May 25, the George Floyd situation erupted. And as I told you, I shared with you very clearly, I was very deeply concerned. And I really wanted to see police leaders speaking out and really just saying that, no, we totally disagree what we just saw, it's atrocious. It's egregious, it does not reflect us. And there was a quietness for a period of time. And then media started calling me like, right across the country and internationally. And I said, You know what, I'm challenging myself, even though I'm not currently in the role I need to speak. And so I started to speak about the fact that no, what we're seeing is not reflected. Generally, if police officers, I know any officer would later in life on the line at any day for anyone on either side of the border, this is not just a Canadian issue and speaking to. And for the rest of the summer, I found myself just very busy with work trying to help build a bridge or men this deep divide that I saw occurring. And I was really concerned that we're taking a significant step backwards, not only in terms of relationship between police and community, but black and white, and the cultural relations, the divides that are being developed, I thought are actually going to create more polarization. I we're not, we're not on the right path forward. And so again, I was approached in August about this position. And I can tell you, I said very clearly to the committee, I do not want a job, I don't need a job. For me, if I did this, it will be about a purpose, just like that teenage boy who said I wanted to make make a difference. That's why I would do this. So I applied, and I can tell you, for you to pack up and move in the middle of a pandemic. That's not something you do for the joy of it. And that's what currently my wife and I did. And we arrived here in October. And so we're building the inspector because I want the inspector to be this bridge between police and community cultural groups, all of it, we need to understand that, for us to have healthy societies, we need to have very healthy policing entity, right? A police an entity, though that's not an island unto itself. It is there to serve the community. It's just a part of it. And so that's why I decided to take this job on it's not because I wanted a job or needed a job, I would much rather be fully retired. But I thought, the place that we're in right now as society, if there's something you can do, you need to do it because of five or 10 years from now you look back and we're in a place of greater chaos, and you did not do what you could have on. I don't think that Misano would be very pleased with that investment that she made.
Alison Hall 39:18
So that's why you know, what a reason. What do you see the role of Inspector General in Ontario playing and where do we go from here?
Devon Clunis 39:29
Yeah, I think it's gonna play an incredible role. And I think we see it playing out already since I've arrived. You know, I'm making a point to meet with every single chief one on one, larger groups as well, but every single board, one on one, the community as well, and I'm sharing the vision of what the Inspectorate can be. I think initially when people hear about the Inspectorate, they think, well, it's going to be this entity that's going to police, the police or the police can do everything right and then society and community will be perfect. We have to recognize that policing is Just a slice of society, the things that we're see playing out in terms of policing. It exists in every area of community. But I really want people to appreciate this, the vast majority of police leaders are calling for exactly the same thing that the community is calling for. I sometimes liken it to that we're speaking different languages, but we're saying the same things. And so I hope we can be a translator, a bridge builder to say, when people, for example, talk about wanting to defund police, we understand what they're saying. As I said, a decade ago, I was saying stop investing in police. And that I can tell you across our country, for example, many of our chiefs would meet, you know, outside of our official police enrollments. And we need to do things differently. So you need to know that police are calling for the same thing. But we need to get on the same page with police and community moving forward together, it can't be done in isolation. And so as I've been meeting with chiefs and police boards and community remembrance, and here's the rule, I want the inspector to play. And yes, we have this legislative responsibility in terms of holding people accountable, the standards that will be set. But I'm saying we're going to set the standards, we're going to tell you what the standards are going to tell you how you need to meet those standards. And even if you're falling short, we're still going to work with you, to help you to get there. Because we need to get away from this adversarial nature of the relationships that we have created in community, right? Police community, the board, the police associations, everyone has carved out their own territory, and they're going to protect that turf. But I said at the end of the day, we all have the same desire in mind. We all desire a healthy community. And we all have a role to play. Could you imagine a family who, okay, everybody's carved out their own little piece on there just constantly, this is our area. And then the family breaking down law. society to me is like that. And so as the inspector, I'm saying yes, even in terms of holding people accountable, we can do it in a way to continue to build people up. So we say the vision that we've carved out for the inspector right is to promote excellence, equity and public confidence in policing. But we're going to be doing that by working respectfully and professionally to support those who have the direct responsibility for the delivery of policing. And everything that we're going to do will be done with the highest integrity, trust, respect, humility, we're saying that we don't have all the answers. But together, we can certainly come up with all the right answers, we're going to be courageous and doing the right things for the right reasons at the right time, we won't be driven politically, or just by what is popular. And we're going to strive to do this all with incredibly integrity, and continuously improving. But we ultimately are here to serve the community, by serving the police community as well, so that they can go out and effectively be the best that can be for the community
Alison Hall 42:44
based on everything that you've said, I believe that you can do this wholeheartedly. And it really excites me, I think it sounds like a fantastic period of change that policing, at least in Ontario, and I'm sure across Canada is going to go through inspired by what you guys are doing. But Change is hard and changing people is hard. And as you said, there is quite an adversarial relationship right now where people are almost getting their backs up against the wall, maybe if they even agree with the sentiments and call for change. In theory, there's a defensiveness, we all have a reaction if we're being criticized, or being asked to change to feel like, Hey, I'm doing the best I can with what I'm given. How will you address that? I imagine, if you haven't already faced it, you might face it going forward, with various departments getting maybe resistant to change. You know,
Devon Clunis 43:38
I have faced this in the past, as I told you about when I took over as chief and Olympic in terms of changing the entire mindset. But I think first you have to give people an opportunity to be heard. Because as I said, I think we all desire the same outcome. We all want a better community, a better society, we want to know that our actions actually will have a positive outcome. I've worked in some areas in our police service in the past, where I was going to take over and people just would come into work put in their time feeling that really what I'm doing here is just it's menial, it has no real impact. So I would actually sit people down and said, Do you realize how what you do here, impacts here impacts here and this entire mechanism only works because actually you're here. So in Ontario, what I've been talking about is the nature of the symbiotic relationship that we need to be in that we need to realize that what we do yes impacts the whole and if you're not healthy, we are not healthy. And that the work that you're doing here as real, meaningful, significant impact. I think sometimes we we think so much about systems that we forget about people, and we need to know that. So for me, I've always had this mindset of people first in terms of how I leave, that you as the individual need to know how you fit into a hole. And now your specific duty does impact the entire health and well being so yes, even in these A massive place like Ontario, when I do have these conversations with individuals in different sectors, we all desire the same thing. And yes, it will take time. But I think when you when you get to the point of speaking to an individual and letting them know that they matter that your organization matters. That's how you bring about change. I'm not saying it will happen overnight. Be very naive of me. I've been at this for three and a half decades. I realize it doesn't happen overnight. But I can tell you it does happen. And if I harken back to my time in the Winnipeg Police Service, again, one of my other proudest moments because shifting an entire organization from being reactionary, and doing what people consider to be in the past, like, these are just really soft things. So I was getting ready to retire, you know, and one of the individuals who's not working what we call our Major Crimes Unit, right? It's all about crime and going up just deal with the crime, but came up to me and said this. So Chief, I just want you to know that 80% of us are 100%, behind everything that you're doing. Do you know what you can do when you have 80% of any organization of people behind you. So Max, amazing the amount of change that can occur. But in order to get to that place, what we need to do with the front end work, when you just spend the time, like I said, I had 12 farms across the city 18 with our membership, and people said that's taken a lot of time to move on. But you have to build a culture, build the right climate, in which all of these other things can occur. Oftentimes, what we do is this, we come up with it, here's a policy, here's a procedure, here's what we're gonna do. And nobody's on board. And we wonder why it fails. We need to explain to people why this is important, and help them to see the incredible role that they can play. That takes time. And oftentimes in change management, we don't do that, or we fail. So that's why I'm having all these meetings right now across like is that every single chief will see me face to face virtually initially, but then it will be ongoing and it won't be a one time engagement. That's also part of where we fail. We think it's one time when it's done. It's not It must be continuous. So yes, I'm very hopeful. And again, like, I always go back to that little boy Misato didn't just say one day, right? took several months. And the fact that I'm here speaking with him saying like, Wow, look at the ripple effects. Every single person that I get to touch with look at the ripple effects. That's why I'm here.
Alison Hall 47:25
Yeah. Wow. dovan Inspector General clunis. Thank you so much. I have just learned so much from this conversation. And I really think it's going to have a ripple effect in itself. I think everybody needs to hear this conversation in Canada and abroad. You are just making such an impact. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart for coming out of retirement. And having this conversation with me, I really really was my
Devon Clunis 47:53
pleasure. Anytime awesome.