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Black History Month: An Interview with Devon Clunis

Friday, February 12, 2016

Devon Clunis was born in Jamaica and his family immigrated to Canada when he was young. He grew up in Winnipeg and first joined the Winnipeg Police Service in 1987. In his nearly 30 years as a police officer, Chief Clunis has served in many capacities, including Uniform Patrol, Traffic, Plainclothes Investigation and Community Relations. In October 2012 he was appointed Chief of Police, becoming the first Black police chief in Canadian history. Chief Clunis recently took the time to speak with me about Black History Month, growing up in Winnipeg and how police can work to promote racial inclusion and human rights.

A head-and-shoulders image of Devon Clunis standing in front of a Canadian flag wearing a dark blue Winnipeg police uniform and police cap. He is smiling at the photographer.
Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis

 

Is Black History Month Important to you?

Yes, Black History Month is important to me. Without knowledge of your history it can be difficult to understand the present and more challenging to navigate the future. Knowing Black history has been incredibly empowering for me and continues to inspire me to make the best of opportunities.

Your family immigrated to Canada from Jamaica when you were young. What was it was like to grow up as a Black Canadian in Winnipeg?

This would take some time. There was a time when being Black in our city felt like being second class. Not necessarily because of personal experiences of racism, but more the systemic depictions seen in popular culture. You were constantly aware that you were different and that becomes burdensome over time. I was fortunate to have good peer relationships and supportive adults that helped me overcome the social challenges inherent with being minority status. I felt privileged growing up in Winnipeg because I knew in spite of the challenges there were opportunities that were not available in Jamaica. I determined very early on to make the most of those opportunities.

You were the first Black Canadian ever appointed as a police chief in Canada. Do you think this is significant and if so, why was it?

I didn’t realize when it happened just how significant my appointment was to the broader community. This was seen as a milestone and opened the door for others to dream of the impossible. I believe it inspires people from all backgrounds to strive, knowing that in Canada, you can achieve your dreams. 

In what ways can police work to promote racial inclusion and human rights?

We have been doing this. The Winnipeg Police Service is ethnically diverse, and believes in the inherent dignity of the individual. Racial inclusion predicated on human rights is foundational to policing in our Canadian context and embodied in our vision and mission. We strive to “create a culture of safety for all” citizens by building safe and healthy communities across our city.

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