Welcome to the latest newsletter from Winnipeg Police Cause Harm (WPCH). It has been a while since we sent out our last newsletter but we will aim to send it out more regularly in 2024. Each issue will include a news round-up about policing, upcoming events/opportunities, stories from other struggles in Winnipeg, and suggestions for things to read/watch. Please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any ideas or requests for things to include in future issues at email@example.com.
As kids, we're taught that police are here to protect us, and that's something that we teach our children as well — the police are supposed to keep people safe, they're supposed to help people. But this wasn't the case for Elias and many other people. Where was his help? Why didn't they keep him safe?
— Jody Beardy, partner of Elias Whitehead
In the news
Killing of Elias Whitehead
Elias Whitehead was killed by the Winnipeg Police in mid-October after a lengthy police beating outside a Shell gas station in West Broadway. Whitehead, a 37-year-old man originally from Webequie First Nation in Northern Ontario, was experiencing what appeared to be a mental health crisis when the police forcibly restrained him on the ground and unleashed several minutes of vicious kicking and kneeing. A witness of the killing recounted to media that “the man who they were holding down was not fighting back at all, so we were all watching in shock." A WPCH member visited the scene of the killing the following day and documented the extensive blood remaining on the street, which can be seen here (obvious content warning).
In response to the killing — and specifically the media coverage that included first-hand witness reports — WPS Chief Danny Smyth retaliated with one of his now-infamous Substack posts that condemned criticism of the incident. Targeting CBC Manitoba specifically, Smyth complained: “If chasing the clicks and likes of a progressive audience is the goal, then providing content that defaults to police criticism and the negative portrayal of police should surprise no one.” However, this blatant intimidation of critics hasn’t stopped the family of Elias from continuing to publicly speak out about the killing, including at a press conference hosted in early November by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) emphasized: “Our people no longer feel safe under the system, there's something deeply wrong and it must be fixed now.”
For another detailed response to the killing of Elias, please check out our group’s statement published on Oct. 22. It’s also crucial to remember that this killing is part of a broader trend of lethal police force being used against people in crisis/medical emergencies and that the only long-term solution to this epidemic is to replace cops with non-police crisis response.
Photo credit: Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC
Repeated anti-Palestine actions by WPS
Consistent with recent years — like when cops formed a wall specifically facing the Palestinian side of a protest in mid-2021 — the WPS has been decisively anti-Palestinian in orientation since the surge of actions against Israel’s escalated and ongoing assault on Gaza. WPS Chief Danny Smyth issued a statement as president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police declaring that the organization “supports Israel’s right to defend itself” and “the police community will do what it can to support the Israel National Police as they seek out those responsible,” predictably making no mention at all of Israel’s illegal occupation and blockade of Palestine territory.
On Oct. 13, during a memorial at the University of Manitoba organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, a WPS officer ordered a student not to display a Palestinian flag at the event and instructed them to store it in the police car; The Manitoban reported that “later, an officer told several students there had been a misunderstanding and that they could have their flags back, but said that due to ‘political sensitivities,’ he would appreciate if they kept their Palestinian flags ‘understated.’”
Two weeks later, the WPS superintendent charged with monitoring political events appealed to protesters for “protests to remain in a single location, rather than marching elsewhere,” a clear attempt to contain and limit the political effectiveness of protests. Despite such events constituting a tiny fraction of police response, the superintendent also complained that they are “a substantial draw on police resources” (the WPS will almost certainly invoke this come budget time to extort even more money from the city).
Then, on Nov. 4, the WPS pulled over a Tunisian Canadian family that were participating in a car rally for Palestine and threatened to have child services take away the 11-year-old in the car. The cops also “started yelling and telling us that we are stupid for going in cars and protesting” and told them to “put that ‘shit flag away.’” When asked to apologize to the 11-year-old, who by then was having a panic attack, the cop said “I am sorry you have a stupid aunt.” The cops also issued a combined $750 for minor traffic infractions like not wearing a seatbelt. While all disparate events, these incidents feature a consistent throughline of anti-Palestinian hostility by the WPS that exemplifies its right-wing and anti-liberatory political orientation, a tendency highly visible in other police forces in Canada as well.
Screenshot taken from Oct. 18 issue of The Manitoban
Inquest into five people killed by WPS
After a considerable delay of over four years, a group inquest into the deaths of five men who died after being taken into police custody began on Nov. 7. The deaths occurred over an approximately one year timeframe beginning in July of 2018. The victims, Michael Bagot, Randy Cochrane, Matthew Fosseneuve, Patrick Gagnon, and Sean Thompson, all appeared to be suffering from mental health crises at the time of being detained or arrested by Winnipeg Police. All five men were restrained face down, many of them were bound with RIPP Hobble restraints, Gagnon was kneed repeatedly in the left shoulder, and Fosseneuve was Tasered. Randy Cochrane was from Fisher River Cree Nation, Sean Thompson was from Little Saskatchewan First Nation, and Michael Bagot was from Guyana. Fosseneuve was also Indigenous.
The highly dubious diagnosis of “excited delirium” has been brought up many times throughout the inquests in relation to multiple deaths. Excited delirium is a controversial diagnosis that has been widely rejected by the medical community, and determined not to be a valid diagnosis or cause of death by major medical associations in the United States. One officer told the court he saw “cases of excited delirium” nearly every day but could not explain what caused it or what could be done to treat it. When asked about de-escalation, Winnipeg Police claim that a less violent approach would not have been possible. Descriptions of the events, even by police themselves, beg to differ. For example, Gagnon, who was described by officers as “scared” and “agitated” during the altercation, lost consciousness shortly after being restrained, beaten and handcuffed by four officers. Gagnon went into cardiac arrest shortly after, with officers reporting that he did not have a pulse, and died from brain damage as a result. Forensic pathologist Dr. Charles Littman determined “excited delirium due to cocaine use” to be the cause of the cardiac arrest, despite the lack of credibility for the diagnosis.
One of the most clear-cut examples of the shortcomings of the inquest process is the reality that Winnipeg Police are generally given the privilege to testify first. Consequently, any discrepancies in testimonies fall on others to explain, and not the police. Jeffrey Peters, a paramedic who was on the scene during the altercation involving WPS and Michael Bagot, delivered a testimony on Nov. 10 that contradicts the testimonies given by officers the day before. Peters testified that an officer had a knee on Bagot’s back, who appeared to not be breathing and was restrained and handcuffed on the ground beside a transit bus. Peters’ testimony is consistent with what a civilian witness shared with the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, who stated that the police were kneeling on top of Bagot, and that Bagot had yelled “Get off me,” and “I can’t breathe.” Furthermore, when Bagot was brought to the hospital, the attending physician told his family that, according to brain scans, they believed he had been without oxygen for over ten minutes. Despite all this evidence, police officers unanimously testified that a knee had not been used to restrain Bagot. Rather than present them with the contradictory claims for them to be forced to acknowledge the available evidence, it was Peters who was subjected more extensive questioning.
On Nov. 20, the family of Bagot organized a small vigil and gathering outside the courthouse to honour the lives of those killed by police. A beautiful painting featuring the names of many of those lost was placed beside several photos. Along with the family members of Bagot, William Hudson — the father of Eishia Hudson, killed by the WPS in 2020 — spoke to the crowd about his own family’s struggle for justice. While inquests are very intense and often frustrating experiences, this gathering was a powerful instance of families coming together and breaking down the isolation that the system attempts to impose on them.
Other times police caused harm
Jeffrey Norman tasers person without warning outside downtown store
In early October, a community member shared photos on Twitter with the following text: “here is cop TASING our neighbour for walking with 2 cans of beans & a cpl granola bars from giant tiger. HE JUST GOT OUT OF HIS CAR SHOT HIS TASER W/O ANY WARNING neighbour was crying unmoving on the ground more cops came n yelled “Do you want it again?!!” It was quickly realized by other social media users that the cop in question is the notoriously violent Jeffrey Norman. Almost three years ago to the day, WPCH published a video calling for Norman’s firing due to this lengthy track record of repeated violence.
Police pension cuts serve as reminder of extreme costs of policing
After many years of attempts, including former mayor Brian Bowman’s protracted feud with the police union that resulted in an arbitrator siding with the cops, the police pension plan was finally overhauled in September, dropping the city’s pension contribution from almost 22% of salary to 8% (which is what other city workers get). However, this move wasn’t the result of political courage but a highly bureaucratic process of an actuarial valuation, suggesting that the pension fund was likely determined as sufficiently endowed to reduce city payments for the near future. With that said, the reduction is nonetheless noteworthy, representing a staggering $23.7 million in savings per year. To put that figure in comparison, the entire city library operations budget in 2023 is just over $30 million a year.
WPS shot and killed yet another person
Details remain sparse but on Nov. 28, the WPS reported that a man was shot during a traffic stop near Pembina Highway and Dalhousie Drive shortly after midnight, and died in hospital due to critical injuries. Cops claim that the occupants of the vehicle attempted to flee the scene during the stop and an officer was "pinned by the suspect vehicle," at which point an officer shot the man. As noted by Winnipeg Free Press reporter Marsha McLeod, this is the eighth person that the WPS has shot and killed since 2020.
Violence prevention, not policing
Pre-trial of Jeremy Skibicki, charged with deaths of four Indigenous women
For seven days, the courtroom was packed full of family members of lost loved ones, community members, and media to witness the pretrial of Jeremy Skibicki. Skibicki is charged with the murders of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and Buffalo Woman. While his trial is scheduled for April 2024, a pre-trial began on November 6 to debate the admissibility of evidence. There is currently a publication ban on the case, which means that details about the case cannot be shared publicly. However, the likely hundreds of people who witnessed the proceedings hold the truth in their hearts, until the truth can be spoken without legal repercussions. Often, when a verdict is reached a publication ban is lifted.
For now, all we can say is that WPCH supports demands for justice in cases of gendered, racial, and colonial violence as we work to build a world where these types of atrocities do not happen. Justice is not an easy feat when lives have been taken and when deeply racist and colonial mindsets drive people to murder. No legal process can bring loved ones back. No single conviction can stop the crisis of murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S). Yet we hope that the outcome of this trial might bring solace to the families. As our members work to find better ways of dealing with violence that does not result in more people behind bars, we are attentive to the needs and desires of the families and affected communities who are searching for justice and healing. We dream of a world where gendered colonial violence does not exist - a world which requires redirecting state funds and power into the hands of our communities. This includes full respect for Indigenous self-determination.
Justice for MMIWG2S is not possible in a settler colonial state which is implicated in the mass violence against Indigenous nations and people. As a group made up almost entirely of settlers, we support Indigenous demands for justice, and the ability of Indigenous people to self-determine what law and justice looks like. Members of WPCH will be attending Skibicki’s trial in April to honour the women and be in solidarity with the families.
- Prisoners’ Justice Day happens every August 10 across Canada. This year, in Winnipeg, several members of WPCH joined with many other groups at Native Clan Organization’s Manitou House to commemorate the day with a sacred fire, which was followed by a feast at the nearby Ukrainian Labour Temple. WPCH was honoured to help donate some of the firewood, using money from donations.
- On October 14th and 15th, WPCH members tabled at the Winnipeg Punk Rock Flea Market at the University of Manitoba. Along with debuting our brand-new shirt design, we had a wide variety of wares for purchase including zines, soaps, candles, and 3D-printed pig keychains. We also gave away a large number of pamphlets about the case for defunding police and refunding community. All proceeds from the tabling goes to cover costs and support our organizing work. We were also thrilled to table at the album launch show of Super Duty Tough Work at the Good Will on Nov. 4th.
- Abolitionist groups organizing across so-called Canada, including Winnipeg Police Cause Harm, signed a solidarity pledge to express support and solidarity with the Palestinian people and their resistance.
- We are currently selling 30 bundles of materials made for the Punk Rock Flea Market to help us fundraise for our 2024 activities! For 50 bucks you'll get: 1 Shirt; 1 ACAB Candle or Dinos 4 Abolition lino print (Limited quantities of each); 3 Chapstick; 2 FTP Soap; and a 3D printed Pig! Please send an etransfer to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, best contact, shirt size and your preference between Candle and Lino print (Limited quantities of both!) before December the 8th, with pickup December the 22nd!
- Follow the following groups on Instagram to stay up to date with upcoming Palestinian solidarity actions: Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba, Queers for Palestine - Winnipeg, and Students for Justice in Palestine - University of Manitoba.
- One of our members is hosting a Manitoba Social for activists and organizers, or folks who want to become one, to hang out and network. It will be held on December the 15th at the Graffiti Gallery, and please shoot us an email at email@example.com for more information if you're interested in attending!
- The No Space For Hate Rally was held on October 21st. The rally was a counter-demonstration to the 1 Million March 4 Children, an anti-trans hate group dedicated to vilifying trans people and gender education in schools. The No Space For Hate rally brought out hundreds of community members to participate in chants, listen to speakers, and celebrate queer identity. No Space For Hate explicitly refused to work with and rely on police for safety, recognizing the violence inflicted upon queer people by police and the need, ultimately, for empowered communities. The rally therefore used volunteers who worked as marshals, legal observers, and even operated a number of safe space tents to insure everyone who came out could do so safely, thereby demonstrating the potential of communities to maintain safety and dignity in the absence of police repression.
- Palestine Solidarity Rallies have been occurring weekly, as the siege of Gaza broadens in scope and brutality. Centering calls for ceasefire and Palestinian liberation, the local rallies are part of growing international demands for justice, resilient even in the face of Winnipeg winters. Notably, the rally on the 21st of October coincided with the aforementioned No Space For Hate Rally, and was actually located on the other side of Broadway in Memorial Park. Despite Zionist hecklers hiding out on the Legislature grounds, the solidarity demonstrated by the No Space For Hate organizers was very heartening, with many speakers pointing out the connections between queer and Palestinian liberation, and attendees joining the Palestine Solidarity Rally for the march to Portage and Main.
Since 2021, activists in Atlanta have been working together to oppose a “public safety” training centre for the Atlanta Prison Foundation. The proposed training center, commonly known as Cop City, is a police facility that is proposed to be built on 381 acres of the Weelaunee Forest. The Stop Cop City movement has been met with continuous, extreme forms of police and state repression. In January 2023, activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, was killed by Georgia State Patrol. Police are suspected to have lied about Tortuguita shooting first and injuring a state trooper, as body camera footage has lead people to understand that the trooper was most likely shot accidentally by another officer. The body camera footage, as always, has not led to any justice for Tortuguita and only served to confirm what most activists already knew to be true. In September of this year, 61 activists were charged under RICO state terrorism and money laundering laws. Despite this, the movement has persisted with a number of direct actions taking place to disrupt the construction, causing contractors to withdraw from the project.
We spotlight this struggle in Atlanta because the use of terrorism charges and this level of state repression sets a dangerous precedent for activists everywhere. We can draw parallels to the use of the Toronto Police’s pre-dawn raids against Palestine activists for postering an Indigo. We also know that they will try to build Cop Cities everywhere, and that we must learn from Atlanta on how to continuously resist police expansions.
- If you are able to, please consider dropping off gasoline to Camp Marcedes (near the CMHR).
- If you are able to, please consider off gas, propane, and firewood to Camp Morgan (at the Brady landfill). E-transfers can also be sent to support the camp.
- If you are able to, please consider dropping off needed items to Sunshine House or donating money directly.
- Check out this excellent new (free!) zine “Fat Healthcare” for information about how to make healthcare more accessible for fat trans and disabled folks. The zine includes recommendations for books, social media accounts to follow, and podcasts for more learning resources.
- Check out Verso’s resources and further reading list on Palestine which includes numerous free e-books, blog highlights, and a podcast episode.
- Join thousands of others in calling for an immediate ceasefire by completing this form to send an email to Prime Minister Trudeau, your local MP, and the leaders of the NDP, Conservatives and Greens.
- A helpful zine on prevention and care tips for drug related wounds by Claire Macon and Abdullah Shihipar, including some info on Xylazine specific wound care.
- As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in several locations in Manitoba, if you are able to please consider stocking up on masks for yourself and others! Masks are a great way to protect your community against the spread of COVID and to avoid police and state surveillance.
- The National Overdose Response Service (NORS) is a convenient, and confidential 24/7 virtual safe consumption hotline, available anywhere in Canada: 1-888-688-6677
- Winnipeg Bad Date List is a confidential, community-run website used for community safety within sex work and everyone involved in the sex trade. baddatelistwinnipeg.com or 1-844-333-2211 “Check for bad dates - keep our community safe - share information” Questions can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Know Your Rights cards
- Experiencing someone in crisis? Call these numbers instead of the police:
Further reading, watching, & listening
- “Concerns raised over Manitoba police watchdog transparency” by Morgan Modjeski, City News
- "Paramedic’s testimony contradicts police account at inquest" by Marsha McLeod, Winnipeg Free Press (be sure to check out McLeod's excellent other reporting on inquests as well)
- “Israel’s Tools of Occupation Are Tested on Palestine and Exported Globally” by Kelly Hayes, Truthout
- “A Textbook Case of Genocide” by Raz Segal, Jewish Currents
- “A Practical Appraisal of Palestinian Violence” by Steve Salaita
- “On Calls to "Reopen the Asylums w/ Liat Ben-Moshe, Leah Harris and Vesper Moore” by Beatrice Adler Bolton, Death Panel
- “How to Build the End of the World: In Defense of the Chaotic Protester” by Miliaku Nwabueze, Scalawag
- “The Struggle to Stop Cop City—By Any Means Necessary” by Micah Herskind and Kamau Franklin, The Forge
- “Indigenous cops are cops, too” by F.T. Green, Briarpatch
- ‘DULF, as We Knew It, Is Dead’ by Michelle Gamage, The Tyee
- “Settler Moves to Indigeneity: From Canada to Israel” by Megan Scribe, Yellowhead Institute