185! That is the number of protests, marches, or gatherings that the Winnipeg Police has managed in the past year alone. This number represents a ten-fold increase from what we were used to managing just a few years ago. From large events like Justice4BlackLives or Canada Day to smaller protests at police headquarters or City Hall. Almost every event disrupts the flow of traffic. In Winnipeg, Portage and Main is routinely shut down for both celebrations and protests. (And who could forget the White-Out parties just a few years ago that saw as many as 50,000 people descend upon the streets during the Jets playoff run).
Through it all, big or small, the WPS has been called upon to manage the crowds safely—and we have. Whether that involved escorting crowds through busy roadways or buffering between protestors and counter-protestors, the WPS has ensured that people could safely gather and be heard.
Each event is unique in its own right. Canadian police have been taught some hard lessons over the years. From Oka and Caledonia, to the G20 in Toronto, or the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver, police have adapted. Today, the public can expect the police to approach protests and marches with impartiality. At the onset, they can expect dialogue and rapport with protestors. They can expect tolerance and discretion when dealing with traffic and by-law infractions. The public needs to know that continued public order breaches have limitations, but use of force and mass arrests are generally a last resort.
I have no doubt that the use of large trucks and farm equipment will cause Canadian police to adapt our response to future protests. As protests and marches continue to trend up, it is also important the public is educated about the tactics employed by police to manage these events safely.
A 36-year member of the Winnipeg Police Service
Appointed Chief of Police in 2016
Currently serving as President of the Manitoba Association Chiefs of Police and Board Member of Canadian Association Chiefs of Police