Winnipeg’s compassionate past still needed today

2014-10-04 Winnipeg’s compassionate past still needed today – Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Free Press – PRINT EDITION Posted: 10/4/2014

Some characterize the police as an oppressive arm of government, yet they are among the first ones called in almost any kind of crisis. While social justice is not their primary mandate, police officers are the ones who, day in and day out, help homeless people get in from the cold, protect people suffering debilitating substance-abuse or mental-health issues and advocate for them.

In the vast majority of cases, police officers try to do their best for people in need. This phenomenon is not unique to Winnipeg, but our history has a particular social-justice character. We are a compassionate city, perhaps because of our diversity and the deep social issues we have struggled with.

People come to Winnipeg from around the world, often from conflict zones fleeing political violence, economic hardship and oppression. We have one of the largest urban aboriginal communities in North America and one of the largest French-speaking populations outside of Quebec. We earned an international reputation as a bastion of labour rights with the 1919 General Strike. Following the Second World War, Winnipeg’s standing as a centre for human rights grew as women of all classes and ethnic backgrounds protested against rising milk and food prices. We tolerate a harsh winter climate that draws us together and nourishes our rich contributions of art, music and literature.

Winnipeg is an international centre of learning about human rights and justice. The Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice at the University of Manitoba trains master’s and doctoral students from over 30 countries for peace-building around the globe, and the University of Manitoba has several faculties, such as the Centre for Applied Ethics, focusing on human rights. Menno Simons College, Canadian Mennonite University and the Global College at the University of Winnipeg also train students for international peace-building.

It is no accident the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first national museum established outside the Ottawa capital region, was opened in Winnipeg to serve as a beacon for human rights and social justice.

This intellectual underpinning is part of our compassionate culture. However, it is the people at street level who actually look out for vulnerable peoples’ basic human rights. It is the people who do the right thing for fellow human beings when nobody is looking that are our real protectors of human dignity. It is the business person who volunteers at a soup line and the child who stands up for a bullied peer at school. Each of us plays a part in our own unique ways, but we are all a part of our community.

The thing we know for sure is working together we are all stronger. As long as we continue to have problems in our community, we all must ask ourselves what we have done today to help make the situation better. “A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” (Khalil Gibran). We all know ways we can contribute, but until we act, we know we haven’t unleashed our full potential.

Staff Sgt. Bob Chrismas is in his 25th year with the Winnipeg Police Service.

An Arranged Marriage: Police – Media Conflict & Collaboration

CHRISMAS, Robert. An Arranged Marriage: Police – Media Conflict & Collaboration. Canadian Graduate Journal of Sociology and Criminology, [S.l.], v. 1, n. 1, p. 43-55, sep. 2012. ISSN 1927-9825

View the full article here

Media and police professionals are bound together in interdependent, and often tense, working relationships. For different purposes both professions need to work effectively together while simultaneously retaining independence from each other. These complex inter-reliant relationships create unique challenges that often call for improvement. This essay examines whether relationships between interdependent professional organizations can be improved through a collaborative problem-solving intervention, based on the interactive methods of facilitated dialogue and appreciative inquiry. The article describes a case study of a large Canadian police agency working with local media outlets to improve their working relationship. It highlights the importance of conflict analysis followed by effective change management strategies in implementation of collaborative solutions that meet everyone’s needs. This case study illustrates dynamics that generalize to organizations that have strong organizational cultures and are highly independent and simultaneously required to work together. Some examples of such organizations are military, prison guards, scholars, medical professionals, social workers, teachers, lawyers and most government agencies.

People are still out all night; how do they do it?

In one of the coldest winters on record, there are still people out all night, sometimes  with no gloves and wearing only runners. We (my family and I) have found people out, huddled in bus shacks every night over the past month, despite the great efforts by wonderful organizations like Siloam Mission, Salvation Army, the Main Street Project and others. We found the numbers of people out there over the last few nights, over Christmas and as the temperatures got more extreme, dropped a bit, BUT, we still found 6 to 10 or more each night who were out at 4AM and not in a shelter. They all have a different story, but no-one should be out in this cold.

Here is the CBC story


“Rising up” conference, University of Manitoba. 9-10 March 2018

Twenty panels and eighty-four presenters from twenty-nine institutions from all over the world!

 Screening of More than a Word at 7 pm in partnership with Decolonizing lens.

Complimentary  dinner March 10th at 5:45 pm at the Hub Social Club

Link to Conference webpage

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Rising Up: A Graduate Students Conference on Indigenous Knowledge and Research Friday and Saturday, March 9th and 10th, 2018 Fort Garry Campus, University of Manitoba

Rising Up is an academic gathering giving graduate students the spotlight to present their work while connecting with other researchers. The conference is interdisciplinary, and attracts students and researchers who are working on a wide range of topics in the Indigenous/Native Studies field.

This is a free event, open to all.


Perceptions on confronting sexual exploitation in Canada: Introducing new primary research

The Journal of Community Safety and Well-Being

Click here to view the full article


This paper provides a preview into new primary research into sexual exploitation and human sex trafficking in Canada. The project, for which interviewing is complete and analysis is now underway, is qualitative research taking a grounded, open-minded approach with an underlying hypothesis that better outcomes may be gleaned from systems of service providers and stakeholders through improved coordination and collaboration. Previous research on related topics has often overlooked key stakeholders including police, prosecutors, political, First Nations and other community leaders. This research casts a wider net, incorporating the voices of over 65 experts across Manitoba, including: experiential survivors of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, police, social workers, Aboriginal leaders, and people working in numerous non-government organizations who work to prevent sexual exploitation and assist victims to escape the sex industry. The research was focused in Manitoba where women and children continue to be victimized in the sex industry despite having one of the most comprehensive and well-funded counter sexual exploitation strategies of any province in Canada. The questions asked of subjects were designed to highlight barriers and opportunities for improved collaboration, interdiction and response to prevent people from being exploited in the sex industry and help others to escape it. While the data is in the early stages of analysis, some strong themes are already apparent to the researcher. These themes suggest that there may be a significant correlation between vulnerability to sexual exploitation and poverty, lack of opportunities, familial environment and relationships, and resilience. Generally, people from all perspectives seem to be stressing that there needs to be better coordination of resources, and more education and awareness across society on this issue.

Bob Chrismas, PhD.

cropped-dscn3197-e15140611622131.jpgBob Chrismas has over 35 years of public service experience, primarily in public safety and peace keeping roles. He holds a PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies, a Master of Public Administration degree, has presented internationally, and authored numerous publications on justice related issues. A devoted public servant, police officer, author, social justice advocate, educator, advisor, Bob is a critical thinking public servant, a life long learner, grassroots connector, dedicated to community service through teamwork, collaboration and collective impact. Bob has expertise to share in self actualization and improved corporate and community outcomes- contact him now and let’s achieve the future we want.

Values and hobbies: family, Tai Chi, Yoga

Who are the homeless in Winnipeg’s unforgiving urban ice-scape?


IMG_0082When the businesses are closed, and it is -25C, Winnipeg’s streets become a formidable and unforgiving place; it is urban tundra, but in some ways more harsh than the wild, because the cold reality is that it is made to keep people out. Yet, there are people everywhere, walking to stay warm, finding a corner to huddle in, and sometimes relying on the compassion of strangers for the next meal or a pair of mitts and a scarf. Who are these people, huddled in bus shacks and running around in the streets at night? They are all different, but they all have something in common; they are human beings, with hopes and dreams, needs and they all come from somewhere, a place, a family, but not always knowing where they will go tomorrow, or even today.

Today, George is in his usual spot, alone in the bus shack outside City Hall. Sometimes there are others, and on the odd occasion George is missing, but most days he is there, either sitting up or laying down, bundled up and trying to sleep. George is quiet; we aren’t sure if it is more a language barrier or more of a mental health issue, but he is very quiet, barely uttering more than a “thank-you” for a hot coffee. He is dressed warmly with felt pack boots and a parka, and sometimes he has food wrappings beside him. He doesn’t seem drunk, but might sometimes be, it is hard to tell in the bone chilling cold. Yesterday, as we pulled up there were a couple of people there in the shack and as we walked in with our gear, George got up, walked outside and urinated on a tree in the courtyard in City Hall, 10 feet from the bus shack. Such is life in the street; there is not much to be shy about, and not many ways to preserve your dignity when there are no bathrooms, you do what you have to do. Today I asked “George, where are you from? He said without hesitation, “Wayway.” I asked Waywaysakapo?” George said “Ya.” Wayawasakapa is a reserve in Northern Manitoba. That was our whole conversation as he slurped down the soup we left, but did say a quiet “thank-you” as we packed up and left.

Billy (pictured here and above), is in the bus shack by Portage Place, not sure he is IMG_0081homeless, just trying to make his way home up North for the holidays. As soon as my daughter Chelsea offered him a hot coffee and a soup, Billy (not his real name) was happy and thankful for something warm; at 4:00AM it was -25C with wind-chill that could take your fingers off if they were exposed too long. He was excited to receive anything and even get his picture taken, as well as hoping to get a ride back to his community that day.

Isabel (not her real name) is sitting alone in a bus shack by Eaton Place, wide awake, sober, with the apparent patience of the Buddha, not expecting anything to happen and not trying to make anything happen- just sitting there. She is elderly, Indigenous, well-spoken and well-dressed, a walker and some makeshift luggage sitting in front of her. “Hi Isabel, would you like some hot soup and a coffee today?” She quickly says, “Oh yes, that would be nice.” Isabel has a warm smile and a kind demeanor; she could be anyone’s grandmother, and no doubt is. Every time I see her I think she should be sitting in a rocking chair by a fire, maybe with a baby in her lap. Isabel took the coffee and soup with some kind words and I asked her “what are your plans today, on Christmas eve?. Isabel was quick to answer with a bright smile, “I’ve been invited to dinner at Siloam Mission today.” She said it as though she was going to the governor’s ball. Not wanting to pry or open old wounds, I was curious and had to ask, “why are you out here?” Isabel smiled and said “well things happen” and did not elaborate.

Many sit there as we approach them (my daughter and I) and when we actually get face-to-face with them, we can feel their story. Whether they are intentionally where they want to be, or marginalized by family or work struggles, the ultimate lesson is that everyone is different. People are homeless for various reasons, and needing help, and we have found some fulfillment in offering a small gesture of compassion. It is heart-breaking to really embrace the many challenges that different people face, many who are homeless and struggling.  The different stories, the people, it’s tragic and painful, but people need to know that it could happen to any of us. We’ve met people who have fallen astray of loss of work, in transit- trying to get home to their supports, and people who seem to be couch surfing and bus shack squatting, sometimes with a goal and sometimes aimless; they are all different. Regardless of why someone is out in the street or hiding from the wind in a bus shack, in -30C weather in the middle of the night, we have learned that a small compassionate act, an act of unconditional love, sharing a laugh or a short story, is incredibly rewarding as we connect with humanity.


Paying it Forward- The Smallest Gesture Can Make a Difference

How much effort does it take for another person to affect your day, with a smile or a small gesture of thanks, recognition of your work, or even just being courteous? The answer is, not much. Imagine now how a small act or gesture might affect your day when you have nothing, if you were out in the cold with no home, no food, no money and not even proper clothes, or bandages for your wounds or medicine for your infections.IMG_0077

We have shelters and food banks, soup lines, many agencies and wonderful people providing all kinds of humanitarian aid for our less fortunate citizens, but there are those who fall through the cracks, those who do not get into a shelter at night, and many who, for a variety of reasons, do not participate well in organized charity efforts. Aren’t those the most vulnerable among us? When we slow-down from our busy lives and look around, we can see that there are a lot more unfortunate, homeless, and challenged people than most of us realize. They are hidden in plain sight, having learned to be unobtrusive for fear of being pushed out, we even sometimes step over them, barely distracted from checking our cellphone for texts and e-mails while running for a break at work. Admittedly, we all have our problems and life to deal with, and it is overwhelming to think about all that is going on in the world; but there must be some balance; we also have responsibilities as citizens. We should find some balance between responsibility for our own private lives and for social problems in our community.

On my 4AM walk to work in downtown Winnipeg, I see people sleeping in bus shacks, and running around in the streets. A person could freeze to death or lose fingers and toes to frostbite in minutes in our frigid winter weather. Inquiring with the shelters that exist, I found that, for a variety of reasons, there are a lot of people stuck (my daughter Chelsea above) out in the elements at night, from teenagers to elderly, some in wheelchairs, some with obvious substance abuse and/or mental health issues, and some who have run into financial problems. They are from all over, and their stories are as diverse as their backgrounds; not all are homeless; some are displaced only for a few days and some choose to be there. Whatever the reason, it does not seem right that some people are cowering in cold bus shacks and doorways on a cold winter night while the rest of us sleep soundly in our homes.

My family decided to try a small gesture and see if it helps. We started bringing hot coffee and soup for those who seem to be lost in the system, in the middle of the night, after everything is closed, when the bus shacks are some of the only places to escape the cold. They are disturbingly easy to find, and amazingly appreciative. We’ve had some laughs and heard some (my daughter Chelsea above) interesting stories, just offering a non-judgmental gesture with a compassionate intention. There are some who we wonder about when they suddenly aren’t in their regular spot. Surprisingly, there are different faces each day, an endless parade of different people, each with their own story. Some are unresponsive, obviously struggling with their issues, but many are bright, sober and are just getting by, day-by-day, to overcome the challenges life has dealt them.

Most are thankful for a hot cup of coffee, hot chocolate or soup to warm their belly in the wet snow and the cold night air. It has been a heartwarming experience, and has taught us that we can respect a person’s human dignity with very small acts. All of us have daily opportunities to do something nice for someone. It doesn’t have to be someone homeless; you never know what challenges other people are struggling with. These are chances that should not be wasted, because life’s lottery could have placed any of us in a different position than we have in life, and a compassionate act can give us the feeling of restoring some balance, some social justice in the world, one small gesture at a time.

Barb and Chelsea made the Free Press today

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 1.35.08 PMChelsea Chrismas

Yes, Virginia, on more than one occasion Chelsea Chrismas, a university student and yoga instructor, has been asked if her middle name is Mary. At which point she replies that, in actuality, she had a great-grandmother named Mary Chrismas.
Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free PressBarb (left) and daughter Chelsea Chrismas.

“The look on their face is priceless, mostly in disbelief.” Chrismas remembers being kidded about her surname as far back as grade school, but not so much by her fellow students.

“Many more of the teachers made jokes about my last name than my schoolmates,” she says. “An ongoing joke was ‘Oh, looks like Christmas came early this year.’”

Chrismas says she and her parents haven’t done much research on the origin of their festive family name, but she is in possession of an old article from the Minnedosa Tribune about her great-grandfather Walter Elliot Chrismas, a preacher who became known as Father Christmas, after he immigrated to Manitoba from England in 1892.

“We have another article about my grandfather Doug Chrismas who made a joke of riding a turkey to the office every day, to work off the fat,” she says, adding there’s a definite advantage to having the last name Chrismas.

“At our house, every dinner is Chrismas dinner.”

Full Article


What are we doing to protect newcomer youth in Canada, and help them succeed?

My wonderful daughter Brandi, co-authored this article with me. I am proud of her.


Link to the article

From the Chief Editors’s forward to the journal issue:

“This issue of the Journal features our youngest contributor to date, as 22-year old Brandi co-authors with her father Robert their inter-generational perspectives to the question, “What are we doing to protect newcomer youth in Canada, and help them succeed?” (Chrismas & Chrismas, 2017). Here is another two-generation policing family potentially in the making, and one that might exemplify the evidence-based policing culture of the future. The younger is completing her undergraduate degree in criminology and hopes to begin a policing career soon after. The older is a 28-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police Service, who just last month earned his PhD in Peace and Conflict studies.

The younger also offers us some hopeful projections on the next 50 years with, “I think we are growing out of racism and sexism, so that is a good thing. We are not quite there yet, but now police agencies have a larger percentage of female leaders and racism is becoming unacceptable in the public discourse. This, I believe has changed a lot over the past 20 years.” At the same time, she cautions that perceptions of police culture among the public may not yet realize on this ideal, and that “mainstream and social media representations of the police hold the potential to enhance or deteriorate those perceptions” (B. Chrismas, personal correspondence, October 17, 2017).

If this young author is correct, we face some important questions. Whatever comes to define our society as a whole in the next half-century, our place within it and our influences upon it are already being formed by the choices we make and the actions we demonstrate today and in the years ahead. Will we chart a determined course? And, are we prepared to guide our own relationship with Canadians—all Canadians?”