WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE IF YOU WERE A BILLIONAIRE? For me, not one thing. Sure, I have tough days, like all of us, but today I could not have had a better day. It’s not perfect, but it’s fulfilling. It started with an early get-up, when no-one else is awake, some creative writing work for a few hours, hang out with Barb and run some errands, then some meditation/tai chi/martial arts work until I run out of energy. Then, tinker around the house and do my part, dishes, garbage, whatever, followed by a movie, a meditative jacuzzi, and I am out of time. This is my retirement dream. The money from my current job is handy, and I still love policing, but I am so thankful for the pension we can draw on at some point, just to handle the financial demands of running a household. Writing feels like the way I can contribute to society. I have a lot to say that I feel will matter and make the world a better place. With three books out and three very different ones on the way, I feel fortunate to be able to work with the intention of leaving this tiny contribution to humanity and future generations. I can only hope to retain this type of fulfillment, for me and for all of you, my friends and colleagues.
Standing at attention in my best dress tunic, the slow beat of the drum issued ominously- pounding like shockwaves through the still morning air. It was snowing and damp. The kind that cuts through your clothing and scrapes your bones. “I’m freezing but there is no way I would be the one to break rank,” I thought and I’m sure my partner, Don Delorme felt the same. Two to three hundred officers from all over north America, mostly from across Canada- lined both sides of this Montreal street for at least a mile, maybe more; I cannot see that far. It was an honour guard for Constable Odette Pinard, 10-years with the Montreal Urban Police, 30 years old and married mother of two young children. In fact she had recently returned from maternity leave. She was in a police storefront, completing a report, and someone had come in and shot her, dead. A shotgun blast to the face, there’s not much more violent act than that. That was in the fall of 1995 and I was honoured to be sent from Winnipeg, where I was a six-year constable, and on the Winnipeg Police Association Board along with Don Delorme.
The single lead officer marched slowly to the beat of the base drum, carrying a pillow with Odette Pinard’s forage cap on it, a tradition in Canadian policing. He led a procession of Montreal Urban police officers followed by several cars with Odette’s family. It moved slowly up the center of the street lined with officers. It seemed to take forever for the sound of the drum to approach, and the procession came into sight. I thought, how great it is for her family, to see all of these officers paying respect. Don and I had packed our tunics, but not our winter coats, thinking we’re from Winnipeg; we don’t need parkas in Montreal. But that biting damp cold was worse than we expected. Many were in work uniforms or overcoats, but Don and I stood at attention, not flinching despite shaking violently from the cold. I just wanted to run into that store across the street and warm up, but thought I am not going to break rank, even if I wind up in the hospital. “The pain is a good thing,” I thought, it reinforces the gravity of the situation. Sure enough, I remember it today as though it just happened and that was 26 years ago, in the winter of 1995. Her murder remains unsolved, but at the time they speculated it was gang retaliation against the police as they had been cracking down hard on organized crime in Quebec. I’ll also never forget the reception afterwards; the emotion and the comradery among all the officers, from all over the place, who were there. Especially among the Montreal officers, I thought this is a family and they would leave no stone unturned to find them. Seeing the way her life and service were cherished and the loss of it mourned really drove home the feeling of the nobility and dignity of policing as a profession. It truly is community service on the deepest aspect. It is not only a willingness to lay down your life for perfect strangers; it could be for a person visiting the city, or homeless and vulnerable people.
Over the years I’ve participated in the honour guards for several other officers and they are all tragic. However, one funeral that stands out in my memory most was for Constable Darren Beatty in 2001 in Calgary Alberta. The story of how he was killed in service is incredibly heartbreaking. He was killed during a hostage-taking response exercise. They were training with live rounds, then took a break and switched to fake ammunition. The guns were unloaded and reloaded with the simunition, but one officer accidentally left a live round chambered. When the exercise resumed, the officer fired one shot, thinking it was fake ammo, shooting Darren in the throat, killing him. The scenario was even more gut-wrenching because the officer who pulled the trigger was Beattie’s best friend. They were buddies on and off the job, stood up for each other at their weddings, and were even building houses next to each other. I was in Calgary on training and attended the honour guard. It was in October and there was no snow, and the officers were spread out much farther apart than they were in Montreal; so, the honour guard was long, maybe several miles.
The Canadian Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial Service is held each September to remember Canadian peace officers slain in the line of duty. I’ve had the honour of participating on about five occasions, and each time it rendered a lasting memory, and a reminder of the sacrifices police officers make every day. Prior to Covid, it was a spectacular gathering of hundreds of officers marched through downtown Ottawa and assembled on the grass in front of Centre Block of Parliament. It always gave us a feeling of pride and respect, and felt especially appropriate for the families of the slain officers. They are placed in front of the steps at Centre Block and the hats of the fallen officers for that year are marched past the families. These honour guards and memorials serve as a symbol of the value that society places on community service and protecting the vulnerable.
For years I subscribed to social media pages that published releases on officers’ “end of watch,” which is police vernacular for being killed in the line of duty. Some of these sites were American, and I had to eventually unsubscribe from them. They become overwhelming because in the US a police officer is killed in the line of duty almost every day, sometimes several in a day. While Canada honors a few each year at the National Memorial Service, the American version at Capital Hill honours over 300 deaths per year.
When tragedy strikes, society’s true value for the police service is highlighted. It is sad that the media and some citizens sometimes get sidetracked from these deep values and respect that the majority of people have for those who dedicate themselves to policing. It would be better if they always started with the perspective that people enter public service to make the world a better place. The sacrifices that officers make are most often not as dramatic as being killed on duty. More often they are killed over a lifetime of physical abuse, nightshifts that take years off your life, and sometimes substance abuse linked to the deep trauma of all those years of exposure to the worst of humanity. Without exception, those officers who serve for decades in policing carry the emotional scars from their service and care for their community to the end of their watch.
This Corona virus has knocked some of us on our ass, but only for a few weeks; nine in our family got sick and two dead, one from the virus and one from a broken heart, we believe, because she couldn’t see her family for months, but it affects us all because everyone steps up. It lingers, but we’ll beat it. Our family, and all of us Canadians can deal with anything, and we started training for it during the great wars, when our young folks gave up so much for the freedoms we have today. I am so proud of our family, our community, in Winnipeg and in Canada, the way we pull together in a crisis. We can overcome any adversity, just not the ever advancing march of time.
Violet was born in Winnipeg, in 1929 and grew up in Brooklyn; she passed away peacefully in Tuxedo Villa Care Home on October 10th, 2020.
There are so many stories, but this one stands out. When she was 10 years old Violet’s father enlisted in the army to fight in World War II. In the six years he was gone, from 1939 to 1945, Violet, her younger sister Evelyn and their mother only heard his voice once, in a pre-recorded message that was played for them over the radio in a Winnipeg theatre. Even at 90 years of age and with advanced Alzheimers, Violet still cried when she recounted her father getting off the train, after six years away, and not recognizing her. Now suddenly father of two teenage girls, there was some tension and Violet used to love talking about how they eventually worked things out as a family.
Violet worked at Rolls Royce and then the Bay Downtown had many stories, especially from her time as a personal shopper, assisting people. When they heard she was engaged to be married, Violet was called in by the manager and let go- as policy at the time was to not employ married women. They said she could come back anytime when the policy changed; it was a different era. We always wanted to take her back there later in life and demand her job back.
Violet married Doug, from a small farm in Vivian Manitoba, and had three kids, Doug, Debbie and Bob. She was a total mother and cared about nothing other than the welfare of her family. Struggling to retain her memory in the last few years Violet’s fulltime hobby was remembering the names of her children and grand-children, who she loved dearly. When we visited her in Tuxedo Villa, Violet would recite their names: Doug and Star and their kids, Tony, David, Karen (now Violet), Scott and Heather, Debbie and Charlie and their kids, George, and Amanda, and Bob and Barb and their kids, Crystal, Chelsea, Brandi and Bobby. It was tragic when Violet had to move into a home without her cherished cats. She would have loved nothing more than to be involved more over the last ten years with all of us, and all of her great-grandchildren, who all live on because of her.
Violet and Doug (Mom and Dad), modelled unconditional love and the importance of family for all of us. Now they are back together and their legacy will live on.
Life is tough; there’s no doubt about it. I think a bit of wisdom I’ve comprehended is that what is important in life is the journey; we need to learn how to appreciate the journey and the people we share it with. There is no destination; it is here in the present. The secret to fulfilment is to let go of what we desire, and what we regret, and be present and love unconditionally the people who choose to be present with us and appreciate us for what we are right here and now. Help people when you can and love unconditionally.
NEVER LET ANYONE INTERFERE WITH YOUR EDUCATION; do what your heart tells you.
School councillors told me I should quit, and that their “tests” said I should be a labourer
Who’d of thought, 35 years ago when I was finishing grade 12 as an adult, and taking night courses for seven years to earn my BA, that one day I’d be writing books with University presidents, famous professors and community leaders.
I miss you Dad. As Fathers’ Day approaches, I find myself reflecting on the wisdom you had and how little I took advantage of it. You exemplified commitment, to your family, to your values and to humanity. You showed me how to be an intellectual, but the most important education comes from experience, living a good life and caring for people around you. You taught me how to be present and work with your hands, but I was young and stupid and never realized all the wisdom you had to share until later in life. Now I’m trying to live up to the good example you set. I now understand why people throughout history have respected their elders; it is because experience forces you to learn, no matter who you are.
RESPECT to ALL the mothers out there. I was trying to resist posting to this, but my own family has relied on Barb, our mother, for so much lately, I could not let this opportunity to recognize her pass. I’ve been reflecting so much on my own mother, Violet, and what it means to be a mother. Violet gave up everything gladly for her family. It meant something; even as advanced dementia set in, keeping her long-term memory as Alzheimer’s victims do, Violet talked with pride about her career making engine parts during the war and working in the Bay downtown. She got called into the manager’s office one day and got fired because she got married, because they didn’t want to deal with maternity leave; how far we’ve come. But in Barb’s era, we had much better benefits. In our case, we made a more conscious decision to keep Barb home. She put her dreams of being a nurse, like her mother, on hold- in order to raise a family. We had four children, and we believe that keeping Barb home for 14 years, to be there when they had lunch, for extra-curriculars and just to be there helped them greatly. Barb stayed home, and also helped support my policing career and all the crazy overtime it brought, and later she helped me through my masters degree. For a person who quit school for work when I was 15, what are the chances I could achieve my educational goals later in life? When I was done my Masters degree, the kids were older and we put Barb through nursing school and she went to work part-time. This didn’t happen in Violet’s era, mothers just gave up everything for family. Once Barb was established in nursing, she supported me through my PhD, so we both actualized our life-long dreams. But the children and family always came first, and they still do. None of this happens without the self-sacrificing and supporting role that mothers play for all of us. To this day, I do not know how my friends and colleagues in policing fulfill demanding policing careers while raising kids. I certainly am bewildered how so many single mothers in all professions raise children successfully. HERE’S TO MOTHERS EVERYWHERE, ON MOTHERS DAY, FOR ALL THAT YOU DO TO KEEP FAMILIES AND SOCIETIES TOGETHER.
Renditions of the famous quote, “Society will be judged by how we treat our most vulnerable citizens,” are often referenced and commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. While the exact origin of the famous saying is unclear (see Atkins’ article below on the potential origin), it rings true. Indeed, people in future generations will look back and assess how we did in 2020 to support and assist those most vulnerable in society. Tragically, while statistics might say something different about standards of living, from my own ground-level observations, on the streets of Winnipeg, I am forced to say things seem to have gotten worse over recent decades. The tent cities that are being erected by homeless people in Winnipeg are reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, in which he described the gut-wrenching struggle for survival of impoverished people across the United States during the great depression. Closer to home, my grandmother, who lived to be 100 years old, was born into a large family on the Saskatchewan prairies, sent away from the family farm because her parents could not feed her. Even at close to 100, she used to cry when she described the despair of people in that era, hitching train rides back and forth across Canada looking for work.
Even more on point, Wiseman’s book, Stations of the Lost, described her study of the infamous ‘skid row’ of Los Angeles in the late 1960s. It was brilliantly written from the perspective of skid row alcoholics who described how they navigated staying alive and the fragmented assortment of organizations providing various services for them. I drew on Wiseman’s approach for my study of human sex slavery in Canada, for my dissertation and my forthcoming book, Sex Industry Slavery: Protecting Canada’s Youth. Wiseman’s book describes the rotted core of a city, inhabited by people lost in the despair of hopeless poverty, anesthetized by alcohol, to numb the pain of having no hope. Wiseman’s account eerily resembles what we are seeing in the streets of Winnipeg, and most likely across North America.
While most people in the City are social distancing to stem the spread of COVID-19, during the worst pandemic of the century, people with fewer means are crowding into bus shacks to stay warm, and huddling in makeshift tents. Below is a picture of people gathered around a soupline, many with no home, the thought of social distancing to avoid getting sick pushed down by the soul-crushing pain of hunger. Paramedics, first responders, medical personnel and police are overwhelmed with trying to help people in the constant and relentless cycle of substance abuse and violence related to alcohol, meth and whatever people can lay their hands on to numb their pain. Who is responsible for addressing these major social issues? I would argue we ALL are, and our most significant barrier is the attitude that these are all someone else’s problems. Ironically, emergency services did not create these problems, but they get the brunt of responding to the side-effects. They can play a significant role in their solution. My first book, Canadian Policing in the 21st Century: A Frontline Officer on Challenges and Changes, mainly focussed on how we can all pull together and collaborate on the root causes of social problems. Our Shared Future: Windows into Canada’s Reconciliation Journey (Reimer & Chrismas, 2020), dives deeper into positive examples of how Canada’s deep divides can be traversed.
What are we doing about the root causes of these massive and growing social problems? The only viable solution seems to be greater collaboration and focussing the larger society-wide discourse on the fact that we ALL are responsible. If homeless people erected a tent city anywhere in the suburbs, I’m quite sure it would be dismantled within days; but in the core, it seems acceptable. These are certainly some of the most vulnerable people in the greatest need in our community. If we are to be judged by future generations on how we looked after our most vulnerable, surely this will be one of the measures.
Higgins/Main, Winnipeg, taken in April of 2020
Higgins/Main, Winnipeg, taken in April of 2020
Steinbeck, John. (1939). The Grapes of Wrath. The Viking Press
Public Lending Rights Program (PLRP) is a Federal Government program, funded by the Canadian Council for the Arts, that pays authors for making their works available in libraries. Every year, they check seven libraries across Canada and pay authors about a set amount for each library they find your registered works in. You get the max amount if your book is found in all seven. Once you do, you have to nothing further except register new books in the future and they send a small cheque each spring.
Just watched MUDBOUND for the second (or third) time, and totally immersed in the tragic racial divide of the American deep south, the divide that has tentacles that reach the far corners of continent. I can’t imagine the gut wrenching racial and economic oppression that so many people in North America have lived with/through. This movie captures the pain of war, the brutality of racial divides, and the humanity, anguish, and dignity of living with impoverishment. It makes me wonder what we could each be doing more to eliminate poverty and racial injustice, and move towards reconcilation.