I am thrilled and proud to present my first novel, The River of Tears. It started in lock-down, quarantined with Covid; for a few days I wasn’t sure I would make it out. Part of my heart and soul went into this story, with the hope that some social good comes of it. Please distribute widely and read. I look forward to everyone’s impressions and feedback.
Foreword by Devon Clunis, Winnipeg Police Chief (ret.), the first black police chief in Canada and now the first Inspector General of Policing for Ontario.
Human history is replete with the horrors of social injustice and the valiant efforts of empathetic and courageous individuals to illuminate those injustices, heal wounds, and show the human family healthy ways to coexist in an equitable society. We have learned some lessons, but sadly, we continue to repeat painful mistakes that tear at the heart of civil society. We are at a critical juncture as we examine the social reckoning which has gripped the world in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and the divide which has developed between police and community.
Within the Canadian context, we are also reeling from the ongoing cultural atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples and the exposing and reawakening of deep wounds that must be attended to with integrity. Whether justified or not, police find themselves at the epicenter of these monumental social crises. The police have historically been the blunt instrument used to ensure the marginalized remained within socially constructed boundaries. We must take time to examine and understand these dynamics. We must allow ourselves to feel the historic pain which reverberates presently. We must tend to it with a view to our shared futures. We all have a part to play.
In his novel, The River of Tears, Bob Chrismas, takes us on an intimate journey into the struggle for understanding by connecting us to the historic and ongoing tragedy impacting Indigenous peoples in Canada and the strained relationship with police. He seeks not to blame, but to create awareness, which is foundational to the progress of real reconciliation and a better future for all Canadians. As a serving police officer, Bob paints an honest and compelling portrayal of the relationship between police and Indigenous peoples in Canada and points us to reconciliation. The social principles flowing through The River of Tears are much the same as those that led me into policing over three decades ago. Those same principles led to the intersecting of my life with Bob Chrismas.
In 1987, at the age of twenty-three, I joined the Winnipeg Police Service, driven by a strong desire to impact social change. I didn’t like the way relationships between people of colour and police were often portrayed in popular media at the time. It didn’t take long for me to see the parallel between people who looked like me and the lives of Indigenous people in Winnipeg. The relationship between police and Indigenous peoples closely mirrored what I saw on television respecting the relationship between police and black people. It was defined by negativity.
In my heart, I believed that policing could be an incredible tool for bridging the gap between social and cultural groups. I felt that we could break the established stereotypes resulting in destructive marginalization of many groups. As a rookie officer I experienced first-hand the societal dynamics that led to what I often saw on television. I saw how stereotypes were developed, reinforced, and institutionalized to the detriment of many. I saw the power entrusted to those with the uniform and the potential to reframe the narrative.
I can’t recall the exact time I first met Bob Chrismas, but I do recall that I immediately knew he was different. He was more cerebral than most and carried a kind, gentle, caring spirit on his exterior. Not your typical police officer who was expected to be visibly impermeable to emotion. Perfect in my estimate of what a police officer should be. Bob was fully aware, quietly determined, with the requisite intellectual skills to execute on a greater mission. This was a police officer who was changing the narrative.
As the years and our careers progressed, I was constantly aware of Bob from a distance. We never worked in the same unit, but I recalled the many times Bob was brought up in conversations about progressive police officers. His efforts on behalf of those being sexually exploited was the embodiment of the power and positive influence that policing could bring to bear in improving our collective human condition.
Bob was also one of the first police officers I knew who placed a high value on continuing education when most of us were satisfied with the training and development from within our respective organizations. Bob and I often spoke of his studies, and I would share my desire to further my studies as well. I encouraged Bob. He inspired me. As I rose through the ranks of the Winnipeg Police Service and found myself sitting in the role of Chief of Police in 2012, I harkened back to the desire that took me into policing in 1987.
Having strived towards it for twenty-five years, I now had a real opportunity to make meaningful change. I sought an architect to help us articulate this social impact message. I must thank then Deputy Chief Shelley Hart who advised me to have a conversation with Bob. He was in the process of completing his PhD and she felt he could help us. When Bob and I met to discuss my vision for evolving policing in our city, it didn’t take long to see how perfectly his passion and education would help us transform policing in Winnipeg.
With Bob’s help, Crime Prevention Through Social Development became the rallying cry for policing in my tenure. We were going to apply the full force and influence of policing to help change the social climate within our city. Bob helped me operationalize the message, resulting in a true transformation of policing in our city. It brought national and international recognition. We were one of the first Police Services in Canada to change the historic nature of dealing with prostitution by creating a Counter Exploitation Unit. This meant seeing those trapped in the sex industry as victims, rather than perpetrators. We sought to understand and help them find a better way. This became emblematic of the shift we instituted in policing. It resulted in a greater sense of satisfaction for those who served and those we served. The River of Tears highlights the need for more people-centred approaches in all we do in policing.
After retirement in 2016, I went on to consult with police leaders across Canada and the US sharing many of the lessons learned over the course of my career. Bob and I have collaborated on several projects, and I continue to rely on his wisdom as we work to advance policing and community relationships in North America. Today, Policing and community safety is at a significant crossroads. The societal and cultural pressures facing policing and the community are enormous and must be addressed with empathy and sincerity.
History does repeat itself. People often make the same mistakes because they are ill informed. My life and career have shown me that when given the opportunity to develop empathetic understanding, most of us tend to do the right thing. Over the years, I’ve come to know Bob Chrismas as a socially conscious, community minded, people centred, deeply caring and compassionate individual. He helped me to formulate a constructive path to policing in Winnipeg almost a decade ago. I believe his book, The River of Tears, will help us formulate the path to healing the present crisis in policing and community relationships, as well as the general challenges reflected in the many cultural schisms facing society today.
Bob has written a compelling book that speaks to our moment in time and calls us to become champions of social change. He welcomes us to see the world through another’s eyes as we engage with his two protagonists; Dani, a young Indigenous woman searching for her missing sister, and Jack, a seasoned police officer learning to overcome his cultural stereotypes.
The social constructs of race and class have been a burden for too many and for far too long. Policing has been used to maintain these boundaries resulting in a deep distrust between police and marginalized communities. Through Dani and Jack, we see our own struggle to listen, learn, grow, and forgive. We also begin to glimpse what is possible when we take time to understand and appreciate our respective paths on life’s journey. It is time to bring awareness and healing to these long festering wounds. It is time to build understanding and appreciation. It is time to begin to right these long standing social and cultural injustices.
The River of Tears awakens us to the part that we each can play in the historic challenges facing Canada as a nation, and how we can contribute fully to our shared future. I am confident that reading The River of Tears will help us as a society to begin to dry the many tears that have been and are being shed over the plight of those trapped in sexual slavery, the injustices visited upon Indigenous peoples in Canada, and the social constructs that have marginalized so many across our world. Prepare to be enlightened, encouraged, and emboldened to create a more equitable future as you read The River of Tears.
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.
End of watch
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.
“Chrismas’s book represents a noteworthy contribution to the growing body of
literature on human trafficking. The book complements the existing and more limited body of
related literature on sexual exploitation and human trafficking within Canada. Perhaps, most
importantly, the author offers a bevy of recommendations for policy reform and future research
that should serve to inspire and guide our efforts to combat the enigma of human trafficking.”
Interesting discussion and good discussion with about 100 people form across Canada and the US.
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.
Some good news amidst a crisis; my new book arrived today from University of Toronto Press.
This book is the end-goal of seven long years of grad studies right through to my dissertation. It’s such a bummer I can’t do a proper book launch, announcing this from isolation as me and multiple members in my family are quarantined, riding this Covid thing out. I do hope that people will take this work and do some good with it; if it helps just one person, it will be worth all the years of effort.
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.
Convenience and Carwash Canada, July/August 2020 issue
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.