On March 23th, 2023 Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth posted on the Winnipeg Police Service substack a statement in response to Fadi Ennab’s research on police in schools.
Fadi Ennab is a Vanier Scholar and a PhD student, university instructor, and highly-respected community researcher. Ennab has done two reports on policing in schools. After completing his contract for research with the Louis Riel School Division, he worked on another, “Safer Schools without Policing Black and Indigenous Lives,” which was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) – Manitoba and funded by the Manitoba Research Alliance via a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant. CCPA Manitoba’s publications, including this one, undergo a rigorous peer review before publication.
As the leader of Winnipeg’s police service, it is curious why Smyth is singling out Ennab as the researcher, along with a parent from a school division, in the substack instead of reflecting on the findings of this research for the impacts of police on BIPOC students’ lives and school experiences.
Safer Schools without Policing Black and Indigenous Lives finds that racism in the school system and from police in schools (School Resource Officers or SROs) is one of the main reasons schools are unsafe for Indigenous and Black students.
Ennab partnered with Police-Free Schools Winnipeg, a grassroots advocacy group of parents, students, and teachers organizing for equitable schools without police involvement, to conduct this research. The goal of the project was to examine the experiences of Indigenous and Black families related to safety and policing in Winnipeg schools. The report is based on interviews with 24 youth, 13 parents or legal guardians, and two key informants. Most participants were Indigenous and/or Black and went to schools or had kids in schools in the North End or Downtown areas of Winnipeg.
Safer Schools without Policing Black and Indigenous Lives research concludes, “Experiences shared in this study show that police involvement in schools unjustly targets racialized youth, criminalizes their behaviours, and breaches their rights for privacy and safety. This seriously disrupts their academic and social lives and pushes them into unsafe futures. Thus, police in schools can compound the racism that Indigenous and Black families are already facing from school staff and students in schools. In doing this, the systemic inequities that Indigenous and Black families experience in and out of schools continue to be reproduced.”
These serious and important conclusions should be addressed by the Winnipeg Police Service in relation to the SRO program. It is disappointing that Smyth defends the SRO program in the substack and does not identify any steps to address the findings of this research.
In reference to the Safer Schools without Policing Black and Indigenous Lives CCPA MB published research, the Police Chief highlights two aspects:
First, the substack blog cites the number of research participants in reference to the total student population size. Equity-based research such as this is not meant to be representative of the total population. The purpose of the equity-based research approach used in this research is to learn more about the experiences of marginalized groups being affected by racism and colonialism in order to advance racial equity and justice.
Second, the substack blog notes the community partner in the research project, Police-Free Schools (PFS). Researchers partner with community groups to do research that is useful, relevant, and helpful to the community. Smyth names one of the members of this group in particular and encourages readers to search her presentations as examples of PFS positions. This seems like an attempt to silence lived experiences of community members and make it more difficult to speak about racism.
On the issue of the substack itself: substack is a subscription-based self-publishing website. The Winnipeg Police Service is the only police service in Canada with a substack blog. A December 2022 article in the Walrus explains critiques of this approach: “Christopher Schneider, a sociology and media professor at Brandon University in Manitoba, wrote an opinion piece for the CBC, criticizing the police’s decision to editorialize their law-enforcement work, noting Smyth seemed to take rising criticism of the police ‘personally’ and adding ‘the legitimacy of police wholly relies on public judgments and support of police actions.’ The Winnipeg Free Press published an opinion piece with much the same critique, saying ‘the concern of the WPS should not be shaping public opinion in its favour by skirting traditional mechanisms of accountability’ and that public scrutiny should be met with ‘dialogue, reflection and reform, not a defensive retreat.’”
CCPA Manitoba supports equity-based research as a legitimate methodology for analyzing the impacts of public policy in order to fight racism and advance social justice. CCPA Manitoba also values the significant contributions that community members offer to community-based research.