Workshop Examines Grassroots Alternatives to Policing

Lakehead University
Lakehead University

THUNDER BAY (ON) – A well-attended design workshop last weekend at Lakehead University’s ReImagining Value Action Lab (RiVAL) encouraged Thunder Bay citizens to imagine grassroots alternatives to policing. More than 25 people from all walks of life gathered to learn and discuss community-level ideas to improve safety and build social justice.

“With the ongoing investigations by the OIPRD and other bodies, there are a lot of venues now for citizens to air their grievances with the Thunder Bay police – that’s not what this workshop was about.” explains Cassie Thornton, the lead facilitator of the workshop at co-director of RiVAL, “This workshop was about asking if the police are always the right tool to address the lack of safety many people in our community face, and, if they are not, what tools do we need?”

Participants generated a wide range of practical ideas, including:

* Supporting initiatives like the Bear Clan, a local group led by young Indigenous women that patrols high-risk areas on Friday and Saturday nights
* A peer-led mental health crisis hotline and first-response team to assist those in distress
* A low-cost auto-repair cooperative that would help those in need get their vehicles fixed and also offer job training to youth
* The development of safe community hubs in each neighbourhood, staffed by volunteers and employees trained in first-aid, conflict de-escalation, counselling and mental health care and who can connect citizens with other services
* A safe, citizen-run process for concerns about the police
* Community gardens and other services to improve food security
* Free cold-weather emergency kits located around the city and regularly re-stocked.
* A community debt-relief and emergency loans network
* Free training for adults and youth in first aid, conflict de-escalation, emergency counselling and peer mental health support

“These are only some ideas about how communities could work together to build a vibrant holistic sense of safety and security, in terms of health, wellbeing, security and happiness,” Thornton explains. “In Thunder Bay, we have almost the highest spending per resident on policing anywhere in Canada. We need to ask if our community is actually getting any safer in that holistic sense. If it’s not, maybe we need to shift our priorities.”

Other presenters included Ivory Starr Tuesday of the Bear Clan and Travis Hay, a lecturer at Lakehead University, who offered a brief history of recent relations between the Thunder Bay Police and indigenous groups. The workshop was co-sponsored by the New Directions Speakers’ School.

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