Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth briefed the City of Winnipeg’s top administration about a vigil for 16-year-old Eishia Hudson, who had been shot and killed by police after a high-speed chase that followed a liquor store robbery in the city’s south end days prior, confidential documents obtained by Global News reveal.
In an April 14 briefing note with the subject line “Vigil at Fermor and Lagimodiere” sent to interim chief administrative officer Mike Ruta and chief corporate services officer Michael Jack, police chief Smyth outlined the police service’s response to an April 12 gathering in the intersection that saw mourners express outrage and grief over Hudson’s fatal police shooting.
In an interview Wednesday, Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver explained the briefing note — a similar brief went to the police board chair — was meant in part to correct “misinformation” surrounding the police response to the vigil, particularly criticism of police blocking access.
“No vehicles were allowed to pass through the intersection; however, people were allowed to park and walk to the vigil. No people were prevented from entering the vigil on foot,” Smyth wrote in the briefing note obtained by Global News through a freedom-of-information request.
“Councillors were receiving phone calls about what police had done,” Carver said in a phone interview.
Police stopped traffic on Lagimodiere Boulevard near Fermor Road before the April 12 vigil began.
“This briefing note was designed to correct that that we had prevented people from getting into the area, there was that narrative,” Carver said.
“We simply prevented people from driving too close. I know there were comments, some on social media, that they should have been able to drive closer — it’s a roadway.”
Carver said the vigil, similar to other demonstrations in roadways, technically contravened the Highway Traffic Act.
“We have a decision to make as a police service: are we going to enforce laws or are we going to take the higher ground and allow short term public inconvenience to allow people to do non-violent expressions of concern over very important topics?” he asked rhetorically.
The one-page brief is marked confidential.
“The vigil was in response to a police shooting that occurred in the area on April 8,” Smyth wrote.
According to Smyth’s brief, over 100 people went to mourn on the stretch of road where Hudson was killed after fleeing a Sage Creek liquor store robbery with a number of other youth. According to police, Hudson was driving a stolen vehicle which rammed into a police car and a number of other cars near the intersection.
Mourners held a round dance in the intersection.
“As these are multi-lane roadways with normal speeds of 80 km/hr… the roadway was closed to vehicular traffic for safety reasons,” Smyth told the city’s top administration in the memo.
In the brief, Smyth noted a tweet by Winnipeg Police Service’s duty office ahead of the vigil that called the gathering a protest was erroneous.
“I personally spoke with the officers in charge and they never viewed the matter as a protest,” Smyth wrote.
The briefing note is broken down into five main sections: cautionary notes/risk items; summary; recommendation; key issues; and current status/next steps.
“There was misinformation about people not being allowed to attend or participate,” Smyth wrote in the key issues section.
In the note, Smyth later compared the vigil to closures of Portage and Main in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs that occurred in March in terms of the police response.
The chief sent an almost identical confidential briefing note to the Winnipeg Police Board chair — at the time, Coun. Kevin Klein — the same day. The note sent to the police board lacks the cautionary notes/risk items subheading included in the letter to the top administrative officers — in the letter to Ruta and Jack, that line reads “No cautions or risks identified.”
Former police board chair Kevin Klein, who resigned June 11 following public disputes with city hall over governance of the board, said the confidential brief being sent to city administration is evidence of improper procedure and administrative overreach in police operations.
More seriously, Klein called the memo a violation of the provincial Police Services Act, the legislation that oversees policing in Manitoba.
“When I resigned from the Winnipeg Police Board I noted that the reasons were the dysfunction of the system and that I felt strongly that we were outside of the legislative requirements, that we weren’t following the law. This is evidence of that,” Klein said in an interview.
“The act is pretty clear, it’s trying to create a divide between police operations and the city, and this is again more evidence of what I was talking about.”
Klein said city administration should not be receiving confidential briefs from the chief.
“We have a problem here and it needs to be looked into,” he said.
Carver and city communications boss Felicia Wiltshire disputed Klein’s characterization of city administration’s briefing as improper.
Chief Smyth “is a city employee, as we all are, and councillors are getting questions about a situation that’s public — I don’t see how you could possibly argue that you wouldn’t be allowed to explain what we did (to administration),” Carver said of the confidential note.
Smyth is a member of the city’s senior management, Wiltshire wrote in an email in response to Global News’ questions on the briefing procedure and whether the April 14 brief adheres to provincial legislation.
“As with any member of the senior management team, Chief Smyth will prepare briefing notes for the (chief corporate services officer and chief administrative officer) on issues he feels need to be brought to their attention,” Wiltshire wrote further.