Homicides, overdoses, labour dispute make early 2020 Regina police chief's most challenging stretch

The start of 2020 has been the toughest stretch Regina Police Chief Even Bray has encountered, with the force finding itself dealing with four homicides and a rash of drug overdoses, and being caught in the middle of a high-profile labour dispute.

"I can't remember a time that's been more challenging than this but it's through challenge that sometimes you see success and you see the best in people," Bray said.

"I am very proud of the staff of the Regina Police Service I think this has been a very trying couple of months."

Four homicides in 2020

On Thursday police held a news conference to provide details on a trio of homicides. Dillon Ricky Whitehawk, 25, has been charged with first-degree murder in all three.

Whitehawk is accused of killing Jordan Denton in November 2019, Keenan Toto in December 2019 and Keesha Cree Alexandra Bitternose in January. 

Kurtis Clayton, 20, of Saskatoon and Kelly Renee Stonechild of Regina are also charged with first-degree murder in connection with Bitternose's death. 

Bitternose is the fourth homicide victim in 2020.

Creeden Martell/CBC

Other homicide victims in the city this year include 23-year-old Majok Agwait Majok, 49-year-old Rodney Troy Ruberry, and 24-year-old Isaiah Trent Allary 

"This is an anomaly for sure. We've not had a start of the year like this, in fact, we've not had a month period that has shown this much volatility in our community."

Spike in overdoses due to 'bad drugs'

Bray said officers have had a hand in saving lives of people who have taken "bad drugs" circulating in the city.

"We've rolled out Naloxone to all frontline officers this year and it couldn't have happened at a better time." he said.

"Our officers have been on multiple occasions administered Narcan and saved lives just by having that on their person."

As of Friday afternoon, there have been 43 overdoes in the city since Jan. 1, 2020, according to RPS. Police attended 26 overdoses and deployed Narcan 11 times. 

Police role during labour dispute 

On Friday, police opened traffic on Ninth Avenue North in front of the Co-op refinery. Officers had restricted traffic on the road for one week.

On Feb. 7, police closed the Winnipeg and McDonald St. intersections at Ninth Ave. N. allowing only permitted vehicles, including fuel trucks, into the entrance to the refinery complex. Officers were set up at the closed road around the clock for seven days.

Matt Howard/CBC

Police have had a presence around the refinery throughout the labour dispute between Co-op and its workers represented by Unifor.

Bray said police have always acted with the interest of public safety first.

On Jan. 20 the labour situation escalated. Fourteen Unifor members were arrested and charged with mischief, including national Unifor President Jerry Dias. Of the 14, 12 were from outside the province.

Bray said the police have to enforce the law, keep the peace and protect the rights of citizens.

"Citizens means management, means uniformed staff means out of town guests which have caused me a bit of heartburn if I'm being honest. I have to protect their rights and citizens in our city that aren't even involved in this."

On Wednesday, Justice Neil Robertson issued a ruling finding Unifor 594 guilty of contempt for breaches of a previous court order stating picketers could only prevent vehicles from exiting and entering the refinery complex for 10 minutes.

The injunction was also amended so the Regina Police Service could help Co-op in removing the barricades.

Bray brushed off comments about the police siding with the refinery over the union.

"We have not been paid by anybody other than the taxpayers of the city."

Unifor/Twitter

Bray said his officers have noticed a change in how they are interacted with at the refinery site by members of the union. He said in the beginning they were met with "anger" and even comments meant to incite a response. He said the tone has since mellowed.

"Our officers would stand and have a cup of coffee and talk with (workers) on the line. Our officers spoke with Co-op management had very good conversations with them," Breay said.

"I feel like everybody's tension is down a little bit right now and people are hopefully looking at this mediation process as a glimmer of light that's gonna get us to where we need to go."