Mayor Brian Bowman appoints David Asper as chair of the Winnipeg Police Board

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Mayor Brian Bowman has filled two vacancies on the Winnipeg Police Board, appointing legal expert David Asper as the new chair and Canadian Footwear's Brian Scharfstein as a citizen representative.

Pending a council vote next week, Asper will succeed Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), while Scharfstein will replace Derek Johannson, who resigned his position as finance subcommittee chair in March.

Bowman said both agreed to take on a "thankless job" that requires attendance at numerous meetings and the weight of the responsibility for directing the Winnipeg Police Service.

He said he chose Asper to be chair rather than a city councillor because of his vast knowledge of the criminal justice system and his experience on Winnipeg boards.

"David Asper's board governance experience is probably one of the more extensive in our community," Bowman said. "This is somebody who has extensive experience and I think he's the best person for the job."

Asper, who once tried to purchase the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and initiated the construction of Investors Group Field, is a lawyer and legal educator who has taught at a number of universities.

The former executive vice-president of CanWest Global Communications also successfully represented David Milgaard in one of Canada's most well-known wrongful conviction cases.

He declined to comment on his appointment, pending the council vote on April 26.

"Will not be making any comment until council deliberates and completes its process, which I hope you'll understand," Asper said via email. "I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about in due course."

Bowman noted Asper also has extensive board experience as current chair of the Asper Foundation, and chair and co-founder of Amenity Health Care. He is also the former chair of the Winnipeg Football Club, Winnipeg Folk Festival and National Post newspaper.

Scharfstein, the principal owner of Canadian Footwear and the FootHealth Centre in Winnipeg and Calgary, is also a former chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

He said he watched six hours of police board video before he agreed to accept the appointment.

"I weighed out the commitment of both time and input, and from a volunteer perspective, I feel I can bring my experience in business and on boards to this commitment," Scharfstein said in a telephone interview.

Should council approve the appointments of Asper and Scharfstein, they will be subject to successfully passing background security checks, which are required of all police board appointments.

Former police board member Leslie Spillett, an NDP appointee whose appointment was revoked by the Progressive Conservative government, said she has no complaint about either appointee, but wishes Bowman had chosen at least one other Indigenous appointee.

Bowman did not vet his choices through the police board's Indigenous Council on Policing and Crime Prevention, said co-chair Shauna Fontaine,

She expressed similar concerns about the lack of Indigenous representation on the board but said she will support the mayor's appointments.

Lawyer Corey Shefman, who supported Bowman's mayoral campaign and has an interest in human rights, praised the appointment of Asper as chair but expressed concerns about Scharfstein.

"David takes a nuanced and balanced approach to the issues and he has a long personal and professional history of speaking up in the face of injustice. Unfortunately, the mayor's second appointment today is counterproductive and reinforces the status quo," Shefman said via email.

"While Mr. Scharfstein may be a fine businessman, he doesn't bring a fresh perspective to the police board, and his appointment is a stark reminder of the fact that in a city not far removed from being called the most racist in Canada, only one of the seven members of the police board is a person of colour."

Bowman said the quality of the appointees is more important than their backgrounds and the two people they are replacing — Browaty and Johannson — are also white males.

"I look for the best person for the job, and these are two outstanding individuals," Bowman said. "Regardless of one's background, they have the ability to effect positive change, regardless of whether they're Indigenous or not."

Asper founded a centre for constitutional rights, Bowman said, while Scharfstein cares deeply about the community, to the point where Canadian Footwear donates thousands of shoes every year for the homeless.

The mayor also dismissed the idea either appointee benefitted from a personal association.

"To suggest that somehow being appointed to the police board is a gift is not something that I think most agree with. It is a tremendous amount of work, and it's thankless work," Bowman said

The mayor said he's confident Asper has the time to perform his duties, despite the latter's teaching commitments in other cities. He also said Asper may reduce the number of meetings required of police board members.

Pending the council vote, the police board appointments would expire on Dec. 31, 2018.

Browaty resigned as chair in February, after he questioned the need for all city staff to receive education about the legacy of residential schools and lost the confidence of the board's Indigenous advisors.

Johannson resigned near the end of March, saying the role required his presence at more than 50 meetings in 2016. He said that sort of commitment was unsustainable, given his other duties.

He chairs the family-owned Winnipeg business Carlyle Printers, Service and Supply, and is the vice-chair of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

"Derek played an important role in preparing two police budgets, and helped lay the foundation for future financial sustainability of the police service as well as the city," Bowman said in thanking Johannson for his time.

The Winnipeg Police Board is made up of a maximum of seven members, including two appointments made by the province of Manitoba, and five appointments, including the chair and vice-chair of the board, appointed by city council.

Current members of the board include Coun. Ross Eadie, vice chair Barry Tuckett, Mary Jane Loustel, Larry Licharson and Alicja Szarkiewicz. The last two members are provincial appointees.

Loustel remains the only Indigenous member of the board.

The legislated mandate of the Winnipeg Police Board is to provide civilian governance respecting the enforcement of law, the maintenance of public peace and the prevention of crime in the city of Winnipeg, and to provide the administrative direction and organization required to provide an adequate and effective police service in the city.