New Winnipeg Police Board chair vows to engage Indigenous community, mull police finances

Winnipeg Police Board seeks fewer meetings, more members

The new chair of the Winnipeg Police Board says he has a lot to learn before he expects to have any impact on police policy in the city.

But David Asper said he knows what one of his first moves will be — better educating himself about Winnipeg's Indigenous community.

"I will be making an appointment, I hope in the morning, to get myself refreshed on Indigenous cultural competency," Asper said in an interview on Wednesday, after city council approved his appointment to the board. 

"I believe very strongly in fulfilling the part of the mandate that calls for community engagement and the Indigenous community can expect that from me.​

Asper replaces North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, who resigned in February after he lost the confidence of the police board's Indigenous advisory body, the Indigenous Council on Policing and Crime Prevention.

When Mayor Brian Bowman announced the appointment of Asper and Canadian Footwear owner Brian Scharfstein to the board on April 19, former board member Leslie Spillett and Indigenous council co-chair Shauna Fontaine said they were disappointed the mayor did not increase the Indigenous representation on the board.

At the same time, they offered no criticism of Asper, a lawyer with background in constitutional issues and human rights, or Scharfstein, who is known for community work that includes donating shoes to homeless Winnipeggers.

Asper said despite his criminal-justice background, he has a lot to learn about the police board, the Winnipeg Police Service and policing in general. 

He said he does expect to become better acquainted with what he described as "competing tensions" — the city's desire to give the police all the resources they need versus its need to keep policing costs under control.

"I reflected very seriously, when I was initially asked to consider the appointment, about whether it's actually a resolvable problem and I don't know that it is," Asper said. 

"There will always be a cry for better and more policing. There will always be pressure on how much money you can actually spend on that."

Asper said he has cleared off his schedule to accommodate his new role. He expects to be sworn in on Thursday.

"When I was offered this position I immediately took steps to clear some other business-board appointments that I have. I won't be teaching for the foreseeable future and I'm pretty confident that I've made time to be able to fulfill this role," he said.