thumb-2022-11-016 This article is more than 1 year old

Winnipeg Police Won’t Say If Notoriously Aggressive Cop Attended Anti-Bullying Event With Manitoba’s Premier

Officer participated in a campaign launch with Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson at a local Winnipeg school.

Winnipeg Police won’t say if an officer with a history of aggressive behaviour who was featured in two viral videos on the website TMZ recently participated in an anti-bullying campaign launch with Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson at a Winnipeg elementary school.

Community members and police critics have raised concerns about a press release photo that appears to show an officer who bears a striking resemblance to Winnipeg Police officer Kevin Smith standing next to Manitoba PC MLA Obby Khan for the Winnipeg Police Association’s annual Cool 2B Kind school anti-bullying campaign earlier this month. The officer’s badge also appears to resemble Smith’s badge number: 1849.

WPS officer believed to be Kevin Smith stands beside Manitoba PC MLA Obby Khan in “Cool 2B Kind” publicity photo

Smith made international headlines when two videos of him displaying aggressive behaviour went viral and were featured on TMZ in 2020.

The first video to go viral shows Smith issuing a ticket in 2020 after a passenger questions why Smith isn’t wearing a mask. TMZ later published another video showing an incident in 2019 where Smith threatened to arrest two individuals for questioning why Smith pulled them over. 

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth described Smith’s actions in the second video as having “almost racist overtones.” These videos prompted an internal Professional Standards Unit investigation.

However, TMZ videos highlighted only the latest in a string of complaints made about Smith throughout the last 20 years. Smith has additionally been the subject of other public complaints and allegations, including verbally abusing a newcomer girl’s soccer team, conducting an illegal search, and issuing a “bogus ticket.”

“I don’t know if there was any admonishment. I don’t know what came of that (PSU) investigation with those allegations,” WPS spokesperson Dani McKinnon told PressProgress.

TMZ video screencap of WPS officer Kevin Smith.

All of the individuals or organizations involved in the school anti-bullying photo-op refused to confirm or deny whether the officer in the photo was, in fact, Smith.

In response to questions from PressProgress, the Winnipeg Police Association did not deny Smith was in the photo.

Winnipeg Police, however, referred all questions regarding the Cool 2B Kind campaign back to the Winnipeg Police Association. 

“I don’t want that on the record,” McKinnon told PressProgress. “Frankly, I think it’s silly you’re asking.”

“You’ve already made the inference by asking WPA and nobody’s disputed it. Nobody’s come right out and said ‘That’s not him’. So why are you asking?”

“We’re just not interested in participating in this article,” the McKinnon reiterated.

A spokesperson for Premier Heather Stefanson, though honourary co-chair of the WPA’s Cool 2B Kind campaign since 2016, downplayed the premier’s involvement  in the event, explaining that she was merely “invited.” 

Premier Heather Stefanson attends the WPA's 2022 Cool 2B Kind campaign launch.

Premier Heather Stefanson attends the WPA’s 2022 Cool 2B Kind campaign launch. Photo via the Winnipeg School Division.

A spokesperson for Stefanson told PressProgress: “The Premier has attended the event in the past and was pleased to be invited to the launch earlier this month. The Premier and her office were not involved in determining who would attend the event.”

The Winnipeg School Division likewise declined comment and directed PressProgress to the police union.

“They would have organized who attended and would be able to talk about any of the attendees and their backgrounds. We don’t do background checks on people that are coming for an event like that. That’s a decision that would have been made by the Winnipeg Police Association,” a WSD spokesperson told PressProgress.

Community organizer Buck Doyle has had direct interactions with Smith and believes Smith is pictured in the press release photo. Doyle is currently involved with the grassroots group Winnipeg Police Cause Harm but has been involved in other police abolition groups throughout the last 15 years, such as Winnipeg Copwatch.

“It looks exactly like him and the badge number matches up,” Doyle told PressProgress.

Photo of Smith taken by Doyle in 2008, edited to protect privacy.

Doyle recalls interactions with Smith dating back to 2008 at the International Day Against Police Brutality.

“There’s a video of him on the web yelling at an Indigenous woman to get off the road threatening her with arrest. Then after that we saw him basically stalking us on a Copwatch patrol. We saw him like 14 different times in one patrol so he was clearly continually coming back to us.”

At another event, Doyle says Smith took their ID and never returned it and insulted their physical appearance.

“He bullied me and he bullied the woman in that TMZ video. You can see he is bullying that Indigenous woman. It’s clearly his way of being.”

“The irony there is so relevant because policing is bullying, so how can they be promoting not bullying when sort of the whole dynamic is bullying?” Doyle added.

The Winnipeg School Division recently ended their School Resource Officer program citing budget cuts following advocacy from community groups like Police Free Schools Winnipeg and the Police Accountability Coalition.

Now these community groups believe it’s time for the government to further cut ties with police in schools and invest in non-policing related supports for students.

Police Accountability Coalition spokesperson Kate Kehler told PressProgress:

“Whether or not it is Sergeant Smith, we don’t support officers in schools given that racialized students can have very different experiences with police and are in fact made to feel less safe by their presence.  Stopping bullying in schools is essential and the province should be funding that system much better than it does so it does not need to rely on charitable donations no matter if they are well intentioned or not.”

Kevin Walby, a criminal justice professor at the University of Winnipeg, believes the anti-bullying campaign is a PR campaign to justify higher police budgets. Days before the anti-bullying event, Stefanson announced her PC government would spend an additional $3.2 million for a joint WPS and RCMP initiative to “allow police officers to take on violent crime like never before.”

“We have police out here trying to create this almost mythical image of them as a peacekeeper, as everything. They want to be everything. They’re a greedy institution so they want to be everywhere and consume as many resources as they can,” Walby told PressProgress.

“They’re trying to craft these feel good images of the police and premier in the same kind of frame when they are both well known in Winnipeg and Manitoba for approaching their work with the opposite proclivity. Police are paid bullies, or violence workers, and the PCs have just completely abandoned Manitoba and Manitobans for as long as they’ve been in power.”

Researcher Fadi Ennab, a PhD student in the University of Manitoba’s faculty of education, partnered with Police Free Schools Winnipeg and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to produce a report last month exploring the impacts of policing in schools on Black and Indigenous students and their communities.

Ennab’s report argues that the Winnipeg School Division must “end the use of police and deprioritize relations with them.”

“Pretending that they’re cool and kind when they are very unkind and cruel to the community is dishonest,” Ennab told PressProgress.

“The police are not a resource, they often criminalize and harass youth.” Ennab added. “It’s not just about the one bad apple or the individual officer.” 

“My research shows issues of documented racism and bullying in schools by police and school staff and sometimes school staff makes it worse by involving the police.”

“If we really care about bullying in schools, we don’t promote pro-police programs. Instead, we promote the social safety net for students, making them feel welcome and safe, giving them supports they really need.”

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Emily Leedham
Emily Leedham is PressProgress’ Prairies Reporter. Her reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, big money and corporate influence, and systemic racism.

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