WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said it’s time for unity among Winnipeggers following protests and rallies across North America sparked by the death of a black man in Minnesota at the hands of police.

The mayor spoke Tuesday afternoon, reflecting on what the city is planning to do to address racism. Bowman said Winnipeg residents are hurting following the incident, and they need to know their voices are being heard.

“If you’re a member of the community who is hurting or angry because of racism, I want you to know that Winnipeg is listening,” he said. “I want you to know that you are a valued part of the community.”

The protests and rallies across Canada and the US have been sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died last week in Minnesota after a police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

READ MORE: George Floyd's death sparks protests across U.S.

“I know that I can never fully appreciate the experience of all racialized communities, or the acute pain that Mr. Floyd’s death is causing the Black community in Minneapolis, throughout the United States, and in our own city, but I’m trying to learn,” Bowman said, adding he has reached out to members of the community for dialogue.


Bowman was joined by Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth and Fire and Paramedic Chief John Lane about the efforts underway in their departments to address racism and unconscious bias.

“By any professional measure, Mr. Floyd’s death was unnecessary, it was avoidable, and quite frankly, it was criminal,” said Smyth.

Derek Chauvin, the officer leaning on Floyd’s neck, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The charges have not been tested in court.

Smyth said the outrage throughout the world is “understandable and palatable.”

“There are distinctions between policing in the United States and policing in Canada, but for people of colour, for people in Indigenous communities, and people in marginalized communities, there’s a shared experience,” he said.

Smyth acknowledged officers in Winnipeg work to treat people with dignity and respect.

“We try to impart ethical training, fair and impartial training, cultural awareness, trauma-informed, and yes, use-of-force training, with an emphasis to try and use the least amount of force as necessary to deal with the situation,” he said. “And yet we are not perfect. Our members make mistakes. And when we do use force, we are accountable. When our conduct is questionable, we are accountable.”

Lane said firefighters and paramedics are required to provide service free from discrimination.

“The challenge for us all is to be aware of our own innate prejudices, and to confront them both internally as individuals, and systemically as a city,” he said.

Lane said training is ongoing to ensure they're able to provide service to everybody and learn continually.


A Black Lives Matter rally is scheduled for Friday at the Manitoba Legislature for 6 p.m.

Winnipeg's deputy mayor Markus Chambers and Coun. Sherri Rollins announced on Tuesday they plan to attend the Justice 4 Black Lives Matter rally.

In a news release, the councillors said they are concerned about the "deep and persistent structural racism and inequity seen in Winnipeg, across the country, and in the United States."

“The publicized deaths in Winnipeg and elsewhere have hit both our families and the community hard,” Rollins said in a news release. “I am grateful to those calling for a new structural relationship that emphasizes public safety in terms of investments in playgrounds, parks and community services."

Speaking on Friday’s rally, Smyth said police are in full support of the peaceful protest.

“We’ll assure everybody’s safety during that time,” he said. “It is important for our community that it’s given voice to its concerns, and that its voice is heard.

“From my perspective as a police service, it’s important that we hear their perspective, and that we listen.”

-with files from the Associated Press and CTV's Danton Unger