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Open letter: the Winnipeg Police Board should support equity-based research

Minority voices are needed to develop policy that has equitable outcomes

Canadian PoliticsPolicingEducation

Community-based and accountable research is essential for understanding social conditions from the lived experiences of minoritized communities. Photo by Shannon Vanraes.

The undersigned are writing in support of equity-based social science research about public policy and powerful institutions, and the researchers who have taken on this work. We are responding to a recent Substack post by Danny Smyth, Chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, titled “The Curious Choice - Selecting a Police Abolitionist to Review a School Partnership with the Police.” We are addressing the Winnipeg Police Board as the civilian body to which the Winnipeg Police Service is accountable.


In his recent blog post, Danny Smyth criticizes a recent equity review of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in Winnipeg’s Louis Riel School Division, as well as a peer-reviewed report produced through the Manitoba Research Alliance. As social science researchers, we have concerns about Chief Smyth’s characterization of the social science research process, particularly as it pertains to research about powerful institutions, like policing, and public policy.

As the body charged with overseeing the Winnipeg Police Service, we ask that the Winnipeg Police Board instruct Chief Smyth to refrain from using public resources to circulate baseless challenges to social science research and researchers and instead engage with the substance of their analysis.

We reject Smyth’s claims about the inadequacy of the researcher’s methods and methodology. The research methods used in this study adhere to the standards of social science research, and community-based research ethics and processes. Smyth fundamentally misrepresents social science research and knowledge production. Smyth misconstrues the purpose of an equity review by suggesting that majority support of the SRO program makes minority critiques irrelevant.

We reject the claim that centring the voices of those most impacted by an issue makes the arguments less compelling. An equity review is meant to identify, in the context of a majority pressure, the minority of voices of people being harmed by a policy that appears to benefit the majority. It is based on the premise that in order to develop policy that has equitable impacts, the voices of minoritized people who may not otherwise be heard need to be amplified. These voices had not been taken seriously in the research studies Smyth cites as being positive reviews of the SRO program.

We reject Smyth’s attempts to discredit the researcher. Fadi Ennab is a highly skilled, qualified, experienced anti-racist educator, activist, and researcher. While Smyth paints the researcher’s ties to community as a negative, social science research has, for decades, acknowledged that deep relationship and shared experiences are an essential asset to research that enables researchers to gain access and to accurately interpret knowledge and experiences conveyed by participants. Ennab’s relationships in community and experience as an anti-racism educator and scholar are what make him the best candidate for this job and a trusted interlocutor.

We reject Smyth’s attack on the credibility of the Manitoba Research Alliance, a network of community-based researchers. Community-based and accountable research is essential for understanding social conditions from the lived experiences of minoritized communities. Community-based research is and should be the basis for setting policy in the interest of all communities—not only those in positions of power.

Smyth’s post is meant to chill research and critique of the police force. We stand firmly in support of the researcher in question and all researchers tasked with the difficult task of reviewing powerful institutions. We stand equally firmly in support of the parents (one of whom Smyth also targets personally in his post) and students who have been struggling to achieve this much-needed research review, and those who shared their experiences in interviews for this project.

Signed,

Supporters of equity-based social science research and evidence-based critiques of policy and powerful institutions.

To add your name as a signatory, click here.

Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Winnipeg and a member of Millennium for All, Bar None, and the 2023 International Day Against Police Brutality organizing committee.

Joe Curnow is a member of Millennium for All, the Millennium Library Community Working Group, and a scholar of learning, racial justice, and community development. She is currently a professor in the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba.

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