First UCCM Anishinaabe Police Safety Symposium tacks proactive

Draw the Line coordinator Julie Lalonde delivered an informative presentation ‘Engaging Ontarians in a dialogue about sexual violence’ on dealing with sexual assault from a variety of perspectives. photo by Michael Erskine

M’CHIGEENG—“Slam it!” isn’t the usual advice one might expect on how to deal with your $14 drink when you need to go to the bathroom, but when Julie Lalonde of Draw the Line points out that most assaults come from someone known to the victim and the other options available (ie taking it with you into a gnarly bar bathroom), that simple option has kind of a practical ring to it.

Ms. Lalonde (‘Engaging Ontarians in a dialogue about sexual violence’) was one of three presenters who addressed the day-long UCCM Anishinaabe Police Safety Symposium (Naag-Doo-Wend-Debaah) on September 15, bringing practical advice and strategies on how to deal with the issues that commonly face people in the community. The other two presenters were social media maven Chris Vollum, who presented on Social Media Fitness, and Nookmis Roberta Oshkabewisens of PACT (‘Preventing and Reducing the Trafficking of Women and Girls Through Community Planning’).

Mr. Vollum concentrated on the positive uses of social media and how students and youth can use the various media to enhance their career potential and further their own goals in life, with the negative potential more inferred that explicit.

The grandmother presentation from Ms. Oshkabewisen dealt with a wide range issues including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the issue of human trafficking and how communities can come together help prevent trafficking and the forcing of young women into the sex trade.

“We are looking at increasing the partnerships in the communities,” said organizer Daughness Migwans, the UCCM Anishinaabe Police social navigator (a civilian position with the UCCM). She noted that the symposium was aimed at “the community members in general” and that the topics chosen were based on the incidents and issues that police on the ground in the community see most often. Sexual assault ranks well near the top of those complaints.

“We need to get people educated,” noted UCCM Anishnaabe Police Community Services Officer Sr. Constable Murray Still. The officer had heard Mr. Vollum speak at a conference he attended earlier this year and liked what he heard. “He provides practical advice on how to use social media safely and sensibly.”

What might make the “slam it” advice on drinks seem counterintuitive is the prevalence of alcohol in nearly all police calls for service or investigations. “It is probably around 96 percent,” admitted Constable Still. But the approach of the speakers at the symposium isn’t on stopping people from the activities that they engage in, but rather focussed on harm reduction with practical advice.

That might mean finishing your drink before you head to the bathroom, but it also means knowing your limit and staying well within those lines.

“We have all seen the girl at 2 am who always seems to have lost her shoes and can’t find her friends,” said Ms. Lalonde. “She is the one sitting on the sidewalk crying with one shoe in her hand.” Predators know how to spot the vulnerable, noted Ms. Lalonde and will swoop in to take advantage.

Much of Ms. Lalonde’s focus in her presentations was on enlisting her audience in making unacceptable to take advantage of someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “That’s not how we party at my place,” she recites as a mantra.

She also noted that society gives far too much leeway, enabling behaviour that normally would never condone. “‘He’s a really great guy, but he turns creepy when he is drinking’ is something you hear a lot,” she said. “No, he’s not creepy at parties, he’s abusive to women. He just controls it better when he is sober.”

She exhorted her audience to reflect on their own social circles. “If you would not want your sister hanging out with someone because of their attitude,” she said, “why would you be friends with them?”

The UCCM Anishnaabe Police intend to make the safety symposium an annual event and expressed gratitude to the host community M’Chigeeng First Nation, cultural supports and police leadership that helped make the symposium possible, including Sgt. Heather Debassige, the presenters and the symposium’s community partners, Manitoulin Family Resources, UCCMM Justice Program, Suicide Prevention Assist facilitators, M’Chigeeng Hub Centre, Manitoulin North Shore Victim Services, Lil Sisters, Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services, Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, M’Chigeeng Mental Health, Probation and Parole, Endaagdawaab-Jig Civilian Oversight Committee, Dreamer’s Cove and the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation. Each of the community partners had a booth set up at the symposium.

The coordinating team for the symposium consisted of Ms. Migwans, Ann Ziegler and Sr. Constable Still.