Weighill's legacy includes improving Indigenous relations
- EFN Staff | August 27, 2017
Saskatoon Police Service Chief Clive Weighill announced his retirement, eleven years to the day when he took the top job. The service he inherited, in his words, was facing some extreme challenges.
“It was a very demoralized service. Certainly, relationships with the community as a whole were bad. Surveys showed the number one issue facing the city was crime and policing. It was way out front of all other issues,” said Chief Weighill in an interview.
The force had been under intense scrutiny since 2000 when two officers were caught after they dropped Darrell Night off outside of city limits on a cold winter night. The force also went through the Stonechild Inquiry and faced public outrage about the “starlight tours” and a loss of trust. Relations with the Indigenous community were fractured at best. But Chief Weighill says there was a factor that helped bring change. “The organization was ready for change and wanted change. It made my job easier.”
A priority for Weighill was strengthening relations with the Indigenous community. “We did consultations right away to see where we were. Then we also implemented all the Stonechild Inquiry recommendations as well as the ones from the First Nation and Métis Justice Reform Commission,” said Weighill. “We sent letters to the Indigenous groups in our area with what we are doing and have done so they can see it. The first year I was here I gained ten pounds going to community events and the rubber chicken circuit. I went anywhere and anytime to tell people the plan. It made people comfortable to have it communicated to them.”
Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas is direct when asked what Chief Weighill did right in establishing relations with the community. “He phoned us,” said Chief Felix. “He called and kept regular lines of communication. We would meet and eat together and keep that informal communication going beyond what was said at the formal tables. He brought stability and professionalism and honour back. He was there at the right time with the right personality.”
Once Weighill had the trust of the community, people began to help him shape a plan. “Elders Walter and Maria Linklater very key mentors for me. They chair the Chiefs Advisory Committee on First Nations and Métis. They were instrumental with working with the Elders, hearing what their concerns are and the advice they gave,” said Weighill. “The twelve elders on the advisory committee meet every quarter and have a talking circle where they bring forward concerns and advice. Then we have a feast and head out to Whitecap First Nation for a sweat. What strikes me is the elders want to help. They don’t want to criticize, they want to offer a suggestion and they have been very honest and forthright. They are not scared to bring up an issue. But they also don’t tell me what to do. They are a really good group to work with.”
Since Weighill arrived on the scene, the Saskatoon Police Service has seen 43% of Saskatoon citizens saying crime and policing are main issues drop to only 9% saying it is an issue. Morale has improved internally from 23% to 90%. The cultural unit has grown from two officers to nine and they have doubled the number of Indigenous officers to eighty members. They also have a brand new state of the art headquarters.
But for Weighill, one of the highlights of his career was the realization of the memorial to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that has been placed in front of the police service building. “It is so important to share with the community that we do care and are trying our best. I was so lucky that Chief Felix Thomas came along and helped me out with it. He has been a great mentor to me. He’s not scared to tell you how it is. We have a great working relationship,” said Weighill.
The monument was created by artist Lionel Peyachew and was unveiled in May. The stunning statue and area around it are hoped to be a community gathering place for marches, ceremony and reflection.
“We realized that something needed to happen,” said Chief Felix Thomas about the statue. “And on that project, we worked as equals and supported each other. I think Chief Weighill’s legacy is deep. He started reconciliation between First Nations and the police before we started using that word. And that monument will have social elements to it as well. When the service members and the new Chief see the monument, it will always be a reminder that they can be a part of the solution as well, just like Chief Weighill was.”