For the thousands of newcomers that arrive in Winnipeg every year, it can be hard at first to navigate the laws, norms and expectations of a new society and culture – or know who you can turn to when you are socially isolated but need help or resources. This is especially true for newcomers coming from nations where institutions and law enforcement suffer from a lack of neutrality and transparency.
One of the police officers working to build bridges with newcomer communities in the city is Constable Gurvinder Chakal, a newcomer himself. This is his story.
Cst. Gurvinder Chakal spends his days helping newcomer communities understand the role of local police in being both a source of information and ensuring their personal safety.
I’m from the state of Punjab in northwest India, but my family has a historical relation with Winnipeg, as one of my uncles used to live here. He used to work here and was the inspiration and motivation behind me and my family to come to Winnipeg around 12 years ago as skilled workers. Currently I work as a constable with Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) in the Community Relations Division under the Diversity and Crime Prevention Unit.
Prior to arriving in Winnipeg, I had never considered being a police officer. Back home I had tried to join army. But coming here as a newcomer, you definitely have to be open to looking around for different career opportunities. Whether it is trying to get back into your old field of work – in my case, a teaching career – or looking for a different job. So I saw this opening with the WPS and applied for it, and ended up going through the process.
My career in the Winnipeg Police Service has provided me with a very assorted experience both in the job itself and in dealings with the public at any part throughout the day. The best part of my current position is introducing WPS to newcomers in the city. We have a lot of newcomers coming into the city being served by different organizations and WPS have good relationships with them all.
A part of my job is informing newcomers on the general aspects of policing in Winnipeg – and in Canada more generally – and how we go about our business of public safety and always strive to do our job free from any bias. I try to emphasize that policing here is really about serving the public and describing how, from a policing perspective, we want to ensure people’s personal safety by providing relevant information.
Winnipeg has very diverse demographics, we all know. In this way, I think my identity as a newcomer has provided me a very positive connection in my community. I have been able to increase my engagement with both my own community, and every other community as a whole within the city, because I have that sense of belonging here as a person. Being both a newcomer and taking on the role of a police officer has also increased my sense of responsibility; it has certainly helped me to promote the perspective and understanding of civic duties.
I still have a lot of contacts that I keep in touch with in India. Whenever I have a conversation about things out here, I always describe us Canadians as friendly, helpful, generous people, and hard-working people. Of course, you can’t help but also talk about the weather sometimes. *laughs* And nowadays, with the new technology, I think they are able to get a very realistic idea of how cold it gets, and even though they are so far away they are able to stay pretty current about weather and other conditions here.
My best memories as a newcomer arriving in Canada are about the opportunities, education and sports that were made available to me and my family as newcomers. For example, as our son started going to kindergarten here and he was so happy about all the things he was learning. We would have a conversation every day when he would get back from school. It made me very happy to see how he was adapting to his learning.
So one day, I kind of jokingly said hey, I wish I could join some of your classes in school, because I could see how much he was enjoying them. The next day he came back from school and told me he had mentioned that in a conversation with his teacher, and his teacher provided him with all this information on how I could join an adult learning centre myself. I was overwhelmed by the teacher’s gesture – being so willing to find and share information like that. Although, I already have Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Education degrees from India. *laughs*
However, I also did face some challenges as a newcomer – as any newcomer is likely to face – in terms of the new weather, driving conditions, finding child care, of course. But we came here as a family with an open mind, so I think that helped to minimize the cultural shock. We knew ahead of time to prepare ourselves that things were going to be very different.
An anti-Islamophobia infographic posted in the entrance of the WPS headquarters, an example of community outreach and education by police. Escalating social and political polarization in Canada has fueled a spike in hate crimes against minority groups in recent years.
Looking back, it’s kind of hard to say what kind of advice I would give to my old self on what I should know or expect as a newcomer, because I really never thought this whole experience would happen to me – moving to a different country after getting married and having kids.
But I should say, from the perspective of being a newcomer myself, newcomers should always look to their long-term goals when they come here. Sometimes it’s easy to just look for small opportunities and short-term gains. Keeping long term goals in mind is always helpful, and it will definitely require perseverance to achieve those goals. For a while it may seem like you are taking very small steps, but those are very important.
Also – and I say this from law enforcement and personal perspective too – that it’s important for potential future newcomers to consider that if you have an option to come to Canada, it’s imperative on your part to recognize Canadian values of respect, compassion, willingness to work hard towards your goals, as well as safety and patriotism while exercising your rights and freedoms.
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