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When I first read the Winnipeg Police Service’s July 31 press release, I thought it was a joke. I thought maybe the Walking Eagle, the satirical Indigenous news site, was hard at work again. Sadly, you can’t make this type of disdain up.

According to the notice, police responded the day before to “graffiti vandalism” along the route of the World Police and Fire Games’ half-marathon: “More than 65 phrases including profanity and acronyms used by police abolitionist groups were spray-painted on the roadway, walking paths and portable bathroom stalls.”

There were three examples of the graffiti in the five images provided in the release. The first, written in red, said “Search the Landfills”; another, written in pink, read “No More Cops.” The other three read “ACAB,” which is commonly held to mean “All Cops Are Bastards.” The police urged anyone who knows anything about this to call its Major Crime Unit.

Is this really what qualifies as a major crime in Winnipeg? Because if it is, what do you call it when someone is murdered or goes missing?

If Winnipeg police took Indigenous people seriously, these cases are what major crimes would devote their time to. Officers would be working on searching the privately owned Prairie Green landfill for the bodies of Marcedes Myran, Morgan Harris and an unidentified victim named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (or Buffalo Woman), three of the four women alleged to have been killed by Jeremy Skibicki.

Instead, police are siccing a unit that investigates some of the most serious crimes on people wielding little more than a paint can. These are people who are apparently feeling such desperation and despair about their situation that they have taken to scrawling angry slogans along a corridor near events they know police officers – about 8,000 retired and active police and fire officials from around the world – will be attending. This is a major crime?

What is happening in Winnipeg would be comical if it wasn’t so shameful. As we’ve seen in many urban Canadian centres, Indigenous peoples continue to be simultaneously underpoliced – their calls unanswered or not taken seriously – and overpoliced. Indigenous people represent 32 per cent of those in federal prisons while accounting for just 5 per cent of the general population.

On the same day the graffiti was found, about 100 demonstrators laid down on the ground outside the Games’ athletes village at The Forks. This cry for attention – the still and sprawled bodies of women serving as a powerful physical statement – was aimed at compelling law-enforcement officers to quit playing games and search the landfill instead. Morgan Harris’s daughter Cambria took part, and she put out a statement on Instagram afterward: “If shouting for our rights is now considered derogatory … then so be it. You can’t break me!”

No amount of diversity, equity and inclusion training is going to fix this. The problem of policing here in Winnipeg – and in other Canadian cities, including Thunder Bay – will require truthful action, not mere performance.

Manitoba’s government appears content to do the latter. This week, the Crown-owned Manitoba Public Insurance announced that it would be offering two specialty licence plates – one with a red dress, another with the iconic red palm print – that would route $30 of the $70 fee to an MMIWG charitable endeavour. “The tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people is felt deeply across Manitoba and all of Canada,” said Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen – the same minister who has opposed the landfill search, saying that “every family would advocate for their family, and every family should advocate for their family, but the provincial government’s responsibility is broader than that.”

The licence-plate idea was first put forward by New Democratic Party MLA Bernadette Smith, whose sister Claudette Osborne-Tyo, a young mother of four, went missing in 2008. I applaud and stand behind all the work Ms. Smith continues to do. But we’ve blown well past raising awareness here. This is about justice for the families of murdered and missing women – an issue of national importance. This is about responding to the MMIWG National Inquiry’s 231 Calls to Justice; less than a handful, as far as I can see, have been fulfilled. This is about treating every person in Manitoba with the same dignity. If Premier Heather Stefanson can’t do that, then she is in the wrong business, and needs to resign.

Any leader who cares about those she governs would take this as an opportunity to try to bring healing and change to a province marked by the deaths of thousands of our women. Ms. Stefanson must call for a landfill search. We won’t stop until she does.

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