Charla Huber: B.C.'s only police chief of colour discusses race and policing

I have been on the Victoria-Esquimalt Police Board for a little over a year. Seeing VicPD through a governance lens has really opened my eyes to everything a police department and its members are responsible for.

I applied to the Province of B.C. for the position because of my experience in Indigenous relations and my experience as an Indigenous person in this community. When I joined the board, I was impressed with VicPD’s level of engagement with Indigenous communities and other communities in the region.

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There is no denying that police departments across North America have been thrust into the spotlight and painted with the same brush regarding racial tension and issues.

I am a big supporter of having hard conversations about bias and continual improvement. I believe that recent traumatic events involving police in the U.S. and Canada should spark conversations, but I don’t think it’s OK to discredit all police officers in the process.

“People have been traumatized at the hands of police, there are systemic issues and we can always be better,” said VicPD Chief Del Manak. “We’ve seen how incidents in other places by rogue cops have affected everyone. It’s been really hard to be judged by the actions of others.”

Manak is the only police chief of colour in Western Canada. His perspective is extremely valid in these conversations.

When we have conversations about police and racial bias, mistrust and tension play a crucial role.

A mural downtown has sparked further conversations on this. “I went down to see the mural. It says ‘More peace, more justice.’ That is what I want, too, and I believe in it. The artists have done a good job, it’s just that one acronym that doesn’t belong,” said Manak.

The acronym is “ACAB,” which stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.”

Manak said when he stood at the mural, several people individually came up to him to share support for VicPD.

Every officer, like every person, has their own story. If we are going to talk about bias, the big topic is stereotypes, and using that acronym is nothing more than a stereotype.

As an Indigenous person with a platform, I work hard to dispel stereotypes of Indigenous people. I don’t think you can dispel stereotypes when using them to discredit any other group, including police officers.

Manak has been an officer for 30 years, with 27 years of service with VicPD. Manak grew up in Fernwood and spent his entire childhood there.

He’s taken his cultural values and family teachings, such as humility, a strong work ethic, and service to others, and used them to help him in his career.

“I have been working since I was 13 delivering both the Daily Colonist and Victoria Times. In every job I’ve ever had I’ve worked my way up.”

By 15, Manak was supervising other paper carriers. He worked at the Canadian Tire on Douglas Street, starting as a sales clerk and was eventually groomed to be store manager.

Even with drive and dedication, Manak faced his own hurdles based on his South Asian heritage.

He played ice hockey and was often the only person of colour on the ice for not only his team, but also the opposing teams. He was targeted by other players who would try and physically hurt him and yell racial slurs at him on the ice. He was beaten up by other youths at school because of his skin colour.

“I had a low level of self-confidence and self-esteem,” said Manak. “In my teen years, I wouldn’t speak Punjabi and I stopped listening to Indian music because I wanted to fit in.”

Manak said he has been selected for airport searches far too often for them to be random. If he’s standing at a deli counter in a grocery store, more often than not, he’s served after other customers, even if he was there first.

Manak beliefs that we are a sum of all of our life experiences, and it is something I believe, too. He has found ways to take these experiences and embrace his culture while serving the community and leading the team at VicPD.

“I am grounded in my culture and community and it guides me through challenging times,” Manak said.

“I am proud of my culture, and people try and dismiss it. They say I can be a person of colour or a police chief. I was a person of colour before being a police chief and when I am retired and take off this uniform, I will only be a person of colour.”

Charla Huber is the director of communications and Indigenous relations for M’akola Housing Society.

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