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Chief driven by divine purpose

Asks religious leaders to work for change

Devon Clunis was going to quit in 2011 but decided to apply for the chief's job.

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Devon Clunis was going to quit in 2011 but decided to apply for the chief's job. (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Context might be everything for Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis.

At a breakfast meeting Thursday with 125 of the city's religious leaders, he used the language of faith to explain why he's the top cop.

"The reason I don't get discouraged (in this position) is I truly believe it is a divine appointment," he said at the meeting organized by the Manitoba Multifaith Council.

"All of you are part of this plan. I'm not a prophet, but I believe people are driven by a divine purpose."

Clunis joked about how his belief in a divine calling would probably make headlines, referring to statements he made in 2012 to a Christian news magazine about how people of all faith could pray for the peace of the city.

At the time, Clunis's published comments about prayer prompted considerable public reaction and he later elaborated that prayer needs to be backed up by action.

He reiterated that message again Thursday, saying Winnipeggers who live out their faith can transform the community because they believe in serving others, adding people who have a secular outlook also contribute positively.

"My faith is not to be forced on anyone else. It is not to be used in an oppressive fashion," said Clunis, who served as one of the WPS chaplains for 14 years.

"I do believe faith in action can transform a community. It can move mountains, without a shadow of a doubt."

The 27-year police veteran was ready to hand in his badge in 2011, but felt called to continue with the police service, and then to apply to replace former chief Keith McCaskill.

"One day it became very clear to me, 'Devon, you're not supposed to retire, you're supposed to go back to Winnipeg to be a police officer,' " he said of how he decided against quitting.

Explaining that he joined the police to serve the community, Clunis urged the religious leaders to use their faith as a catalyst for change, and to treat others as they want to be treated.

He also asked faith groups to work together. "We are recognizing our common need for each other. We can't do it alone," he said. "You are a tsunami of change that can transform the community."

That message was received positively by faith leaders such as Rabbi Alan Green of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, who described the atmosphere in the room as effervescent.

"I don't think we ever had a chief of police like this, someone who is explicitly faith-based and willing to live his faith in his work and in programs of social development for the city. He's not merely a law enforcer," said Green.

"At the end of the day it is about action," added Gerry Labossiere, who was part of a Winnipeg delegation -- which included Clunis -- to a conference on compassionate cities last May.

"That's what compassion is, it is action and service."


Updated on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 6:14 AM CST:
Replaces photo

Updated on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 3:03 AM CST:
Fixes typo

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