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On December 14, 2022, Omolara Aloba received a phone call from her son’s school informing her that a police dog had attacked her son, David, in school. Omolara frantically called her husband, Femi Aloba, to tell him the news as she made her way to Samuel Burland School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
On getting to the school, Omolara saw David surrounded by paramedics receiving first aid as his lips bled. A school official informed her that the K-9 division of the Winnipeg Police Department visited the school, and one of their dogs bit David on his lips when he tripped during a photo session. The boy was later taken to the hospital, where he waited in pain with his parents for hours before he received multiple stitches to his lips.
In a news release published on the day of the incident, Winnipeg Police Department said they were “investigating the matter, and the police dog has been removed from active service until a review has been completed.” The Louis Riel School Division also published a news release promising to investigate the incident.
However, the Alobas were shocked to later learn from a CBC reporter that the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU), the organization charged with investigating police-related incidents, decided not to investigate the incident because David’s injury was not classified as a severe injury, since he was not admitted even though he went to the hospital. The reporter stated that the Unit said “the decision could change, and an independent investigation could be launched if there is enough public interest in the incident”.
Femi and Omolara Aloba collaborated with NovaDOC African Society to launch an online petition that received nearly 3000 signatures in a few days for IIU to investigate the incident.
What Are David’s Parents Demanding?
Femi says they were shocked when they learnt that a dog in school had bitten David because they were unaware of a dog display at his school. “It was a traumatizing situation, but we’re thankful that it’s not worse than it is, and we’re hopeful that we can move past this situation and David…does not experience any trauma in the future”, Femi adds.
The couple says it’s unusual for the school to organize any visit without informing the parents, which raises questions that still need answers. Answers they hoped an investigation would uncover.
Omolara adds that she is yet to get the level of accountability that she expected from the school and the police. She says, “no one asked about our consent for our child to be involved in a K-9 display at school. I don’t think the school has been accountable and straightforward. The police have left us in the dark so far (with) how they handle the whole thing. We’ve not been getting as much communication as we hoped”.
They are demanding an investigation to understand what happened and who was negligent. Femi believes that the definition of “severity of injury” by the IIU should be adjusted when the impacted person is a child because “you can’t compare the threshold of pain and psychological impact on a child to that of an adult.” He further adds, “based on the investigation, there should be some recommendations to prevent a reoccurrence.”
The couple hopes the case is re-opened for an investigation that provides recommendations on service or police dogs in public places when they are not on active service and considers the attack’s impact on the family. While they acknowledge the fantastic work of the police to keep the community safe, they believe that an investigation would reveal loopholes in current systems, procedures and policies.
Who is Liable for the Damage – the School or the Police?
A lawyer in Manitoba anonymously provided legal insight on damage liability involved in this case. The lawyer says the Manitoba Animal Liability Act might not apply to police service dogs. He explains that “police service dogs are weapons that execute commands and might not necessarily be aggressive.”
The Winnipeg Police Department stated in their news release that the “involved canine is a single-purpose drug detection dog and not trained in aggression or apprehension.”
Nonetheless, the lawyer says the school should have informed the parent and provided information on the kind of dog, the temperament, and whether the dog would have a jaw abductor muscle to prevent a bite. “Apparently, the police believed that the dog was not violent and assumed that its temperament was such that it won’t bite, no matter the type of contact. If you’re going to be around kids, you should assume that there could be any contact.” Perhaps, they expected that there would be no contact and if there were any, then the dog would not bite.
Who dropped the ball and became liable for the damages caused?
First of all, there was no consent from the family to have dogs in the school, close to the kids, take pictures with the children and be unmuzzled. The police brought an intermediate weapon to the school, presumably with the permission of the school authority but without the parents’ consent, who placed their children in the care of the school.
Police dogs naturally have aggressive instincts. The most crucial factor is the protection of the children, and it’s negligent to take an intermediate weapon close enough to the children for an attack to occur without taking necessary precautions. Was this the right dog to bring to school? Does it have the experience and training to avoid reaction on contact? The lesson here is to seek consent and take all necessary precautions. The issue becomes providing support to ensure David’s physical and psychological well-being.
What is the Psychological Impact on the Boy and His Family?
Carole Sandy, a couple and family therapist and owner of From Invisible to Visible Therapy, shares insight on the psychological impact of the incident. She says, “David experienced a distressing incident that could disrupt his ability to function well at home, in school or in other social situations.”
“He will likely struggle with the emotional and physical impact of the incident and experience symptoms such as being on guard, high alert, and having trouble concentrating and sleeping”. She adds that David’s caregivers need to assure him that he is safe and that the world is safe.
Caregivers can help him choose behaviour based on balanced emotions and rational thinking.
Carole stresses the need for David’s parents to support him by being “attentive to David’s emotions and of their own as well.” She encourages the parent to seek help from supportive family members and a professional to help manage negative thoughts and emotions. She says there will likely be some difficult days ahead, but they can be prepared by “planning…incorporating pleasurable activities, using coping statements and noting unpleasant emotions.”
How Does This Mentally and Systemically Impact Visibly Racialized Groups?
This incident can potentially impact members of visibly racialized groups on another level. Carole explains that “as visible minorities, trust can be difficult because we have a history. We often face higher stress levels connected to systemic occurrences and subtle and overt racism. Incidents like this tend to trigger uncomfortable feelings within communities, leading to anger, avoidance and rumination.”
Carole adds that organizations need to work from trauma-informed and race-informed approaches. She says it’s not enough for organizations to undergo training on understanding race. Still, they have to consider race and show up beyond sitting through training but be aware of the racial undertone that informs certain feelings, actions and reactions.
Feeling safe in the community requires intentional and conscious actions by organizations, institutions and visible minority groups. According to Carole, this requires “making room to discuss all feelings as part of the healing process and being intentional by celebrating our strengths, encouraging one another, advocating for each other, and communicating that we belong through actionable self-love practices.”
Carole encourages members of racialized groups to use their gifts to stand up to injustice. “It might mean (sending an) email or a letter to your local mayor, playing a more active role in your child’s school, speaking up in your workplace or supporting a family in your community who might be facing a similar situation- we heal when we take actionable steps”, she offers.
Carole highlights Dr Howard Stevenson’s Racial Encounter Coping Appraisal and Socialization Theory (RECAST) which suggests that “the more aware we become of dealing with racial copying, the more prepared and confident we become to engage rather than avoid these encounters which can lead to internalizing the hurt, pain and frustration.” The three steps involved in this theory are: reading racial encounters, recasting them, and resolving them so that it does not remain in the body.
Immigrant Muse reached out to the Winnipeg Police Department to inquire about the current status of the case but was referred to the December 14 news release.
Efforts to obtain additional responses from the Louis Riel School Division and the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba received no answers when this article was published.
The Alobas have withdrawn their online petition and are seeking legal counsel.