Acting Winnipeg police chief Devon Clunis
Credits: JOYANNA PURSAGA/QMI AGENCY
After initially refusing Wednesday to answer questions at a police press conference and leaving the room, Clunis soon re-entered following protests from reporters.
The incoming top cop and police chaplain said he indeed made the comments to a Christian magazine on the importance of prayer, though he stressed his statements must be taken in their proper context.
"Realizing that prayer is important to that specific demographic I was speaking to, by all means, I appealed to that. But the important piece of what I also said there was ... prayer backed up by action," Clunis said.
"Unfortunately, it appears that individuals have really only taken one piece of what I've said and not presented the entire story."
That action, he explained, would involve Winnipeg citizens participating in their community to improve the city at a grassroots level, in such ways as volunteering at schools or community centres or joining an organized neighbourhood patrol group.
"Let's just really care for our neighbours. Let's build a stronger community. So whatever it takes, whatever appeals to you, that's what I want you to use," said Clunis, a 25-year Winnipeg cop who will become chief when Keith McCaskill retires within months.
"I want to engage every single segment of our community. So whatever it takes for me to engage that segment in the betterment of this entire city, that is exactly what I will do."
He was put off by a reporter's question on some concerns expressed he might have any intention to "mandate religion or force prayer on people" in the force or the community.
"Wow. Why would anyone believe that? ... That is definitely not the plan. That is not the intention. And those of you who know me would know that's something that's absolutely outside of my character. That's contrary to anything that I believe," Clunis said.
"I'm a little bit disconcerted that what was presented as a message to bring people together and to unify this community is now being spun in somewhat of a negative light."
He added he has no regrets about making his comments on prayer during the earlier interview.