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Saskatoon police public service announcement showing wheelchair-bound gang member sends able message, disability advocates say

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An image from a 2015 anti-gang awareness campaign by BC police is now drawing criticism for use in a campaign in Saskatchewan.

On Monday, the Saskatoon Police Department officially launched its Drop Gangs initiative, which provides education and resources about the realities of gang life.

On Thursday, people on social media were drawing attention to an image on the Drop Gangs website showing a man in a wheelchair with the text “Want to ride like a gangster?”

The word “roll” is underlined in yellow, to highlight a play on “roll with”, or being involved in a gang and rolling in a wheelchair.

The image was released by Saskatoon Police but was not created by the police department.

“I think it really communicates something that’s really damaging to people with disabilities and people who use wheelchairs as their primary mode of transportation,” said Dale Wilson, who is completing his master’s degree in disability studies at the University of Manitoba.

She criticized the use of the image in a tweet on Friday.

“It was just problematic in the way it felt like, ‘Oh, if you stay in the gang, you’re going to end up in a wheelchair,’ and that would be a terrible thing,” she said.

“The reality is that if you live long enough in this world, you will develop a disability. And then the realities of ableism become very prevalent for you,” Wilson said, referring to discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities and people who are perceived as disabled.

Wilson added that while the material was not originally produced by Saskatoon police and has since been removed from his Drop Gangs website, it was the image that was posted in the first place. .

“I think the lesson is, you know, look at your sources and consider how someone in the community might view this image.”

Dale Wilson, who lives in Saskatoon, is currently completing his Masters in Disability Studies at the University of Manitoba. (Zoom)

Kayleigh Kazakoff was also among those who tweeted about the image, which she first spotted on a Reddit thread.

In a direct message to CBC News, she also called the message ableist, while acknowledging that the intention was to show “the possible effects of gang life on life.”

“I can’t speak to the effectiveness of the rest of their campaign, but that particular message was hard to see,” said Kazakoff, who lives with a chronic illness and uses a cane intermittently.

“A few decades from now, I’ll probably be using a wheelchair at least some of the time. Insinuating that using a wheelchair is some kind of horrible fate, when it’s an aid to accessibility so common, was quite frustrating to watch.”

Image from the 2015 awareness campaign in British Columbia

In an email, Brad Jennings, spokesperson for the Saskatoon Police Department, said the department issued an apology to those who raised concerns.

The service also shared a statement on Twitter, thanking people who complained “for sharing the impact this image has had.”

“Although the material was not produced by SPS/Drop Gangs, we recognize how it caused damage,” the Twitter statement read. “We are looking to do better in the future.”

The image originally comes from a 2015 awareness campaign video titled End Gang Life, created by British Columbia’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.

As of April 1, the video has been posted on both the law enforcement unit’s website and YouTube, with over 9,300 views.

The video’s caption describes the initiative as a “comprehensive gang education, prevention and awareness campaign that uses bold, emotional and visually impactful imagery and messaging.”

Another description on the End Gang Life website states that the stories told are “vivid and captivating” and “are universal and can be shown to anyone in any community and still have an impact”.

British Columbia’s special law enforcement unit did not respond to a CBC News request for comment.

New anti-gang program

Jennings noted that there is currently no ad campaign for the Drop Gangs initiative.

In a press release Monday, the Saskatoon Police Department said the program provides education and awareness for outlaw motorcycle and street gangs in Saskatoon.

Saskatoon police “have seen other programs, particularly in British Columbia, that have been very successful and are fortunate to be able to partner with them to share information and resources,” said Patrick Nogier, superintendent. of the Saskatoon Police Criminal Investigations Division, in the Liberation.

In addition to the website, the Drop Gangs initiative features a branded vehicle that “works like a rolling billboard.”

Saskatoon police said the program and vehicle were paid for with proceeds seized from the criminals.

The service plans to take the vehicle out at community events, outlaw motorcycle gang events and, upon request, educational presentations. He will also be present during warrant executions where gangs, drugs and organized crime are involved, according to Saskatoon police.