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Cross-cultural justice – Program helps new Canadians learn and lead

August 14, 2016

NS News |

Walking out into the summer sunlight from the West Vancouver Police Department’s underground garage, Const. Jeff Wood has a gaggle of teens from Syria, Egypt, China, the Philippines, Iran, India, the United Arab Emirates and Canada trailing behind him.

Fifteen kids, who are part of a leadership camp put on by the North Shore Multicultural Society, have been invited by West Vancouver’s police, fire and bylaw departments to spend an afternoon interacting with first responders.

It begins with paddling the department’s custom canoe on Burrard Inlet with Wes Nahanee, a Squamish Nation artist who does a lot of cultural outreach.

Nahanee gives the kids a safety lesson, interspersed with traditional Squamish Nation stories about the origins of the Sisters (what most of us call the Lions) and Siwash rock.

A handful of the kids don’t speak English yet so it helps that Nahanee is demonstrative with his hands. He interlocks and then wiggles his fingers in unison, mimicking the rhythm his paddlers will have to follow.

“If you don’t do it like this, it’s like a wounded spider,” he says.

The clear highlight for the campers is a demonstration of the West Vancouver Police Department’s dog unit.

“It’s my job to get bit today,” says Wood, pulling on his protective gear.

The constables act out a scene in which Wood plays the perp trying to evade arrest. When the dog handler pulls the door open, the German shepherd bounds out and goes straight for Wood’s arm, drawing applause from the kids and some dropped jaws from people on the nearby tennis courts.

West Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services members turn the kids loose on a controlled flame with fire extinguishers, a bucket list item many adults dream about. The department has also polished up one of its firetrucks and the kids are set to get a hands-on tour of its many tools when the radio squawks, alerting the crew to a possible natural gas leak. The demonstration ends as quickly as it started, but the kids do get a few giggles when the firefighters strip down to their undies in the parking lot and quickly don their turnout gear before heading off, sirens wailing.

The kids conclude their visit with the first responders with some facetime with the District of West Vancouver’s bylaw staff. Maybe not the strongest finish for the tour after the kids have been putting out fires and seeing a man taken down by the K9 unit, but the uniformed officers do hold the kids’ attention as they tell them about the 3,700 calls they get each year for everything from parking violations to, in one case, a complaint about bees trespassing in someone’s yard.

It’s all good fun but there are larger goals in play here. The kids are part of the Neonology Camp – an annual excursion run through the North Shore Multicultural Society, mixing kids of various ages and backgrounds to promote cross-cultural understanding and leadership.

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