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June 28 Constitution of Ukraine Day

The Constitution of Ukraine of 1996 (Конституція України) for people of Ukraine is like the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982, for people of Canada. Constitution allows Ukrainians an ability to govern themselves and to live on their land, speak Ukrainian language. It grants equal civil and political rights to all people of Ukraine. The fundamental law of Ukraine was adopted on June 28, 1996.

For twenty-four years, the People of Ukraine are still building policies that align with the constitution to undo the oppression they experienced under 70+ years of the USSR and prior colonizers of Ukrainian land. Ukrainian territory has been colonized by a number of countries throughout thousands of years of history that were killing Indigenous People of Ukraine and taking away Ukrainian land, culture, traditions and language.

Ukrainians, after experiencing multiple levels of economic, cultural, political and social oppression and wars in Ukraine, now live and work in most countries in the world. Canada has seen at least five waves of Ukrainian immigration in the last 125 years. No matter where Ukrainians are living now, they are united in their language, culture and traditions while sharing their gifts with the global community. One war with Russia in Ukraine is still on going. It already resulted in annexing Crimea, an autonomous territory of Ukraine and killing thousands of people of Ukraine on its Eastern border. Ukrainians around the world every day, cry to the international community to stop Russian aggression, violence and killing of people of Ukraine. The war is on-going for the last six years, and every day more Ukrainian families lose their loved ones who are defending Ukrainian borders and protecting the Constitution of Ukraine. Now Ukraine is fighting the war and pandemic at the same time.  Despite everyday challenges, Ukrainians are staying proud of their language and culture. They fight injustices and stand in solidarity with people who defend their lands, cultures, languages and freedoms. As Ukrainian anthem states, “Souls and bodies we’ll lay down, all for our freedom, And we’ll show that we are members of the Cossack nation!”

Happy Constitution of Ukraine Day.

Police Officer / Social Worker views on the future of police. Reflections from the pandemic social work class presentation.

Oleksandr (Sasha) Kondrashov, PhD.

I grew up in Ukraine, where my family distrust the police system. Growing up in USSR, the country that used police force to silence everyone who disagrees with government policy, my family taught me to avoid any contact with the police officer. I have read many stories of police brutality in Ukraine, corruption and heard stories from my friends about police bribery and police dishonesty. Whenever I saw a police officer in Ukraine, I usually cross to the opposite side of the street to not become the next target of the corrupted system.  It is a survival skill. In Ukraine, if police stopped you for any check, expect to pay a fine directly to the police officer to continue your walk. If you don’t, and you decide to challenge the police officer’s rationale for interrupting your walk, you can experience police brutality, including jail time. The change of the governance system from the USSR to independent Ukraine, unfortunately, hasn’t brought changes in the police services. The recent massive police reform in Ukraine received mixed reviews from my friends as I no longer live in my birthplace. Current events in Ukraine demonstrate that police brutality is still the norm, and if someone disagrees with government action, police will use force against you.

Coming to Canada, I was cautious of the police. However, my Mama, when she arrived in Winnipeg, shares the story that when I went to pick up luggage, and she was sitting at midnight at the airport patiently waiting when I retrieved our lost suitcase, the police officer came near her. She was worried as in Ukraine, seeing a police officer in the midnight in the airport mean troubles are coming. In Canada police officer smiled at her and continued walking. When I came back, Mama said that this is the first time she saw a police officer smiling, and she now tells a story to all her friends about the Winnipeg Police Officer who did not check her documents, ask for money and just smiled welcoming her to Winnipeg. Based on that encounter and the fact that she was never being asked to show her registration papers in the last eight years, Mama thinks that all police officers in Canada are great. I also heard from social workers who collaborated with police that many police officers are responsive to social workers calls for support and go above and beyond to respond to child welfare investigations, respect community members and connect people with needed resources.

At the same time, my students shared with me stories about police officers that are not that supportive. Indigenous and racialized students shared with me stories that were the same to my friends’ stories from Ukraine about police brutality and injustices they experienced while connecting with police officers. People who are part of Black Lives Matter and Idle No More movements and many others will share many stories of violence and abuse from police officers. In Ukraine, the Heavenly Hundred protesters who died in 2014 from police brutality initiated government action to review police funding and initiated major police system reforms that did not bring the needed change as evidence with the rise of police brutality in Ukraine and around the world.

What I realized from listening to the multiplicity of voices that there are two types of police officers in Canada, those who go above and beyond to support communities where they serve and those who abuse their power and practice police brutality with members of vulnerable groups.

As part of a pandemic social work course, I reached out to my former student, who joined the Brandon police force five years ago to share perspective on police while working inside the system during a pandemic. We also discussed the future of social worker – police officer relationship in pandemic and beyond.

The discussion was very rich, and I am thankful for Amanda’s time. We had a critical dialogue, and everyone who was on Zoom was able to ask any questions they wanted to know about police, and Amanda answered all the challenging questions. I learn a lot about the Brandon Police Force.  I am proud of Amanda joining the police in Brandon and for sharing social work knowledge with police officers.

What was very surprising for me to know that to become a police officer in Brandon, you need to have a grade 12 education. I felt a little bit terrified as it can mean that anyone who completes grade 12 schooling qualifies to be a police officer. How police officers are getting an education about the history of policing, the use of force, the relationship between Indigenous People and police and police work with vulnerable populations. Amanda also shared the responsibilities of police officers. They require skills that will need to have a high level of critical thinking and specialized knowledge. I thought about my students, many of whom do not have most of those skills, and they are already taken at least two years of post-secondary education to be able to start their BSW journey.  How can someone without adequate knowledge and training even be considered for the position of trust and highly skilled labour that is required of a professional police officer? Having such low education entry requirements does not help provide an adequate response to societal concerns.

I am glad to hear that the City of Brandon hired a female-identified social worker to join the police team. There is hope when diversifying the police force and attracting people with social work professional values, the change might be possible. But the current police system needs a lot of support to provide those who do not have specialized training and education to serve their communities better.  My biggest concern is related to the values that people bring to the police force. Are police officers becoming agents of social control and enforce the military type of culture in the communities they serve? Are they motivated by access to power and control? Or police officers are driven by the desire to share their skills and support their communities with values similar to social work professionals, such as protecting the dignity and worth of every person, providing service to humanity etc? 

We discussed how it is critical to have diversity within the police force. Amanda shared how passionate she is helping children. As a parent, she can better relate to kids and support them in her role as a police officer. Her social work interpersonal communication skills help build trust and maintain a positive relationship within the community.  Her knowledge about community development helps to make an interprofessional team that can help to understand the community situation better and provide individuals and families with the best supportive responses. It was reassuring to know that most police officers in Brandon want to see their community thriving and choose to become police officers to support people living in Brandon.

Amanda reminded my class that police are tasked to respond to every concern in the city of Brandon. It is community members who choose to call the police when there is a concern that they cannot resolve themselves. Police officers are first responders. When there is a fentanyl overdose, the police will be there. Someone uses guns; the police are coming.  There are mental health crises in the families, and weapons are involved police is called. Now, police are required to do wellness checks, investigate crime, stop drug and human trafficking, respond to suicide, child abuse, deaths, family violence, and this list is long. When the time permits, the police are also doing traffic enforcement. Anything that members of the community cannot resolve themselves, police will be there.

Most of Amanda’s day is to respond to phone calls from community members. As members of the community are not trained to assess risk, the police are often provided with limited information, and they need to make a decision on short notice.  Amanda shared that the police officer does not know what will await them after each call. Police officers are aware that even showing up in the uniform is classified as a use of force—many members of the community and afraid of seeing a police officer on their doorsteps. The work is stressful and challenging, but many officers choose to do it to serve their communities. Yes, the majority of the officers that come to work in police in Brandon based on Amanda’s observations want to serve. However, few experience burnout, some use force inappropriately, most still want to see their communities as a safe place to live for everyone. The military culture in the police is changing in Brandon, and Amanda is hopeful that the younger generation of police officers are diverse and do not want to be connected to those police officers that abuse power, practice police brutality towards vulnerable populations. It is still happening, but the number of incidents is much lower than the shows in Canada, US and around the world.

We had a very detailed discussion on the role of media in police work. We discussed the challenges police could experience when media is misrepresenting the police side of the stories. As police officers are bound by confidentiality and privacy laws, the only story public might hear a non-police story. Public might not always hear a story from a person who called the police and the police’s perspective on what has happened.  The media will choose what side of the story needs to be shared and how it will be shared. Amanda reminded students that there are multiple perspectives and what is the truth, it is not easy to find out the truth, and police officers often have limited time to make decisions. Every day, Amanda is making decisions that are life/death decisions. The number of suicides, deaths from accidents, from drug use are all required police intervention. Every police officer needs to make many decisions every day that other members of the community call them to make.  Police officers are the first respondents. To have the first respondents who are adequately equipped to address community concerns require more systemic changes.

Police officers need specialized skills to build trust in the communities they serve. When people do not trust their police officers, it is hard to respond to concerns that require a high level of trust from both parties. Brandon police are doing a lot of outreach, connecting with the community, raising awareness of police work, challenges and successes. The media needs to share different aspects of police work. The only stories that are currently shared involve police brutality. They still need to be shared as police officers need to be accountable for their actions, and those who cannot control their use of power and systematically oppress members of vulnerable groups need to be disciplined appropriately. Each community needs to have proper oversight over police where examples of police brutality are addressed and not silenced.

Expecting the police to do all the work with no resources is also unrealistic. When someone asks for defunding the police, what is an alternative? Who needs to respond to community concerns. Some say, social workers. Many of my students are trained in suicide risk assessment, have strong interpersonal communication skills, and can support people who experienced trauma. The most important aspect of why social workers might be helpful in the police force is that most social workers come from the value-based that challenge oppression and recognize privilege and power embedded in their role. However, I am not too sure that social workers join the profession to become police officers and use weapons as part of their job responsibilities. Also, for social workers, it is very challenging to work within oppressive institutions to promote change. If there is no public support for the required changes, social workers can become the agents of social control instead of agents of social change. Change in the system involves partnership, collaboration, awareness of injustices and desire to change by majority members of society. Social workers work in partnership with police, and those collaborations can be further explored to change the military culture of some police departments and diversify the police force to strengthen the trust between police and community members.

Amanda shared that when looking for changes, it is essential to recognize the people in the police force going above and beyond job requirements to support people in their communities. Police officers spend time with homeless youth in hospitals after suicide attempts. Police officers protect victims of violence by connecting them with proper supports. Police officers sacrifice their lives, so others feel safe when police stop those who use alcohol and drive carelessly on the road. Police are fighting every day with those who sell drugs, weapons and otherwise harm others and themselves. Many deaths have been prevented because police work 24/7 to protect public safety. Those stories are not on the media. However, they are also part of everyday police work.

What we can do to recognize those stories, to build trust between police officers and members of the public while acknowledging that police brutality is a concern for vulnerable groups and respond to calls of Black Lives Matter and similar movements around the world. It is a task for our generation. What type of policing do you want to see in your community? Know your police officers, support their work when it is focused on safety for all members of the community, demand the change if your local police officer or police department abuse power and community trust. Be an active citizen.

I appreciate the work my students do in communities. I am very grateful when they come and share with the class what it means to be a first responder. They carry social work values in their lives, and in everything that they do. Social workers promote the dignity and worth of every person as best as they can within and outside the systems they work. I am very grateful that Amanda found time in the busy schedule to share the police side of the story that is often unvoiced and invisible. I will keep reflecting on what needs to be done to build trust as I know it is not easy to work with the system when you are a member of a vulnerable group. I remember stories from Ukraine and my racialized and Indigenous students. I hope in Canada one day, the police officers will develop the level of trust among all members of the community, and police values will be more aligned with social work value and shared by all community members. I am hopeful and thankful for police officers like Amanda and those who smile at my Mama and who are working to bring the needed change to police within the system, build trust and serve their home communities. Thank you, Amanda and all first responders who challenge oppression, recognize privilege, practice reflectively using the social work value base in all human service professions.

What you didn’t learn in your social work program: Story from the front

June 2020

Oleksandr (Sasha) Kondrashov, Ph.D., MSW, RSW

To the class 2020:

Convocation is a critical milestone in everyone’s life—one of your many journeys is coming to completion at the time when you receive your degree parchment. What awaits you in the front, you know well: Work! Hard work and even more work. But don’t worry. You are well prepared for social work. You have studied hard and put a lot of efforts into mastering program objectives, and you are ready to start practicing on a new level with new sets of responsibilities and rights. You can choose the field of practice where you want to work. BSW allows you to explore many areas of professional social work practice. With an MSW degree, you also can start your private practice. Ph.D. in social work can enable you to teach on a more permanent basis and promote social work knowledge and research in academia and beyond.

I am a social work educator. In 2019 I opened my private practice. The SW Educator www.krasun.ca offers MSW remote practicum placements to students from around the world under my supervision. My first WLU MSW student graduated in June 2020. It took me 12 years after I completed MSW to decide to offer practicum experience for social work students, and it was my former student who inspired me to do so. Get inspired by what you do and with whom you work. I am thankful to all who inspire me every day. The list is long, and it is a blessing in my everyday work to have people who are my mentors, friends, colleagues, and family. For connections, I have with those who inspire me to do what I love: to teach a new generation of social workers in Canada and globally, and to promote social work profession worldwide, I am grateful.

After the MSW journey, I decided to continue my studies, and eight years later, I reached a terminal degree in social work: Ph.D. With proper supports for those who are thinking about the next step in your learning journey, you can do it too. I have now shared my knowledge with more than 5000 students and counting in class and remotely in universities across Canada and Ukraine over 15+ years. Some of my students whom I taught at the BSW level decade ago are completing their MSW, few are thinking about Ph.D. Some send their children to continue family traditions in practicing social work, and I even taught a few grandchildren of my former students and current colleagues: practicing social workers. Many of my students practice as social workers, some move in other helping professions. I keep in touch with my students who are willing to connect via social media or e-mail, and some I have the honour to see in person in Kamloops, BC, where I currently live and work at Thompson Rivers University.

Until class 2020, few social work students experience remote learning.  A limited number of social work programs in Canada offer remote delivery options. In 2020 every student experienced remote learning and learn how challenging it is to study online. For some students, they never had a choice and patiently wait for social work programs to be open for online learning and accept their application.

We will together transform social work education and make sure that everyone who wants to join a university and receive quality education will have an opportunity to either study on campus or take classes remotely. No one in the future should be left behind and be able to fulfil their dreams to become a professional social worker. It is my life mission to make quality social work education accessible to all globally. Thanks to COVID-19, we might be closer to see more universities accepting the idea that learning can happen outside of walls and borders, and an effective learning environment can be created remotely. Learning on distance is very hard, as it requires a lot of organization, motivation, self-directedness, technology-savviness and interdependence.

As class 2020, you all experienced the unique challenges remote students face every day to receive their degrees. Learning online is possible and requires special skills and supports. The most important is that online programs offer more accessibility to students who otherwise might never have a chance to join the university community. Social workers are working around the world to make services available, accessible, affordable, accountable, appropriate (applicable), acceptable, approachable, accurate, appreciative, adequate and awesome. You will join the team of global social work professionals and keep caring, sharing, and loving the work you do with the knowledge you have to make the world a better place to live for everyone.

In your future, you will hear a lot about services that might not need to be changed that “things are normal the way they are now.” Critically question the norm, challenge oppression, recognize privilege and practice reflectively. Your social work education prepared you to enter professional practice. As social workers, we know that change is possible and needed as guided by our professional values to acknowledge the dignity and worth of the person, advance social justice,  promote service to humanity, demonstrate integrity, confidentiality and competence in our professional practices.

You will be challenged daily on how you incorporate practice principles of equity, diversity and inclusion that are based on intersectionalities of social GRACES: Gender, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Geography (Place of Birth), Geographic Location (Postal Code), Receipt of Public Assistance (Welfare), Residence (own/rent), Racialization (Social Colour), Religion, Residential School / Internment, Refugee / Displacement, Affiliation (profession), Ancestry, Addiction, Age, Ability / Agility, Aliment (food, nourishment), Appearance, Assisted Technology, Caregiving, Community, Creed, Class (income), Criminalization, Culture, Citizenship, Capitals (possession), Ethnic Origin (ethnicity), Economy (Managing household), Extended family, Education (level), Employment (type), English (Oral/Writing), Strengths (Identification of gifts), Status (marital / family), Sex (biological), Siblings, Size (weight), Social Capital (friends/relationships), Sexual behaviour, Sexual orientation, Social Media (technology / digital literacy), Spirituality and many other dimensions of our intersecting identities that might not yet included in the Social G5R6A8C8E6S9+ acronym.

Keep learning and sharing your knowledge. Your social work program prepared you for professional practice. Enjoy the professional social work journey. Celebrate your achievements, build networks, coalitions and bridges; remove barriers, walls, and injustices. Continue learning from your experiences. Congratulations, class 2020! Enjoy the journey that is unfolding in front of you.