Chinese and aboriginal leaders joined together Tuesday to honour Jim Chu for his service as police chief, saying his seven-and-a-half years of leading the Vancouver Police Department helped improve relations with their communities and make the city a safer place.
About 250 people attended a luncheon held at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre on East Hastings, where Chu was feted with words, gifts, songs and dance in a ceremony that also welcomed new chief, Adam Palmer, who officially took over the top job May 6.
“I’m very fond of what Chief Chu did for our aboriginal community,” said Jerry Adams, a longtime Vancouver aboriginal leader who was a member of the police board that promoted Chu to chief in 2007.
He noted Chu’s help to develop an after-hours program for aboriginal youth, create the Sisterwatch program in the Downtown Eastside to reduce violence against women, his continued support of the aboriginal cadet program, his public luncheons at the Carnegie Centre and being the first chief in the VPD’s history to participate in the annual Women’s Memorial March.
Adams said he knew the police board made the right decision to hire Chu when one of his first overtures to the aboriginal community was to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony. It showed his commitment to improve relations between police and the aboriginal community, a relationship that has had its historical challenges, he said.
“So that was a real good beginning for us,” said Adams, who emceed the event along with former city councillor George Chow, who along with Chinese leaders presented Chu with a framed piece of calligraphy that translates to “serving the community.”
The Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society and the Chinese Community Policing Centre were joint hosts of the event, which began with the VPD’s lion dance team leading Chu, Palmer and Deputy Chief Doug LePard into the centre’s gymnasium.
Aboriginal dancers and singers also entertained the crowd, which included Attorney General Suzanne Anton (who once worked with Chu when she was a prosecutor), former mayor Sam Sullivan (who was mayor when Chu was hired) and Mayor Gregor Robertson, who has called Chu the best chief Vancouver has ever had.
The policing centre’s chairperson, Harry Lee, said Chu’s support of the centre, its lion dance team and its crime prevention programs have made Chinatown a safer place. Lee attributed Chu’s ability to bring communities together and earn the trust of the police to his “down-to-earth, easygoing approach.”
James Chu, president of the Chinese Benevolent Association, thanked the chief — who is not related to James — for his dedicated service to the people of Vancouver. Chu served 36 years with the VPD, with almost eight of those as chief. He was the first Chinese-Canadian to become leader of the department.
“The Chinese community is very proud of you,” Chu told the chief, who was seated at a long table draped in red and festooned with cedar boughs.
In his speech, the chief retold a story published previously in the Courier of how a police chief in Arkansas thought Chu was “Eskimo” — a story, he said, was appropriate to tell on a day that he was honoured by his own ethnic Chinese community and the aboriginal community.
“It means a lot because I grew up about 10 blocks from here,” he said, recalling his childhood days of playing at Grandview Park with kids from all cultures and taking a shine to school liaison officers at his elementary school.
A lesson, he said, that stayed with him all these years is the importance of strong, positive relationships between police and the community, especially with young people. In developing those relationships, he said, it also brings respect to the police department.
“We just don’t have to communicate with people in crisis situations,” he said. “Having those positive interactions really helps us police with the community, not policing the community.”
Chu closed by saying he knew there were some nice things said about him at the luncheon but pointed out his officers, frontline staff, civilian members, volunteers and the VPD’s community partners should all share in the accolades.
“I just want to say from the bottom of my heart, it’s been a great career, a great job, it’s a great city to police and thanks to all the VPD staff who helped me achieve the vision of making Vancouver Canada’s safest major city,” he said to a standing ovation.
The event closed with Palmer being wrapped in a red First Nations blanket by aboriginal leaders, a ceremony that Squamish Nation elder Bob Baker told the new chief signified acceptance and welcoming to the family.
“I can’t tell you what an honour this is for me,” Palmer told the crowd. “And as the blanket was being placed upon me, I just want to say that you get a shiver that goes down your spine and it really is quite something.”