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Friendship flotilla forges relationships between Aboriginal youth and police

Officers from six different police forces in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec put aside their badges and guns Wednesday to take part in the annual Cops and Kids Friendship Flotilla.

The flotilla featured teens from five different Aboriginal youth groups located in Ottawa and it's all about fostering relationships.

With life vests strapped on and oars in hand, police officers and youth in 31 canoes paddled away from the dock.

Ontario Provincial Police East Region Chief Supt. Daniel Redmond said this is a great chance to interact with youth.

"And in a different role - not with our uniforms on and very social," he said. "[It's] to show there's another side to police officers and what we do every day and why we do what we do and get to know where they're from."

Organizer Lynda Kitchikeesic Juden told many of these youth grow up with a fear or distrust of police. She said many times it is passed down from their parents or grandparents, who were Residential School Survivors.

She added hopefully an event like this will change their minds.

"Nothing's carved in stone at this age, you know? These kids can still start to feel a different way, see a different side of things," she said.

"You just stick a cop and a kid together in a canoe, and you're like 'okay, well I'll see you at the portage in an hour! Hope it goes well for you because you have each other and that's it,'" she said.

"That does something," she added. "The canoes are magical because you have to work together to paddle a canoe in the first place."

This is the 14th year the flotilla has taken place, and Kitchikeesic Juden said she's already noticed a change in the community.

The youth are from five different Aboriginal youth groups across the city, while officers hailed from six different police forces, including OPP, Surete du Quebec and Ottawa and Gatineau Police

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