[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Friday, October 11, 1996
The Chair: We're glad to be joined this afternoon by one of our host MPs, David Walker. Thank you David, for dropping by.
We have George Munroe, from Ma Mawi - or is that your traditional name?
Mr. George Munroe (Executive Director, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Inc.): No, that's the name of the agency.
The Chair: We're very glad to have you, George. We are also joined by Troy Orhling from the Winnipeg Native Alliance and Sister Bernadette from Rossbrook House.
This is a kind of discussion format that we've been developing as we go across the country, because we find that after we've heard things in a more formal fashion, we have a need to have a discussion with people from the area about how things are going and maybe try to resolve some of the conflicts we've had in evidence, and that sort of thing.
What we usually do is ask you to tell us a little bit about your agency and where you're coming from - just a few lines. Then we'll just hop right to it and throw out questions. We have no idea where the discussion is going to go, and that's fine with us.
So George, you go first.
Mr. Munroe: I'm the executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, which is a non-mandated child and family services agency. Most of our work is done in the preventive and advocacy fields for families. We try to prevent children from going into care, and we work very closely with the provincial child and family services agencies, the mandated agencies, and the first nations agencies. We're located in Winnipeg and we're exclusively within the boundaries of the city of Winnipeg; we don't work outside, although we have worked with first nations communities in Manitoba and Ontario and other provinces. Basically that's what we do.
The Chair: How are you funded, George?
Mr. Munroe: We're funded exclusively through the provincial government.
The Chair: Thanks.
Mr. Troy Orhling (Director, Winnipeg Native Alliance): I'm the director for the Winnipeg Native Alliance. We are a youth drop-in located at 380 Selkirk Avenue. We're a non-profit organization that has been in operation for about a year and a half. We cater to probably about 90% aboriginal in the area that we are located. Probably 5% is non-status and the other 5% is non-aboriginal.
I have an outreach program, and I go out to different locations such as the schools, and I go to institutions, the Manitoba Youth Centre, and I talk to kids. I have a prevention awareness program, through which I address issues with the kids about gang activity and youth violence. We have lots of sports activities and native cultural and spiritual programs at our centre.
The Chair: Thanks, Troy.
Sister Bernadette O'Reilly (Rossbrook House): I'm Sister Bernadette O'Reilly from Rossbrook House. Rossbrook is a drop-in community development centre that has existed now for 20 years in the inner city of Winnipeg.
Our reason for being is to be an alternative to the streets for children and youth in our community. We are open every day of the year, and whenever there is no school we're open 24 hours, so every weekend all through the summer months and Christmas holidays we don't close down at all.
We deal with 4,000 different individuals over the course of a year, and our total attendance in terms of number of visits is over 150,000. So there are many children and youth coming through our doors, and those numbers keep increasing.
We deal with young people who are at risk or who already are involved in the justice system, often. We have educational programs, three school programs connected to Rossbrook House, and many self-help programs. We have a young moms program.
Our staff are hired from among our attenders. The directors' positions - I'm one of the co-directors - are voluntary, and our staff are the young people who come to Rossbrook and then are trained during their time at work there.
I could say lots more, but maybe that's enough to begin with.
The Chair: Thanks, Sister.
I just want to take a moment to note that we have with us in the audience just observing today representatives of the Southeast Assembly of First Nations. Jim Bear, who is their political adviser, has indicated to me that they will be submitting a written brief.
We welcome you and we appreciate your input. Thank you.
Mr. Nunez (Bourassa): I thank you very much for the presentation you made on behalf of your organization.
What kind of clientele do you serve? I know they are young people but from what social background? Are they from poor families? Do they have social problems? Tell us a little bit about your clientele. I do not know who wants to begin.
Sister Bernadette: I could begin, I guess. We are an inner-city drop-in. The young people who come to us are characterized by poverty, certainly. Almost all of the children and youth who come to Rossbrook are from families who are on welfare, and often have been for a number of generations. They are primarily, but not exclusively, aboriginal families.
Mr. Munroe: All our clientele are aboriginal families. We try to work with the whole family and not just one segment of the family. The majority of our clientele are poor families. They come from different socio-economic backgrounds, but basically they're poor families.
Mr. Orhling: Most of the people we cater to are aboriginal youth who are on welfare. Their parents are on welfare. They don't have much money. The kids are always hungry. We have a harvest program where we provide food to them once a week. Some of the kids we get are also from different reserves and are in town attending school from September until June.
Mr. Nunez: Does your clientele include immigrants, young or adult, from ethnic minorities? Is crime a problem within ethnic groups; not among native communities but among people from other countries?
Sister Bernadette: I could begin, again.
The young people who come to Rossbrook are almost entirely aboriginal, but within our community there is a large Portuguese population and also an Asian population. Yes, there are crime problems, particularly in the Asian community, but we're not dealing with those youth in any significant numbers at Rossbrook.
The Chair: Maybe I could interrupt for a moment to introduce Wayne Helgasson, who's from the Social Planning Council.
Welcome, Wayne. If you feel the urge, just jump in anywhere you want.
Go ahead, Mr. Nunez.
Mr. Nunez: My second question concerns two trends we are seeing today. Some people want very strict punishments for crime, particularly for young offenders, while others would rather insist on prevention, education and family support for youth and children. How do you see the present legislation? Is it adequate? Should it be stricter? Should we take special measures even if they are not judicial measures?
I also wish to know if you have a sufficient budget to fund your organization. Were there any cuts in the last years? Where is that money coming from? Does it come from provincial and federal governments and in what proportion?
Mr. Munroe: I can start.
Funding, of course, has always been a major problem in our community. I think I speak for everybody there.
But the real issue is there seems to be too much of a focus on the crimes and the socio-economic problems people are having in the community, when what we have to look at is the larger picture.
The studies we've done indicate that the largest bulk of the aboriginal population is between13 and 26 years of age. That's right across the country, not just in Winnipeg. The problem is that there is so little being done by the federal and provincial governments to deal with the problem in a much more comprehensive way.
I want to get away from this business of crime and punishment, because I think the problem is much deeper than that. There's always this knee-jerk reaction by some individuals in society who want to blame the aboriginal community for all the problems that are occurring, when the fact is it's not confined to aboriginal people.
The larger issue is how to make the economic, social and political environment better for aboriginal people living in large urban areas such as Winnipeg. We're speaking of education, culture, economic development and social programs.
Our own budget, if we can go back to that, has been severely cut in the last three years. I'm sure the same problem exists with other people. What I find very distressing is there's really nothing available in any kind of comprehensive way, from either the federal or the provincial government, to deal with this problem of young people getting into trouble.
Mr. Wayne Helgasson (Director, Social Planning Council of Winnipeg): I'd like to apologize to the committee for being a few moments late. I'm sorry about that.
The Chair: Wayne, this is not the most prompt bunch of people in the world, either.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Helgasson: I currently am the executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.
In 1991 and 1992 we undertook studies on homeless youths, the interaction between those youths and the systems operating at the time, which included the justice system, but primarily was child welfare. Also, in 1991 we did a safe city report - that is, safe for women and children - with respect to the city of Winnipeg. I've brought copies and I'll leave them with you.
My former involvement was in the delivery of child welfare and support services to theMa Mawi Centre.
I'd like to make a couple of points.
In response to Mr. Nunez' question, we had some problems about five or six years ago, as identified. There were some young Vietnamese people associating with members of the aboriginal community. The Winnipeg police undertook a rigorous effort to provide what's called a no-contact document. This really was to dispel the congregation and the association between those people.
We found from the leaders within the community that this had the reverse effect; it seemed almost to glamorize the involvement. There are people from other countries in which the state is very punitive, and this was no deterrent. In fact, it seemed to be quite the reverse.
On your question about our general orientation, I have a current document that suggests that our youth today, especially in Winnipeg but I think across the country, are struggling with the future and a role they may or may not play in the society we're developing together, in terms of employment and our concern that our economy is not producing sufficiently. At this time a role or place within the market structure for jobs and the resultant effects of poverty I believe encourage many young people to get into other forms of activity. The day when we can generally provide more opportunity for roles for youth to compete with other emerging growth industries...and we're seeing this in Winnipeg to an extreme degree: young people who are getting involved in organized gangs and what not, and it's of great concern.
I don't know that we can ever have enough enforcement resources to combat that. Rather,I think there are some within the third sector, within the voluntary sector, within the community sector, and within neighbourhoods and places such as Rossbrook House and Andrew Street Family Centre, some real capacity to engage with youth and orient them in a much more constructive and productive way to services in the community that are in transition, in a sense.
We realize that all levels of government seem to be reducing their commitment. We hope we're in a period of restructuring when we look at what role neighbourhoods, community associations - the third sector broadly defined to include associations and groups - can play and, if given the responsibility, what they may be able to do.
We're dealing with an institutionalization of our services over the last several decades which has become relatively ineffective. The justice system or court system is long in duration. Nobody seems to be quite satisfied. I would put in a word of encouragement to consider the creative role many of our elders, many of our community leaders, can play in addressing these problems on a very local basis. I hope it exists within some of the considerations we're all struggling with.
The Chair: Mr. Ramsay.
Mr. Ramsay (Crowfoot): Madam Chair, I'd like to thank our panel for coming today.
Wayne, we know we all have busy schedules, so don't worry about being here a bit late.
I want to follow up on what you mentioned about how there seemed to be a reducing of the financial commitment. You know, of course, that in 1997 we're going to be spending approximately $50 billion just to pay the interest on the debt. From some viewpoints that's the greatest threat to our ability to fund our social safety net programs, that growing demand on the revenue dollar to pay the interest on a debt that's continuing to grow. We may see some of the thinner branches on the tree gone because of that, and it's unfortunate.
Of course we have heard over and over again that we have to re-empower the communities, the grassroots people. To me that's just common sense. I think the very act of this committee's travelling across the country, listening to people who represent the grassroots, is indicative of that need.
I'm hopeful - and we'll see what comes out of our meetings across the country - that the expressed concern, particularly in the area of re-empowering the communities to deal with family situations, the individual child situation and so on, comes about and the resources we have are aimed in that direction.
We have representatives appear before the committee, and people write us and phone us and send in petitions and so on, and they're on both sides of the issue. One is the rehabilitation of the young offender with early detection and prevention of crime, and the other is that small percentage of young people who commit violent acts. So we have to deal with that. We've gone into some of the closed custody facilities and looked young offenders in the eye who have committed some pretty serious offences. They represent a threat to society unless rehabilitation takes effect.
I'd like to ask you this. What would you recommend the government do in a situation where a violent young offender has served his sentence but has not been rehabilitated, perhaps has not even wanted to engage in some of the voluntary programs within the institution, and still poses a high risk to reoffend if he's released? What would you have us do in a case like that?
Sister Bernadette: I would just say that what you describe is such a small percentage of the large question. I would have to begin by looking at the system. What was that young offender invited into? Perhaps the rehabilitation didn't happen not only because of the young offender but also because of the system in which that young offender was placed.
When you've reached a situation like that where there has been a failure, it may have been on either side. So to my mind, both of those would have to be examined.
I think I speak out of the experience of some of the young offenders I've worked with who, having been released from a closed custody setting, are much worse than when they went in. They might have gone in with really minor offences and been placed into closed custody sometimes because the stresses on the family were too great for it to be able to cope. At a different socio-economic level, the young offender probably would have been sent home. There's no question that young offenders learn crime in prison. To me, the whole system needs to be evaluated, not just the individuals.
Beyond that, I think it's true that we have to follow the law, so if the young offender has served his or her term, he or she has to be released the same as an adult offender has to be released, even when rehabilitation hasn't happened.
Mr. Ramsay: I'd like Wayne and Troy and George to respond to that as well, if they'd like.
Mr. Orhling: I think each individual is different and the circumstances of one may not apply to the other. There might be some drug abuse involved with one kid, while with the other kid there might be something wrong at home. Each individual is different.
I think for people who are violent offenders, sometimes it takes something significant in their lives to change them around. Sometimes they might have to go through the system and may never change no matter what you do. They may have to go through the system until they are 30 or 40 years of age. These individuals make their own choices on what they are going to do.
The best thing you can do is find out what the real problem is at home or with this individual, be it some addiction or something psychological, look at it that way and take it from there.
Mr. Ramsay: Thank you. George, do you have anything to say?
Mr. Munroe: I think the whole rehabilitative process, not just for young offenders but for anybody who has been in jail, is in many cases a total failure because people keep going back. We work with Stony Mountain Institution and the Portage Correctional Centre for Women and we see a lot of recidivism. A lot of it is in large part due to the way the system operates and the fact that people aren't really given the kind of community support they really need to make some decisions about what they're going to do with their lives and what's going to happen.
I know when the ceremonies were introduced a few years ago into the penitentiaries there was a lot of opposition. But that's the kind of thing that will give people an opportunity to express themselves in a cultural way. I think that's very important when we're looking at young people. We have to look at how to bolster their self-esteem, make them proud of who they are and integrate them back into the community - give them a purpose for living.
I think that's where agencies like ours, Troy's and Sister Bernadette's have to come together with the justice system to look at that whole issue to see how we can make that system function a lot better. At the present time, the way it's operating, it's obviously not working because of all the problems that are being created in the communities.
I think a major initiative has to be taken by the people within the justice system and the people in community groups like ours to really sit down and map out a plan for how to deal with this question of rehabilitation.
Mr. Helgasson: Certainly there's been a lot of discussion about the debt and deficit, and I think it's a challenging area with issues like the role of the Bank of Canada and the domestication of the debt. Nonetheless, in some cases it has led to a real discussion on not just financial capital but social capital as well.
Within this social unity that we're beginning to focus upon is the issue of how the community and the networks that are established use the resources available to them. The role of youth, attitudes, and communications at that level are very important aspects of a social capital index.
I would like to say, on a very specific basis, that with the individuals you're speaking about you must look at whether or not there have been any rehabilitative outcomes within their incarceration, or whether it's a deterrent to which they would not want to return.
Having established that, I believe that in places like Rossbrook - and I've seen it, having worked earlier with older boys for a number of years in a setting where there was both justice and child welfare - connection is important. I don't think our system provides a connection between that young person and something.
I ran Flying on Your Own, the Alkali Lake experience where, if I were late as I was today, they have a process where somebody else actually takes the consequences as sort of a function. There's a message there that everybody is guided by a set of values and what not, but we determine our experience according to the effect it will have.
If that young person could potentially be in a resource like Rossbrook, with a meaningful role and involvement with a mentor or some connection to another person, it seems to me that's the unit of true support and rehabilitation, and our system doesn't really provide that with any consistency. There's the odd important worker and the odd probation officer, but we don't look at what will work for that individual and ensure that somewhere in our array of services that's available.
Mr. Ramsay: Thank you, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Ramsay.
The Chair: Mr. Ramsay, I just want to point out that we've been joined somewhat spontaneously by Lance Harper, from the St. Theresa Point Cree First Nation, and by Moses Okimaw of the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations.
Am I right? I can't read your sign very well, Moses.
Mr. Moses Okimaw (Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs): It's the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
The Chair: Thank you.
Welcome. Could you give us a couple of words about your community and your role there, Lance.
Mr. Lance Harper (St. Theresa Point Cree First Nation): My name is Lance Harper, and I'm from St. Theresa Point First Nation, which is located about 412 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. I'm the coordinator of a project that we have in our community called the Indian government youth court system. It was established in 1980 in response to criminal activity by our youth. The main issue at that time was solvent abuse, and it led to a series of consultations with the resource groups. The community had to take action for our young people, so they developed this program called youth court. It's the only one of its kind in Canada, and has been in operation ever since.
Just briefly, I can answer questions regarding our program and what we do.
The Chair: Perhaps you could tell us about your experience with that.
I'll just ask you this for now: is St. Theresa Point near Elijah Harper's area?
Mr. Harper: Yes, we're neighbours.
The Chair: Well, we know him pretty well.
Moses, do you want to tell us a little bit about your involvement?
Mr. Okimaw: I'm with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. We have about sixty first nations that ally themselves with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. It's mostly a political organization and advocacy group for all of those of first nations, and I am one of the lawyers in the assembly.
The Chair: We won't hold that against you.
Mr. Okimaw: I've been assigned this justice area just since last week, when you called our office. Merian called our office, and that's why I'm here.
I have been involved in justice issues as a lawyer. When I was articling as a student here in Winnipeg, I used to go into the old remand centre to do some youth court work. I didn't like it, though. I didn't practise criminal law simply because there were so many first nations people in court practically every morning. I used to know some of them, and they'd ask me what it was that I do. So that's the reason why I don't practise criminal law, but I am involved in justice issues.
Our position in the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is that there should be a separate or distinct justice system for aboriginal people. The royal commission came out with their report - the purple book - and we supported, mostly generally speaking, the royal commission's recommendations, and especially the call for a distinct, separate justice system. So we will be working towards the establishment of a separate, distinct justice system for first nations peoples because we think it's the only way that progress can be made.
The Chair: Thank you.
I think you can see that the rules are that there really aren't any rules here. Once one of us has asked a question, anybody who wants to answer it can do so. If you just let me know, I'll recognize you.
Mr. Walker, would you like to start?
Mr. Walker (Winnipeg North Centre): Thank you, Madam Chairperson.
I know many of the people here, so I would prefer that the committee continue its work. I just want to say that if I was going to make a suggestion to the committee - and I'm not part of your everyday work - I would say that if members can develop a good ear for how the aboriginal community is developing its own responses to these problems, they are not only crime-based responses but also social-justice-based. But they can explain themselves much better than I can.
Nationally, I think we've been very slow to pick up on how to do this. It's very complicated and very hard for the federal government, but I think it's worth while listening carefully to these different responses. Although we have people from a mixture of organizations, such as Bernadette's and Wayne's background in working in these different communities within the aboriginal community - and it has been very difficult work - the people here represent the forefront of the hard work that has been put in.
I think my time is better spent making sure you understand and develop an ear for this, and in your work, make sure this is represented in your final report.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Maloney (Erie): Lance, I'd very much like to hear from you about the Indian government youth court system. How does it work?
Mr. Harper: First of all, as to our background, the Indian government youth court system in St. Theresa Point was developed in response to community concerns regarding youth crime and delinquency in the first nation, in our community. The principal issue at that time was a problem of solvent abuse and its casual relationships to other criminal and deviant behaviour of our youth on the reserves.
The band council initiated a series of consultations with the community members and criminal justice and social service agencies to address these problems. These consultations led to an examination of broader issues, including the need to integrate the community needs and strategies within the administration of the criminal justice system in St. Theresa Point.
Through that process, we identified the community needs. Some were: the need for the community to take ownership of and address crime-related problems in our community; and a need for youth to develop a sense of direction and respect for the community institutions, through an education approach.
Instead of punitive measures, we reform and educate the youth. For example, in our community we have paddle makers and snowshoe makers. What happens is, we have a set of community laws - we call them sacred laws - which have been passed on for generations. They're not written in stone or anything like that; they're our customs that have been passed on to us since time immemorial.
Let's say, for example, there is a break and enter at the store. What happens is there is a set of people in the community called the case conference team. They look at the case, and they have a conference and determine what course of action should be taken for the youth. Instead of giving youth punishment, they assign the youth something to create, to do something creative in an educational fashion. Say, in two weeks time they have to make a paddle or something like that.
It's working for our community. The program we have back home amalgamates both the present judicial system and our own traditional practices in dealing with these crimes.
They identify some justice issues, too, such as a need to develop a system where the offender will be held responsible for his or her actions; a need for dealing with young offenders according to the community standards and traditions; and a need to provide an approach that intervenes at an early stage, which is not provided by the mainstream justice system.
We have our own judge, appointed by the chief and council and the magistrate. The hearings take place twice a month. As a result, since the inception of the program in 1982, it has made a major difference in curtailing crime in our community.
No matter where you go, there is always crime. We can't snuff it out 100%. But it's something that is working for our community, and hopefully other communities will take the same course.
But in terms of giving recommendations from a political standpoint, our program has proven itself viable over the years. We have problems in terms of program stability as far as funding is concerned because there are always government cutbacks. Our community is isolated in a population of about 2,400. Youth opportunities remain stagnant in areas of employment and recreation. We don't have any recreational facilities where I come from.
This quite often leads to negative peer networking. They get bored and frustrated because there is no employment. There's solvent abuse and what they see on TV...for example, there are crime-related and gang-related activities in our community too.
So to address that problem, our band has initiated a series of consultations for our community members. They implemented our own laws within our community. Our community has a midnight curfew for every one right across the board. If you're caught driving after 12 o'clock, you lose your vehicle for a night and you walk to work the next morning. If you're caught three times, your wages will be garnisheed.
For example, if you have five children and they all break the curfew by-law, then each of them pays $20. It comes out of your paycheque.
This is working. Our community is very quiet since our band implemented that policy in our community. Parents don't want to pay for their kids, so they make sure they're home at 10 o'clock. It's something that's working for our community. I know it's tough, but something had to be done.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Maloney: Moses, how do you envisage the aboriginal justice system? Is it similar to Lance's, or do we know?
Mr. Okimaw: That's exactly what we mean when we say it's a distinct aboriginal justice system. They're creating their own system in their own community. They're able to enforce their laws and their system with their own people.
But what's important is for the people themselves to subject themselves to these sanctions and to respect the system that's being put in by their leaders in that community. So that's one thing that is important.
Lance described beautifully the rationale or justification for the idea that we have to develop our own system based on our values, beliefs and sense of fairness. So I'm glad he's here.
Those are some of the answers to your questions. We ought to be able to develop our own systems and not be subject to the mainstream justice system, which doesn't work for anybody, never mind first nations people. Women complain about the system, so how could it work for aboriginal peoples? So that's what would happen if we were permitted to develop our own system.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Nunez, you have five minutes.
Mr. Nunez: We have a tendency to make too much use of incarceration in Canada, particularly to punish young offenders. Do you think that incarceration is working or that we should rather opt for alternate sentencing such as community work?
Is jail a good school for young people? I think that Sister Bernadette would say that it has the opposite effect. How do you see our present system?
Mr. Orhling: I would have to say that it's a negative area. As soon as a kid goes into the youth centre here, the first thing he feels is fear. He's really scared about going into this place. Right away he'll put up a mask, a tough role, in order to protect himself. He learns very quickly from everybody else in the institution that you have to be tough to survive in there. The weak get picked on. It's like a pecking order.
I don't think incarcerating young kids is the answer; intervention and prevention is the way to go. The Winnipeg Native Alliance goes into the Manitoba Youth Centre. I go to talk to one cottage per week. I talk to about 30 kids at a time. The attitudes and the feedback I get from these kids are that they think it's cool that they're in there. They think they've accomplished something, and that when they get out they're going to be recognized for what they've done.
I also go to a class at Gordon Bell High School. I have 10 gang members in this class. This certain class was hand-picked for me by the principal, Brenda Longclaws. Some of these kids have been in trouble with the law. Some of them have been locked up once or twice. Some of them are just on the verge of getting locked up - they are going to court - and they're not doing very well in school.
In this particular school, the local gang there is called Duces. I go in to talk to these kids. I bring in victims of crime, gang abuse. I just try to make them aware of the path they're following and the repercussions of where they'll be going. I have my own experiences, having been in the system myself.
Just recently, we had 50 World Wrestling Federation tickets donated to us. I gave 25 tickets to R.B. Russell High School. and I gave some to Gordon Bell school. Those two schools are separated by quite a bit of distance. R.B. Russell school has the IP, or Indian Posse gang. At Gordon Bell High School, there's the Duces gang.
The Winnipeg Native Alliance brought in Jake the Snake Roberts from the World Wrestling Federation to come in to speak to these kids on drug abuse. I had to bring in those students from Gordon Bell High School and escort them into and out of the school at R.B. Russell so there wouldn't be any trouble.
The Chair: That's five minutes. Mr. Gallaway.
Mr. Gallaway (Sarnia - Lambton): I'd like to continue on this theme because, as you may have been told, this is really the first city in which we have heard a lot about street gangs. The first thing I want to know is this: is it exclusively an aboriginal issue or does it go beyond that?
Mr. Orhling: No, it's not just aboriginal. There are all ethnic backgrounds. There are non-aboriginal, white, Filipino, and Chinese. The majority of the gang members in this city are aboriginal, and most of them are youth.
Mr. Gallaway: So you might say that it's substantially aboriginal youth.
Mr. Orhling: Yes. That's due in part to the fact that we have the highest aboriginal population here.
Mr. Helgasson: It's equivalent to those who are incarcerated.
Mr. Orhling: Incarceration rates in Manitoba reflect a strong aboriginal participation.
Mr. Helgasson: And it's very recent, too. This is not -
Mr. Gallaway: I understand.
Mr. Helgasson: Yes. If I can share what I think are personal observations, having been in this urban area for a while and knowing that safety and security is a youth issue.... At Ma Mawi Wi we had a youth assembly and the number one priority one year was safety and security. As a result, the Bear clan was established. There are volunteers and other sorts of community observances that look at how youth can play a role in that regard.
Earlier, about six years ago, the Warriors were interested in doing some things. This is from the discussion on gambling and what not. Security is a growth area, I suppose, and we've made some overtures to the city of Winnipeg police about getting young people involved in that aspect. This is not unrelated, because of course, as Troy suggested, people have to be guarded to some extent.
Security is an issue. As a result, some training has been done. We've trained fifteen aboriginal people who are licensed and now working as security guards, but they're the.... Sometimes there's not exactly a clear line between enforcing on one side or the other. I would just like to suggest that the youths defined this as an issue at an earlier time, before the street gangs emerged.
I believe the street gangs are simply more of an organized representation of activity that has an economic base. I know some young people who have cellulars who make sure, from the St. James Hotel or from other hotels, that people know where the most recent booze can is that the gangs are running - because they move around - or where drugs and what not are available.
But this person has been looking for work in other areas unsuccessfully, so I suppose when this opportunity.... And this is not a person you would think of as a gang member. But something's being achieved by our young people by their involvement in these gangs, and that's the distressing part.
Sister Bernadette: As for my experience with gangs, Rossbrook is an area that's very heavily gang involved at the moment. I also live in that area. I live just a block from there. In some ways I know more from living in the area than I do from Rossbrook, because most of the activity is at night.
My sense is that it very much is a result of the youths feeling they have nothing to lose. As I mentioned earlier, we hire the young people who come to Rossbrook as our staff. Just recently I had seven of the young people, from ages 10 to 17, speak to a group. Six out of seven said that if it were not for their work at Rossbrook - some are volunteers and some are paid - they would be doing illegal activity. They just said it straight out. A 17-year-old boy said that if he did not earn money legally at Rossbrook, he'd be earning it illegally, and then he identified the ways in which he would be doing so.
So it's absolutely critical. An American man who was an expert on gangs said that the common denominator in gang activity across American cities is poverty. It's not race except as race is related to poverty.
We ran a program this summer where children from the ages of 10 to 14 did 10 volunteer hours a week. At the end of working 10 hours a week for the summer they were given $200. They went shopping for school clothes and supplies. Three of those young people were already involved with the law. Two of them had charges from one week of March break. They got bored during March break and got.... Well, none of those 10 children and youths had any involvement with the legal system in the summer.
When I think of the cost of one court appearance - never mind the costs of incarceration - $200 per youth for the summer was preventative for them. There's no question in my mind that it's a sense the youths have of having nothing to lose. And it is for economic reasons that they get involved.
The Chair: George, did you want to comment?
Mr. Munroe: Yes. I just wanted to follow up on Sister Bernadette's comments. That's exactly the problem. All this proliferation of youth violence in our society is symptomatic of a very serious problem we're having.
A study was done here. It was released last year. It said that we were the poverty capital of Canada for children and young people, which says to me that there's something very seriously wrong with the way we're addressing the problem. There's a need therefore for all levels of government to take a more comprehensive look at the situation and begin to develop opportunities, not just for the youth, but for the communities in which they live.
I don't like isolating problems by saying this is a youth problem or a women's problem or a senior citizens' problem. It's a problem with the community. That's the approach we've always taken. We're all interconnected as a community, especially the aboriginal community, and we try to look at our community in that way. Anything that happens in that community affects all of us, regardless of where we are and what we're doing. Therefore, we have to take those kinds of measures that are going to impact on the greatest number of people. So something there has to happen.
It's very difficult for us at many times to get the ear of government. We certainly welcome an opportunity like this to be able to tell you our frustrations and the lack of support we've had over the years in trying to get things done. My friend here, Troy, has had a hell of a time getting his program off the ground because of a lack of resources. Lance here just described the problems they're having in their community.
It's not so much a question of the fact that the pie is getting smaller; it's a question of perhaps redirecting some of the resources that are already within the system back into the communities to where they're going to have the most impact.
Mr. Ramsay: Lance, you focused on some very specific things that you're doing. That really interests me. We talked a little bit - not too much - about curfews. It is happening. Curfews are occurring back in my riding in Coronation, Alberta. The mayor and the council are trying an 11 p.m. curfew for children under a certain age. It's beginning to re-emerge as something that seemed to work in the past. We did away with it. Now it seems to be coming back.
We also talked at more considerable length about holding parents responsible for what their children do. You seem to have something working in your area based on that principle. I'd just like you to expand a little bit on that.
First, if I understand you right, you said that there's a midnight curfew for everyone, so a vehicle can be seized from an adult if he is caught out driving after midnight. You also indicated that if a child, a teenager, is driving it, then the parent loses $20 out of his paycheque. I think that's accurate.
What I want to ask you is this: did this policy have the support of all of the community at the time it was introduced?
Mr. Harper: Before they implemented those curfew policies, there was a band meeting and a series of consultations with the people to see how we should address the problems of, let's say, the vandalism that was occurring in our community.
Let's say, for example, somebody challenges this thing. They could say that they have their individual rights. This thing was addressed in our community. What about our collective rights for our whole community? We are doing this for our community.
We don't have to implement this curfew policy or other stipulations in our communities to keep our communities safe, but things like that have to be done, and it's up to the parents. It's the parents' responsibility to keep their kids at home at certain times...or their behavioural problems.
For example, my grandfather told me that when a tree is growing in the very early stages, if it grows in the wrong direction and gets crooked, you can fix that tree up straight because that tree is still young. If that tree has grown to its adult stage, it is very hard to manoeuvre the tree. That's the same thing that's happened with the youth. You ought to treat them at an early age, and it's the parents' responsibility.
Mr. Ramsay: How is that policy working in your community?
Mr. Harper: We have lots of mixed emotions in the community. There are a few people who don't like it, but they have to live with and accept it. The other thing our community has done as a form of deterrent is that we have our own local-access television station where they broadcast names of people who were caught.
Mr. Ramsay: Full disclosure.
Mr. Harper: Yes. For example, if I were driving around after 1 a.m., then my name would be broadcast the next day. I always make sure I'm home before midnight.
Mr. Ramsay: What about the youth? Are their names...?
Mr. Harper: Yes, everybody.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Ramsay.
Mr. Helgasson: I'd like to make a comment about the urban reality in that regard and reinforce the position taken by first nations in their communities. I think it's really important that some of the things being developed are affirmed and supported.
In an urban area it becomes a little more complex, obviously. In a city like Winnipeg where we have Métis people and non-status, as they call themselves, 20% of the first nations people are from out of the province. Many are from Ontario. However, that doesn't mean that in this country there isn't the capacity I spoke of, the community capacity to work cooperatively, as friendship centres do in their communities with the municipal police, often, and others.
There are 114 friendship centres in this country in urban areas with other capacities to bring supports to families and young people. So I would be remiss if I didn't make note and draw to your attention, as one of those external or supportive organizations to embark on a new plan, that the National Association of Friendship Centres, of which I am the president at this particular time, would be very interested in pursuing some solutions from an urban perspective.
To a great degree, we are seeing in most of the major cities - and the fact is that 70% of aboriginal people live off the reserve and in urban areas - that solutions simply need to be developed, guided by the first nations and the Métis perspective, but operationalized by people who actually live within that community and work and live as do people in friendship centres and other urban groups such as Ma Mawi.
It's unfortunate that the committee may not have taken the time to visit some of the community infrastructure, the friendship centre - certainly Rossberg, Ma Mawi, the aboriginal centre itself, which is a conversion of the train station - that looks at those kinds of things and the capacity and the willingness to want to engage with young people.
As we speak there are four youth programs, two of them from Youth Service Canada. In them there are several ex-gang members who are trying to - and if given the choice, I believe, would - chart a different path and pursue that and would need supports that make sense to them.
So that was a little bit of the urban perspective and about friendship centres. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Maloney, did you have a question?
Mr. Maloney: Yes. Going back to the Young Offenders Act more directly, there's a lot of talk there that we should be perhaps lowering the age, and there are arguments for and against. Some people feel those under 12 don't have the capacity. Others feel there has to be some mechanism to get at offending youth who are chronic or serious offenders. How do you envisage that? Is that a good idea, bad idea, and why?
Mr. Munroe: Since we work primarily with families and the particular age group you're talking about, I would see that as a very bad idea because it would just create more problems. We know from experience with Stony Mountain, Headingley, and the Portage women's jail that a major cause of recidivism is the fact that it becomes a culture unto itself. This is part of the problem when you start going into that prison system; and the younger you go in there, the more difficult it is to break the cycle. So it seems to me that if you're going to lower the age and put more young people in jails, it's just going to compound the problem. You're not really going to be solving it.
So our approach is to try to prevent people from getting involved in those kinds of activities in the first place. And as I mentioned, the resources for doing that are unfortunately very limited. I'm really distressed, in looking at it in a national perspective, that the report done on the poverty of young children and families was virtually ignored by the government. There's no reaction from any quarter that I've been able to pick up. When those kinds of things are put forward, it tells you there's a real problem we have here and it has to be addressed.
I know that the royal commission has been going across the country gathering information from the aboriginal community about some of the problems we're facing. Incarceration is definitely the last resort, as far as I'm concerned, in dealing with a very serious problem.
What we have to do is look at the problem in a comprehensive way. You just can't restrict it to one component. I think you have to look at the total picture, and if poverty is the root of the problem, then we have to look at poverty. We have to address poverty in all its ugly forms and come up with something that's going to give opportunities for families to get out of the socio-economic rut they find themselves in, which becomes a breeding ground for all these problems. But it should definitely not include lowering the age for offences for young people. That's a retrograde step as far as I'm concerned.
The Chair: Sister Bernadette.
Sister Bernadette: I wanted to respond to that from a somewhat different perspective. I would certainly agree that incarceration for young children is not appropriate in any circumstances. But we have a lot of experience among the young people we work with of older children using those under12 for crime because they can't be punished, and I think it's a real weakness in this system that needs to be addressed in the new law.
Mr. Maloney: How?
Sister Bernadette: I think there needs to be in some way a crime designated for older people using youth. It needs to be a criminal activity and strongly punished if adults or older offenders are using young children.
But I think there can be alternative measures so that if there are younger children caught doing criminal activity, there are some consequences, not incarceration but some way of helping them learn, because in my experience there are 8- and 9-year-olds being recruited. This is especially true now with gang activity; the gangs are recruiting very young children to do criminal activity, and it can mean then that those children get into a life pattern.
It's like the example that Lance gave of the tree where they're being twisted very young, and it's going to be hard for them to make different choices by the time they get to 12. It's a tremendous shock. I've seen that with young people when they're first arrested at 12, who may have been doing the same activity for a couple of years by that time.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Helgasson: I just have a couple of comments supporting Sister Bernadette's position.
I was a child welfare worker when this legislation was introduced and the JDA was replaced and there was no longer any contributing. It has caused issues and difficulties. It's very well known that at an earlier age you can be.... You see it in action where there is no status in the system for a 10- or 11-year-old who is engaged in serious illegal activity. There is a system interplay where as a result of that there seems to be an insistence that child welfare should pick it up, at least in this province. Child welfare has simply not ever seen itself as being overly concerned with addressing that kind of activity.
Is the child in need of protection? Well, perhaps not. Perhaps others are, but that hasn't been something that the child welfare system in this province has been willing to address.
I would not agree with incarceration, but if under the justice system there can be some creative solutions recommended and implemented for people younger than 12 who are obviously engaged in criminally oriented behaviour, if it can be addressed at that age, I would be on that side. I would suggest that the justice system in its hopefully renewed and creative capacity could attend to some of those young people, again using the community resources, of which there are some.
The Ma Mawi Centre has a system of youth justice and alternative sentencing. There's lots of discussion and there's lots of interest in doing something alongside the justice system in that regard.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Nunez: I highly appreciate your very human approach to crime issues. This morning, I was shocked by the draconian solutions proposed by some witnesses who wanted to use corporal punishments, capital punishment, pain and lash, etc., to fight crime.
You mentioned the social roots of crime which are poverty, unemployment, misery and social injustice. The federal and provincial governments do not contribute to solve those problems with their budget cuts. On the contrary, they make them worse. There is a lot of crime in the slums of Latin America because poverty is related to criminal behaviours.
Sister Bernadette, what role do you see, in the resolution of those problems, for religion, churches, schools and parents?
Mr. Munroe: Maybe I can start there. I don't give them too much hope with this thing.
Our approach in the community here has been to try to integrate all the stakeholders that are involved in our community and the different services that are there, such as the police department and the politicians. We've tried to integrate all the different approaches that are out there to try to come together and come to grips with this very serious problem.
Obviously there's a lot of work we still have to do. This is something we just started in the last few months. We're beginning to look at our community in a different way, looking at parts of the volunteer sector as a means of involving those people, as Wayne was talking about. We want to bring the business community, the City of Winnipeg, the police department, and all these people together and start looking at the problem in a much larger way, because we can't do it alone.
It's quite obvious that if we had been able to do something about it, we would have done it a long time ago. The fact of the matter is that we have to work cooperatively with everybody. That includes the churches and the volunteer sector. I think they have a very positive role to play.
Unfortunately, a lot of us - I'm just speaking for myself, and I don't want anybody to get the wrong impression - have had some very bad experiences with the church. If you start bringing churches into the equation, I think you're going to create even more problems. That's my own personal perspective. But I still believe that everybody working together in the community context is the way to go.
Mr. Helgasson: I'd just like to respond by cautioning the committee. The consideration document that I left with you stresses the long-term effects of violence.
What was proposed, I believe, by your guest in terms of the lash and other.... In fact, I'd just like to suggest that there probably are representatives of churches who have come to understand and realize - we have Stan McKay here with the Anglican Church - and who are participating perhaps in a more productive way than that other organization.
As for the family violence program at Ma Mawi, for example, we've gone past that in terms of getting back to sanctioning violence upon children. Obviously we take a strong stand to ensure that we don't return to those kinds of times.
I'll just stop there. Was there a second part to your question?
Mr. Nunez: No, it's okay. It was the church.
Mr. Helgasson: It was the role of the church. There are references in my report about the new book called The End of Work. A section in it talks about this consequence that we're all involved in.
I believe the church does have a role to play. There are aspects toward those people who are dedicated to supporting people through a spiritual or religious.... It's not necessarily exclusionary to accepting some of the principles in the community. When I say ``community'', that's the aboriginal community level.
I think we're at a point in time at which we're challenged enough to reach out and deal with groups and individuals in what is called the third sector. As government is downsizing, and as business does what it does, there's the third sector, which is the rest of us. We are in whatever associations we make, including business, the Rotary Club in that regard, and other groups, including churches, which were founded for different reasons, but we are equally concerned about the challenges that our young people are facing.
Mr. Okimaw: I just want to respond to the capital punishment question. If capital punishment is reinstated, a goodly number of those executed would be aboriginal people. If there is a correlation between poverty and crime, then those murders are undertaken or done in a fit of anger and stuff like that. Murders are mostly not premeditated.
The other thing about capital punishment is that studies have shown it doesn't stop killing.
The last thing I want to say about this is that if the individual is not permitted to take life, then why should the state have the right to take life?
As for churches, again I echo George Munroe's statement that we have unfortunately had bad experiences with the church. I don't know what role they would have except.... I hesitate to say that because of Sister Bernadette sitting beside me.
That's all I have to say about the church and capital punishment.
The Chair: I don't think we need to be too concerned the committee is going to address the issue of capital punishment. It's not in our mandate.
Troy, you had a comment.
Mr. Orhling: I'm not here to advocate native spirituality or Christianity or whatever. I think instilling some kind of spiritual values in these kids at a young age gives them a sense of consciousness and it carries on through their lives. As long as it is continued, I think it is a positive thing.
The Chair: It helps to attach you to your culture, too.
Mr. Orhling: Yes.
The Chair: Sister?
Sister Bernadette: I think I have to say something about church. It is an occupational hazard.
I think the role of church at this point needs to be more directed toward church members than toward aboriginal people. I think the history of the church is horrendous in relation to aboriginal people. I think we live in a spiritually sick society, and the role of church is really to address some of this sickness, the sickness that allows people to live in poverty. For the most part, church members are not the poor. I think church members need to be challenged toward a more just society and also need to be challenged in the recognition of different spiritualities.
We're not a Christian country any more. There is a wide variety of faces in our community. I think as churches we need to challenge ourselves to recognize and support the many spiritualities in our community.
The Chair: I can't think of a better way to end, Sister. In my view, that was well said.
I would like to thank all of you for joining us today, those who planned to be here and those who joined us spontaneously. This was a great opportunity for us. We appreciate it and we have had a very productive two days in Winnipeg. Thank you.
We are adjourned until a week from Monday.
Return to Committee Home Page