Evidence of meeting #8 for Justice and Human Rights in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aboriginal.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Paul Johnston  Director, Client Services, Macdonald Youth Services
Floyd Wiebe  Executive Director, Gang Awareness for Parents
Kelly Holmes  Executive Director, Resource Assistance for Youth Inc.
Michael Owen  Executive Director, Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg Inc.
Laura Johnson  Project Coordinator, Just TV Project, Broadway Neighbourhood Centre
Leslie Spillett  Executive Director, Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc.
Melissa Omelan  Gang Prevention and Intervention Program, Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad (Ndinawe)
Diane Redsky  Director of Programs, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc.
Renee Kastrukoff  Director, Pas Family Resource Centre
Jackie Anderson  Program Development Coordinator, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc.
Velma Orvis  Member, Grandmothers Council, Grandmothers Protecting our Children

8:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

I call the meeting to order.

This is the eighth meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. For the record, today is March 30, 2010. We're continuing our study on organized crime. We have with us a number of witnesses from the Winnipeg area.

You probably know that we have been travelling across the country to the largest cities across Canada to try to get some information on how to better address the issue of organized crime. It's a huge issue, and we've realized that the problem is different in every region of the country. So we're looking forward to what you have to share with us today.

I think you've been told that the process allows each organization ten minutes to present, and then we'll open the floor to questions.

We have with us on this first panel this morning the following organizations and representatives: Macdonald Youth Services, Paul Johnston; Gang Awareness for Parents, Floyd Wiebe; Resource Assistance for Youth Inc., Kelly Holmes; the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg Inc., Michael Owen; and from Broadway Neighbourhood Centre, Laura Johnson.

Why don't we start with Paul Johnston, for ten minutes.

8:35 a.m.

Paul Johnston Director, Client Services, Macdonald Youth Services

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee.

I have circulated a brief document in terms of some of the points I would like to touch on this morning. Some of them will be repetition. I think there are points that are always raised in this type of discussion, but that doesn't in any way speak to their importance, and I think they are always worth repeating.

Just to give you a bit of background, Macdonald Youth Services is a private, not-for-profit, charitable organization that's been active in providing support and services to youths and their families in Winnipeg communities since 1929. Our legal name is Sir Hugh John Macdonald Memorial Hostel. We were started by a group of concerned citizens in 1929 upon the death of Sir Hugh John, son of John A. Macdonald, who had a number of roles in Manitoba, one of them as police magistrate. The work he did, in terms of a fairly progressive approach to administering justice, looked at solutions that involved not just fines and incarceration. Rather, resources, a place to stay, a connection for jobs, and some reassurance were also seen as valid ways of administering justice.

We currently provide a variety of youth programming in and around Winnipeg, as well as northern Manitoba in The Pas and Thompson. On a provincial level we receive funding from the departments of family services, justice, and education, as well as the United Way of Winnipeg. Federally, we receive funding through the housing and homelessness initiative in support of a youth shelter that we operate, and through the skills link funding of Service Canada for a program that uses a model of community service supported by volunteer mentors as a way for youth to build the skills they need. That program grew out of our work with the justice department and the community service order program, looking at ways of working with youth to change the way they see the world, and the way the world sees them and the skills they have.

In speaking to the state of organized crime in Canada, our perspective is from one of youth programming and the importance of investment in prevention. We see youth involved in street gangs and in criminal activity, and we see also an opportunity to intervene at this point. It's based on our confidence in the ability of young people to make good choices when provided with realistic options. It's also based on the knowledge of the difficulty of change, and the need to have programs that are accessible, flexible, resilient, and effective. When people talk about early intervention and prevention, I often find they're focusing on youth zero to six. As an agency, we focus on youth 12 to 17, as well as some programming that extends past that into early adulthood--we see lots of opportunities for intervention and prevention at those times, as well. My concern is that at times we tend to write off adolescents as a group we cannot reach other than through the courts or the police.

Some of the areas we are not talking about today--police and the court system--are an important part of the work we do. Some of the programs we provide as an agency only work effectively where there has been adjudication through the court system and a probation order that supports the work we do. I think the root causes of some of these things are well documented in terms of poverty, discrimination, addictions, and violence. I don't have a lot of specific information about organized crime, but certainly we do see ourselves as competing with organized crime in terms of the youth we work with. That is one of their career opportunities, if you will. What we want to do is provide options so they choose to not pursue that path. But that's a difficult one.

I will speak only generally about the programs because there is a limit of ten minutes. I could speak a lot about them, so if you would like specifics, that certainly is available.

Programs need to have staff that connect with youth. In this day we focus on more and more Internet and computer access. The youth we work with need that human connection in terms of building relationships and starting to address some of the issues they have not been willing or able to talk about. We need to involve the youth in the community. Our programs provide opportunities for them to be out working in resources like Winnipeg Harvest, seniors centres, and the Humane Society, so that they see themselves as a part of the community, and the community changes its perspective of them and sees them as a viable part of the community.

We need to challenge the negative stereotype they have of themselves and the community has of them. When they're putting together a food order for someone less fortunate, they are the helper, a role they have not been in often.

We need to allow youth to identify and develop their strengths.Their strengths may not be academic. School has not supported them in their involvement in their academic development but more in terms of the emotional intelligence, the ability to develop relationships. I think some of the opportunities we provide reassure them that they have those skills. When you're out at a seniors home and someone who presents themselves as a tough adolescent is very empathetic to a senior who is angry and frustrated with the situation, they can reach out and develop a relationship with them. They have a lot of skills. They don't necessarily feel they do.

Programs need to be accessible. They need to be flexible. I think this is a point where my experience as a parent as well as a professional working with youth and the way everybody goes through adolescence and the challenges they face.... We need to have flexibility. We need to demonstrate that we believe in and value youth and we need to allow for failure. Often failure is a very important learning experience, but often for these youth failure means everything they have falls apart. So we need to provide programs that can support them through those difficult times.

There are the challenges that we find in terms of programs, and I think that's general to most programs. Funding is usually project-based and needs to be renewed each year. Much time and energy goes into applying for funding, developing a contract, filing claims, and we're not certain if funding will be renewed. That can make staffing difficult. You ask someone to commit to the challenge of working long-term with these youth, but the funding is up in six months. There's somewhat of a contradiction in there. Being project-based funding, it often doesn't take into account health benefits, pension, and holidays are limited to the basic minimum. Again, we're asking people to commit as a career to working with these youth and we need to give them the message, just as we need to give the youth the message, that this is an important area of work.

Often, once funding is established, the next year brings a reduction in the amount available or no increase, which is effectively a reduction as costs go up. The other piece that's challenging to talk about is evaluation of these programs. Often evaluation is shor-term in nature. I can tell you when they left the program, this is what they did, but what they do a year or two later is the piece we're looking for, and often that is because we don't have the capacity to follow up other than anecdotally, being specific about the impact that programs have.

In terms of considering our plan for intervention in terms of helping youth choose a different path, there are challenges for us as a community. We are competing with organized crime or with street gangs as an employer of these youth, and they are very serious competitors. They have a lot to offer and it's enticing in the short term. Often youth do not see a future for themselves in our community. It's unfortunate, but when they look to the future the message they receive is that there isn't a viable place for them. They do not see us as caring. We say we do, that youth are our future, but often the messages we give in terms of the supports that are available contradict that.

With the global economy there's a growing number of good jobs that are not there any more, and I think this is related not just to these youth, but to youth in general. There is a range of jobs that are not available in our country any more, that were available without university education. You could get a reasonable job and have it for a career, and I think those jobs are not available.

The latest in the paper this morning is that Convergys call centres are closing up their operation. At one point, they employed 2,200 people, often young people getting their start. My son started there and has moved on to another job, but he certainly gained a lot of skills through that experience, and that will not be available. It didn't require a university degree.

So I think we have to accept that many of the jobs we would like young people to have require much more education than they used to. For many of the youth we work with, education is not accessible...not allowing them to learn what they need to know, and often teaching them exactly what we don't want them to--that they cannot learn, that they are stupid, and that they have no place in school.

One of our greatest assets is our aboriginal population, a rapidly growing youth segment, but our concern is that we don't see it as an asset and they don't necessarily feel we see it as an asset. Fortunately, in Winnipeg there's a growing number of aboriginal groups working with youth successfully, and I think that investment has a double impact. Not only is it reaching out to youth in an appropriate way, but it also allows them to see that there is a future in the community. They see people with jobs and programs that can employ them and that the investment they need to make in terms of the energy and the challenge of changing is worth while.

Those are some of the pieces I wanted to present. Maybe I will leave it at that and await your questions.

8:45 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

We'll have the questions after everyone has presented.

Before we move to Mr. Wiebe, I just want to mention that, as you make your comments, what we're really looking for here at the committee is proposals for reform, whether it's more resources or legislative reform. We're looking forward to moving forward on organized crime, so if there are any specific proposals you have, you can highlight those as well.

So we'll move on to Mr. Floyd Wiebe, for ten minutes.

8:45 a.m.

Floyd Wiebe Executive Director, Gang Awareness for Parents

Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this committee.

I'm probably the only person to appear before this committee who wishes he wasn't. My 20-year-old son TJ was brutally murdered on January 5, 2003. His murder was well planned by four young men aged 17 to 20. He was beaten by two of them, injected in the neck with Drano, strangled with a shoelace while being pulled by his neck over the front seat of a car, stripped of most of his clothing, dumped in a ditch where one of them did jumping jacks on his chest, and stabbed multiple times in the neck, only to be found five weeks later under three feet of snow.

Three people were convicted. Two of them received life sentences with a chance of parole after 15 years. One is up for parole in just a few weeks. The 17-year-old mastermind was acquitted after they all refused to testify against him.

This was my beginning of a journey that brought me here today. What started with rage and disbelief ended in a devotion to prevention. My wife Karen, who is sitting behind me, and I created the TJ's Gift Foundation, now a registered charity, which raises $50,000 a year, with 100% of that money going to peer-led drug education programs in Manitoba schools.

I recently left the business world, and just eight weeks ago the Manitoba Department of Justice invested in my new organization, called GAP, Gang Awareness for Parents. My mission is to educate parents before their children get involved in gangs, and offer guidance to help them.

This journey has not been easy. It has been heartbreaking, depressing, enlightening, and rewarding. During these seven years I have talked with far too many victims and I have met many drug-addicted youth, gang wannabes, and street gang members.

How did these individuals end up where they are? There's really no greater gift than that of being a parent, and yet so many abuse and squander this gift. When our youth are abused and squandered, in many cases they end up being cared for by the system.

We've all been raised with the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, but the problem is that we throw many of these children in jail. An example of this is when we see kids stealing cars. They are incarcerated over and over again, and now we want to throw them in jail for even longer. Is that how we want to raise our children? Is that what we want to do with the gift that we were given as a community when they were abandoned? Do we continue this cycle and toss them away? No. We treat them, we stand by them, we help them, we care for them, and we believe in them.

Last week I was in a Toronto conference on gangs. I listened and talked with many former gang members who had turned their lives around. Not one told me that being in jail or the threat of being in jail turned them around. I asked what did. They told me that people standing by them and believing in them turned them around. That is what they needed, someone to care for them. Someone in the village cared. Now these abused and abandoned people are caring for others. That truly is a village raising a child.

The public is demanding that the government do something about the state of gangs in Canada, so changes are being made to the YCJA: more mandatory minimum sentences, longer sentences, and as a result, many more people in jails. The Canadian government is presently spending $1,000 a day on the incarceration of three of my son's murderers. This case alone costs $360,000 a year. This cost will go on for many, many years, and in my case justifiably so, as they murdered my son. We are not talking about the average person who goes to jail. This was murder. I can't help but wonder, though, why we couldn't have invested that thousand dollars a day--or even half of that--on prevention. Maybe I would not have to be here addressing this panel.

I use the term “investment”, and I'm glad Paul used that word as well, rather than “spending”. We invest to gain returns. We spend when mistakes are made.

This is the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I thought it was an appropriate title. With the justice part, it needs to be handed out when dealing with organized crime and gangs. It is difficult to write laws that are specific enough to do what is intended or needed. Generally they are too broad. I believe the laws should somehow--and I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know how--be written to deal with gangs that are part of the higher-level organized gang and their puppet clubs. I do believe that this country needs to crack down on these gangs.

I personally know a puppet club member who was recently arrested in Winnepeg. I've know him since the day he was born. This person did not come from a disadvantaged background. He made choices along the way, all the time knowing what may lie ahead of him. He knew what he was doing.

He made a lot of money. He lived the life, he drove fast cars, and he had all the toys. Only now, when he is facing 12 years, is he realizing that he needs to change. He had just gotten out of jail after several years and was attempting to change, or so he told me just a month before he was arrested. However, he fell back into it very shortly, but he knew the consequences when he fell back in and he still made a choice. He is not unlike anyone else in these puppet clubs; in fact, he is the norm—and I'm sure you've heard about those kinds of gangs in other cities.

However, each province has unique gangs in their cities. The street gangs that exist in Winnipeg do not exist in Vancouver, Toronto, or other cities. The street-level gangs need to be handled differently, with an understanding of how these young people got to where they are. Today, judges take aboriginal ancestry and upbringing into play. When considering sentencing, the judge will often reduce that sentence; in fact, it's demanded of him or her. That same type of consideration needs to be given to these lower-level gang members.

When I meet with street gang members, and I have met many, they are a completely different story from the person I was referring to above. Every single one got there as a result of poverty, mental illness, being in a variety of foster homes, and a whole host of other reasons. The other presenters here today, such as Just TV and Turning the Tides, work with these young people and have huge success with keeping them out of gangs. I hope my organization will do the same. There are many groups like this that are trying to save these kids. In fact, they're all meeting today, coincidentally, two floors below us.

The other component of this committee is human rights. As a country—the village—it is our children's human rights to receive every opportunity to survive and prosper. Unfortunately, not everyone will. Some will fall through the cracks. We need to be there to pick up the pieces. Yesterday I read that the Canadian government wants to increase its prison budget by 27% to $3.1 billion. I encourage this committee to press the government to take 100% of this anticipated increase away from the prison budget and reallocate every cent into human rights, into prevention. This reversal would mean an investment in our country's future and would not even be considered by the public as a cost at all.

I know the cost of a life gone.

Excuse me....

I just wish that someone would have invested in and cared for TJ's murderers. Maybe they would have cared about themselves, and maybe they would have cared about TJ.

Thank you.

8:55 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

We will move on to Kelly Holmes.

8:55 a.m.

Kelly Holmes Executive Director, Resource Assistance for Youth Inc.

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for allowing me to be here. I feel honoured. I'm really hoping that today we can have an impact towards some change. I'm counting on it.

I represent an agency that works on the street with youth, aged zero to 29—and I say zero because they often have babies, so they are invited in as well.

I wrote a brief that I've distributed. I'm just going to condense it, because I know we have a timeline, but I'd like to take you through a trajectory of a child's life that I've seen over my 30 years working in the field.

It begins with a family breakdown. Marginalization begins at home. Many youth experience abuse and neglect at the hands of their immediate support system.

Poverty in the home leads to economic marginalization, a cycle that is not easily broken. Traumatic events in the home, perpetrated through addiction, abuse, and neglect, or any variety of unforeseen tragic circumstances such as death of a parent, can lead to feelings of alienation and marginalization. Without proper intervention, these young people are left without the necessary supports or skills to properly deal with their issues. At this point child welfare can enter into their lives or not.

School system breakdown is the next obstacle they face. In most mainstream schools, personal social circumstances are not a priority, meeting the curriculum obligation is. Onset of mental health concerns are common during adolescence, but they are rarely captured, or the behaviour is misinterpreted. Often learning disabilities go unnoticed, only to fail the needs of a child. Different learning styles of young people are respected, depending only on the teacher's value base. Without specific needs being met, failure for students can happen on a number of different levels, including social, academic, or athletic. As a result, behaviour and thinking that is not a part of the dominant culture within our schools begins. Typically this results in expulsion or dropping out.

A professor of education at the University of Winnipeg was quoted as saying that society tends to see dropouts as quitting on themselves without looking past at the system that conspires to keep people down.

Enter the streets. A young person arrives on the streets ill-equipped and disconnected, either angry or afraid. Without resources, money, or life skills, the streets become the next option when home and school have broken down. Many youth have reported to me that the street is safer than their home.

Soon, crime becomes the next part of their behaviour. The need to belong, to be protected, and to be cared for is a natural human inclination among street youth. This need is amplified a hundredfold.

Unfortunately, positive role models and healthy relationships on the street are not readily available. Youth, as a result of their history, become apathetic, angry, and they soon begin to act out their emotions and rebel against the society that hasn't helped them. They have distrust toward systems that have hurt them, and they loathe them as a result.

The lack of supervision, guidance, and healthy connections become a breeding ground for crime. As a result, we become a society with exacerbated social problems. Our burgeoning and floundering systems reflect that.

Most crime is born out of youth mischief and lack of adult supervision, or it is simply for survival purposes. Early criminal activity involves road violations, petty theft, break and enter, trespassing, assault, joyriding, mischief, possession, underage drinking, public nuisance, noise violations, panhandling, disturbing the peace, fraud and/or aiding and abetting, and destruction of property. Without proper intervention, these petty criminal activities will likely progress, with or without gang involvement.

Street youth are viewed by the police and the majority of society as delinquent troublemakers who have to be dealt with harshly or, conversely, completely ignored. Reports of police brutality are commonplace at my agency. The potential to access the very representatives of public safety is diminished completely. Frustration and anger among the youth escalate. Their hope is diminished, apathy grows, and the youth then progress to the next steps: possession with the intent to sell, aggravated assault with a weapon, possession of a firearm, dislodging a firearm, armed robbery, home invasions, domestic violence, car theft, destruction of property, living off the avails, manslaughter, production of a dangerous substance, and murder.

Marginalized youth, regardless of the resources of their family of origin, are disconnected by the very systems that are intended to help them. Without intervention, criminal behaviour persists. The youth realize the immediate benefit to a life of crime: most often, it's money. They understand that money equals power, options. The criminal youth who have become prolific will become more sophisticated, more organized, and they will have a firsthand understanding that there are many youth who want the same thing: power and options. Recruitment begins.

Addiction, as well, can beget crime. The overwhelming physical desire can result in a desperate criminal act in an effort to sustain their individual high. The high becomes an escape from their reality--a reality they do not want to confront or deal with.

Enter jail. The Winnipeg Remand Centre was designed to hold 289 pre-trial inmates. Currently, 416 inmates are being held. Based on my observations and experience in the field, I've concluded that those who populate our detention facilities are the very ones who have fallen through every crack, in every system.

The systems—welfare, school, youth corrections, housing—are in fact partially responsible for creating the criminals and the criminal mentality we see today.

At RaY, we have come to know many such youth and young adults who have been in conflict with the law. To them, jail is not a deterrent. The youth report that incarceration most definitely cramps their social scene, but more often they report that they appreciate the fact that they have three square meals a day and a guaranteed place to sleep. So in fact jail is a step up from their previous existence. The other inmates tend not to pose a problem or a threat since for many, they are in the company of family. For those first-time offenders, jail becomes a meeting place whereby negative associations are born, fostered, and developed. Jail offers an environment where an inmate can eat, rest, work out, have conjugal visits, become stronger, and in many cases healthier. The penal system provides an opportunity where plans can be discussed, gangs can recruit, and generally crime can become more organized.

Those offenders who do learn their lesson and are committed to change often fail. Too often, after they are released the inmate is unable to access the supports they require to change their lives in a meaningful way. Despite the strong efforts and diligent release planning on behalf of the parole and correction officers, the resources outside of the prison are not always available. Whether it be an inability to access basic needs supports and services such as housing or community resources and employment opportunities, the parolee will meet with gaps and barriers to services and supports once he's left prison.

I don't want to make this all about problems; I think it's important that we look at solutions. If it were up to me to make a recommendation, I would love to just deconstruct all of the existing systems and rebuild them so they are more accessible and a lot less bureaucratic. We know we can't do that, not in this lifetime. I could list about 50 recommendations to impact crime, but I will narrow it down to my top 10. Having said that, I support all of the recommendations that came out of the recent Senate report.

If we are going to deal with crime, we need to address the root causes and issues that drive crime. We need to support families that have issues that complicate their parenting. Public schools need to work with communities; schools need to be equipped with a range of services and resources to address the complex needs of all students. Welfare rates must be increased. We need more safe, affordable housing stock. We need to expand and enhance mental health services in the community and within penal institutions. More resources need to be infused into the area of addiction services; more treatment beds are necessary to reduce wait times. Addictions and mental health services must be integrated and work together, creating individualized support plans. Community-based, street-level organizations need to have stable core funding to maintain strong services. Penal institutions need to develop a stronger mandatory rehabilitation program, including mental health assessments—and I mean functional assessments, where you learn about the functioning of the client, not the label—and evidence-based programming for those with FASD. We need extensive supportive programming with a focus on exiting incarceration and reintegration into society, requiring cross-sectoral planning. The above will require coordination and regular communication across justice, health, and family services departments. And I haven't even begun to mention the north.

That's it. Thank you for having me here.

9:05 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

We'll move on to Michael Owen, representing the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg. You have ten minutes.

9:05 a.m.

Michael Owen Executive Director, Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg Inc.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks for the opportunity to address this committee.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg has been in existence for over 30 years. We run after-school and evening programming for children. Last year we served almost 4,000 children and youth, six to eighteen years old, in our ten sites in areas of this city where they are needed most. Our membership is 70% aboriginal and 25% newcomer children and youth. Most of our newcomer families come from war-torn countries.

Organized crime impacts on our members through youth gangs. Youth gangs are controlled by organized crime through organized crime control of the supply of illegal drugs.

There have always been youth gangs in Winnipeg. Initially, they were loosely organized neighbourhood territorial gangs. Violence between various gangs consisted mostly of fist fights, with the occasional use of some kind of club.

In the early 1990s, that all changed. Territorial gangs began to imitate the youth gangs in America. They became involved in drug trafficking and controlling prostitution. Inner city neighbourhoods became dangerous places to be. Knives and later guns became the weapons of choice. Gang recruiting became very active. Kids would join gangs because they were afraid not to. Young people have been maimed and killed because they were in the wrong part of town and were or were suspected of being in rival gangs.

We believe what is needed is a commitment to crime prevention programs that focuses on creating positive opportunities for youth, particularly for those most at risk. It is not only a more effective way of reducing crime, it requires less funding in suppression or secondary intervention methods. Investment in after-school programs and other systems of support is seven times more effective than incarceration.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg provides safe places for kids to be after school, and we build resiliency in kids. The "safe" part of the statement is pretty well understood. We provide a place for kids to go where responsible adults supervise what happens and make sure the kids interact with respect for each other and conduct themselves in an acceptable manner.

It is the "resiliency" part that often needs explaining. The word is mostly understood to describe the ability to recover from a bad situation or to overcome adversity, a life skill that challenges each and every one of us. In a healthy living environment, the skill can be developed and nurtured. In a less healthy and more challenging environment, resiliency is far tougher to achieve.

Many of our kids and their families come to Winnipeg from isolated northern communities or from war-torn countries. Each of these situations brings unique cultural and social barriers into play, but for all of these groups, there are some common challenges.

Adjusting to our city's urban society is the obvious challenge for many of our kids and their families. Many from both communities face language barriers and are separated from the support of family and friends. Adjusting to different expectations regarding social and employment situations is often difficult. Limited resources and access to support also puts more pressure on people. The challenges and barriers people face are multiplied in a single-parent family situation.

It is well understood that young people are most likely to be drawn into criminal activity when they are living in low-income circumstances, experience social isolation, generally are not successful in school, and have little hope for later success in life. Violent youth crime is most often gang-related, and gangs have a powerful appeal to youth without opportunities, because they offer status, profit, protection, mentoring, affiliation, and excitement. These are normal developmental needs being fulfilled in unhealthy ways.

There is no way that we have the human or financial resources to deal with all the issues that our members face on an individual basis, but we do provide programs that make our members more self-confident, that inspire and encourage them to learn, to stay in school, and to build their hope for their future, programs that make them more resilient and less likely to join gangs.

We provide exciting programs that cover a wide area of interests that appeal to kids. We make sure that kids are in programs where they are likely to succeed, because we know that success breeds success. The more successful a person is, the more likely they are to try new things and learn new skills.

This is accomplished by being very selective about the staff we hire and the volunteers who support what we do. We hire people who want to work with kids, and relate well with them, who are good role models, who represent the community they work in, and have valuable life experiences or appropriate post-secondary education.

If we can help kids believe in themselves, to have confidence in their ability to learn and deal with issues they face, they will be less susceptible to negative influences and peer pressure. If we provide opportunities for them to take part in organized sport, to experience the arts, and to further their education, the more they will believe in their potential, the more resilient they will become, and the better off our communities and families will be.

Crime costs Canadians $70 billion each year. That’s a quote from Vic Toews. This means that it costs each citizen $2,000 a year. More than 70% of those who enter federal prisons are high school dropouts; 70% have unstable job histories; four out of five have substance abuse problems when they are convicted; and two out of three youths in the criminal justice system have been diagnosed with two or more mental health problems.

One of Canada's pre-eminent researchers on youth crime, Dr. Michael Chettleburgh, suggests:

...supervised, high-quality, challenging after-school programs have been shown to be an effective buffer against delinquency and victimizations and to benefit children greatly... These programs are already everywhere across Canada, but their chronic underfunding renders them incapable of addressing our growing gang problems.

A recent report from Canada's National Crime Prevention Centre identified after-school recreation as a promising tool to prevent crime. James Alan Fox, a well-known criminologist in the U.S., recently suggested: "after-school activities targeted at the "prime time for juvenile crime" (such as the Boys and Girls Clubs) all have payoffs far greater than the investment."

He goes on to suggest that we need to

identify and promote healthier means for [young people] to achieve the same need-fulfillment, constructive ways to feel good about themselves and their prospects for the future, while at the same time having fun. This...is where youth enrichment initiatives play a significant role, and a role that, given ongoing trends, needs to be expanded.

The key to effective interventions is they are long term and reliable. Many effective programs have been undermined by either being time-limited or ending after the completion of the pilot phase. Ensuring the availability and reliability of successful youth crime prevention programs must be our first priority. Youth themselves emphasize the importance of having access to programs that are welcoming and safe, and that are consistently available. Sustaining programs through multi-year investments and public policy is a key ingredient to achieving any lasting impact on delinquency, crime prevention, and positive outcomes.

In 1993 the Horner commission called for an allocation equivalent to 5% of the federal criminal justice budget towards tackling risk factors associated with crime. We believe this is a reasonable investment and that more than half should be targeted to sustainable investments in community-based crime prevention programs for children and youth. In particular, we believe a portion of these investments should be directed to the successful and proven after-school recreation programs.

Furthermore, we believe sustainable funding needs to be targetted to underserved and high-needs populations, such as aboriginal children and youth, newcomer children and youth, youth involved in gangs, young girls, and youth living in poverty. It is critically important that funds are directed in a manner that supports multi-year funding to existing reputable organizations working with young people.

One of the fundamental principles for the allocation of resources should be the creation of positive environments and opportunities that engage youth and contribute to healthy youth development. Young people have spoken strongly for the need for programs that provide them with opportunities to gain skills and confidence, which they can do only over time and in positive environments in which they built trusting relationships.

By providing adequate base funding, strengthening the capacity of organizations to expand and enhance programs, and supporting evaluation to measure long-term impact, the government would ensure that its funds are providing the greatest benefit.

We believe that investing significant funds in youth crime prevention will generate dividends for all Canadians, as young Canadians and their families will live better lives and be productive, contributing citizens, participating in the labour force and saving taxpayers' costs many times over by reducing the need for a more costly criminal justice system to respond to crimes.

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

Now we'll move on to Laura Johnson. You have ten minutes.

9:15 a.m.

Laura Johnson Project Coordinator, Just TV Project, Broadway Neighbourhood Centre

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for this opportunity.

I'm from the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre. I'm going to start by giving you a brief overview of what we do there.

We're located in the heart of Broadway, in the core. There are prominent gangs in the area. There are a number of social issues and poverty which we contend with on a regular basis. The centre provides a drop-in centre for young youth and a food bank, as well as a number of other programs.

My focus is the Just TV program. I coordinate a gang prevention and intervention program based out of the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre. Our target demographic is youth between the ages of 16 and 24. Just TV was designed to provide youth with an opportunity to express themselves through multimedia in a safe and creative environment as an alternative to negative influences such as gangs or drugs.

Participants of Just TV engage in all facets of the audio-video industry. We work with youth to give them skill sets. We try to draw them in through the hook of technology. Many of our youth are interested in music videos. It's not specifically a music program; however, that seems to be the draw. They can create whatever they want, as long as it's appropriate and is not encouraging negative behaviour.

That's not to say they can't talk about their experiences. Youth do talk about their experiences in gangs and with drugs, but they talk about the negative aspects or how it has impacted them. Music lyrics are a socially acceptable way for youth to talk to their peers about their experiences. It's often not acceptable to talk just in a general conversation about their feelings when their friend gets shot. But if they're going to create music, it's acceptable, especially in the hip-hop genre. We find that it is quite therapeutic.

Videos that the youth have created discuss issues such as poverty, racism, gang involvement, and substance abuse. We offer a stimulating, positive, and encouraging environment, and we hope to foster in our participants a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, which is known to reduce the likelihood of gang participation. We give young people a voice when otherwise they might not feel that they have one. We have a film festival at the end of each year to which they can invite their social workers, their probation officers, and their family members. This is often an avenue for these young people to share how they're feeling, when otherwise they wouldn't be able to express it.

We put out 500 DVDs a year with all of the work the youth have created. These go out to other organizations by which young people might be influenced. So the body of work they're creating is aimed toward other youth, to share the stories and talk about.... One of our videos, for instance, is called Caught Up. It was done by three gang members talking about getting caught up in the gang life and being in and out of jail. So it's quite powerful.

Thus our program connects with those who might otherwise slip through the cracks, who don't fit into the sports programs or the homework clubs, and who maybe aren't engaged in the school.

Given the demographic that we work with, it is as I said a prevention-intervention program. Some of our youth are at high risk of joining gangs. This might mean that they're affected by poverty and unemployment, that they have dropped out of school, that they're gang-affiliated, maybe in such a way as having a family member who's gang-involved. The reality is that some young people are born into gangs. When I say born into gangs, I mean that their family members are already quite gang-involved, and so they're surrounded by it from the time they're young.

Many of our youth have touched the justice system, whether or not they've been convicted of an offence. Almost 50% report having been in a gang—actually 44%—and 77% say that there are gangs in the areas in which they live.

If there's a lack of social programming and a lack of opportunities and draws, you can only imagine what it's like to leave your house every day and contend with the draw of joining the gang. There's definitely more drawing in of youth to criminal activity and some of those negative influences.

In 2007 the National Crime Prevention Centre, in its “Youth Gang involvement: What Are the Risk Factors”, cited the following as “the most important risk factors for gang involvement”, and I quote them: negative influences in the youth's life, limited attachment to the community, overreliance on anti-social peers, poor parental supervision, alcohol and drug abuse, poor educational or employment potential, and a need for recognition and belonging.

We try to find a place where the youth can feel they belong, and even if some of the youth remain gang-involved but two nights a week are off the streets and in an environment where they can be themselves for a while, we feel that we've been successful. We've seen a number of successes, such as youths receiving film grants through the work they have created, such as seeing youths leave the gang. Just the fact that we have youth from rival gangs at times attending the program at the same time and seeing each other as individuals rather than as opposing groups is a success.

As my focus today on how we can better equip ourselves to address the issue of organized crime, I've picked one thing. I believe in prevention and intervention and I believe it's key. One of the challenges I see with pro-social programming is that there is a lack of funding or the funding is limited. By the time we really polish what we're doing and find that we're being effective—maybe at that three-year mark—we're scrambling for funding again. By the time we've trained our staff so that they're very effective, they need to seek employment elsewhere, because the funding has ended.

I've seen less competition between community program groups and more working together, trying to share what they've learned, encouraging each other to find funding, and helping each other out. There are a number of good programs out there, but I believe we need to expand the programming. If pro-social community-based street-level programming were offered for ten years, or re-evaluated at the three-year mark and if successful renewed for another three years, we could be much more effective.

Thank you.

9:25 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

We're going to go to questions from our committee members.

We'll begin with Mr. Murphy.

9:25 a.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, witnesses, for being here.

I think we're particularly touched, Mr. and Mrs. Wiebe, by your experience. We have met many victims' representatives over the years that I've been here. It is quite interesting that many turn from an initial or perhaps an ongoing shock or dismay to a realization that what they wish to spend effort on in the future is prevention and “what could have been”. Some, however—and I think you probably agree—understandably are not as willing to think about prevention but are willing to think about what we would call justice. That's understandable. We take it very seriously; it's the first-hand evidence of victims.

I'm struck as well that the theme of the panel is prevention and intervention with youth at risk, if you like. We are here studying organized crime, and I have a couple of questions. I'll just make them brief.

There are people in Ottawa who are thinking of national programs such as a national service policy for youth. I understand that there's a provincial-federal cut-off, and that many of these programs we speak of are provincially mandated. Is there something nationally we can look at in terms of getting the youth engaged and getting them diverted?

Secondly, is the victims ombudsman office helpful in any way? There's a fair amount of money there. There's going to be a new ombudsman sometime soon. Is there something that can be done with that to improve things?

Finally, and probably this is the first point I'd like you to address, we're assuming that youth are either directly involved or are pawns in organized crime or higher-level crimes. I met with some Winnipeg police officers a year or so ago who suggested that some gang elders or gang older members will use the persons who are within the age range of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to do acts—steal cars, or whatever—thus insulating themselves from blame. If you have time, perhaps you could alk about the specific use of youth and actions of youth towards gaining what we've all learned is the manna of criminal activity and of organized crime especially: money.

I would open that question to the panel, because we have quite a few minutes left, don't we? Is it about four minutes, or five?

It would be about a minute each.

9:25 a.m.

Executive Director, Gang Awareness for Parents

Floyd Wiebe

First of all, to answer your last question first, when you were talking about the victims ombudsman, I think that Bill C-43 before the House is absolutely perfectly written. It addresses many concerns from victims.

In fact, we are attending a parole hearing just weeks from now, and it's crazy how they decide how it's done. The murderer sits in front of me, we have to sit behind him. We're not allowed to look at him, we're not allowed to look at him. He's not allowed to look at us. How archaic is this? This person murdered somebody, we're there, and we're asked to come and give a victim impact statement about how this person affected our lives.

First of all, we have to present our speech two weeks ahead of time so he gets to read it before. Then after he reads our victim impact statement, he can just go, “Well, I'm not meeting with these parents; I forgo my stuff.” So it puts us through a massive hell up to that point. That is all being changed, as I understand it. I have asked, actually, this next parole board if I can actually face him, and we'll see. I have not been told that I can, so we'll see. This addresses that.

As far as the national program, I know many of us here are all talking about what's happening today locally and what we're all doing for prevention. I think at the federal level, there are funds available to help eliminate organized crime, etc., but try to apply for them. I would invite every person on this panel to go and download some of these applications and try to fill them out yourself. Don't get a lawyer involved, don't get anybody else involved, but try to fill them out yourself. Paul referred to how much time we spend--and I'm the newbie here, I've only been in business for seven weeks. My wife has tried to fill out some of these applications. So when you talk about what can be done, that can be done.

I addressed to this committee at the very end of my speech how I just cannot understand how we as a country can have a 27% increase in funding to build more prisons and hire 4,000 new staff. Hire 4,000 new staff? Take that 4,000 new staff and direct them into prevention programs. To me, that's not even a question, because I believe the 4,000 people working previous to gang involvement can certainly help every single person who goes into that jail way more before they get there. That's my personal opinion. And to answer what the federal level can do perfectly, it's that right there. To me, that's absolutely a no-brainer.

9:30 a.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I'd just like some specific evidence on how youth are being used by criminal organizations.

9:30 a.m.

Executive Director, Resource Assistance for Youth Inc.

Kelly Holmes

What we've seen is, even back as far as the Young Offenders Act, when they made it that you could be incarcerated at 12 years old, that dropped the age down to eight where the crime started. They would get their younger brothers to fit in through the basement windows so the 12-year-old.... The kids figured it out, never mind the adults. This is old news.

9:30 a.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

What kinds of activities? I can give you an example like a car theft for certain functions, then junking the car. What are we seeing?

9:30 a.m.

Executive Director, Resource Assistance for Youth Inc.

Kelly Holmes

We're the robbery capital of Canada. We were recently the car theft capital of Canada. Many of my kids are stealing cars to have somewhere to sleep. It's not always viewed like that, obviously, by the person whose car gets stolen, but a lot of these crimes are born out of desperation. Also there's just a lack of direction, a lack of supervision, a lack of intervention in life.

9:30 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

Madame Guay, you've got seven minutes.

9:30 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I would like to thank Mr. Wiebe and Ms. Holmes for being here today. It takes a great deal of courage to do the work you do for young people. I think we should be looking after young people.

The sound is really terrible, I'm sorry. Can you hear me?

9:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Madame Guay, the interpretation is coming through.

9:35 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

It's okay? Perfect. I hope you haven't taken too much off my time, Mr. Chair. Thank you.

So I want to congratulate you on the work you are doing, but at the same time I think we really have to get young people before they join a street gang, because once they are in a gang, it is extremely difficult to get them out. They get threatened and there are all sorts of reasons why a young person cannot easily get out of the street gang system. So I congratulate you on the work you are doing.

You talk about your centre, and I find it extraordinary. I come from a family where at the age of three I was placed in a foster family. I lived with 13 different foster families. You can imagine that this was not an easy life.

So I know what it is to live from pillar to post. They don't always keep us because they like us; they keep us because they're paid. I also know there is no feeling of belonging. So we are always looking for something else to belong to.

At the time, when I was young, there were no street gangs. But there were biker gangs, which were much more prevalent, but fortunately I didn't live in that situation. I was blessed. There are others, though, who did live in that situation, and it is extremely difficult to get out.

Ms. Johnson, is your centre open to all young people? Can a young person go to your centre, even if they belong to a street gang, and try to get out?

9:35 a.m.

Project Coordinator, Just TV Project, Broadway Neighbourhood Centre

Laura Johnson

Yes, as long as they're within the 16-to-24-year-old age range they're coming to our program. There are little kids in the drop-in programs upstairs. The gang members wouldn't be able to just use the community centre. They would have to come specifically for our programming.

The rules that we have for safety, because safety is a concern, is we don't take more than one or two youth from each gang in a program year, to avoid the group mentality. Youth have to drop their gang colours, so they can't wear their rag. They can't represent their gang when they're there. The young people who come into our program are expected to show respect for the program and for each other and to come as individuals, who are artists, who are trying to work towards a common goal. So, yes, we do accept youth if they're gang-involved. As long as they don't threaten the other youth, there's not a safety issue.

9:35 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Do you have a service to help the ones who are really very young? Young people 11 or 10 or even 9 years old are joining street gangs or criminal groups. If a young person starts at 9 years old, when they get to 13, they will be extremely difficult to get back. Don't even talk to them about going to school. It's really getting them out of a whole situation. Where do they get sent? I know I was tossed from pillar to post, myself.

Can the services you offer really help young people so they no longer feel they are compelled to join? Young people no longer have that opportunity. They don't want to do it and too often they have been sent back and forth.

Does your centre offer that kind of service?

9:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Just before you start, Mr. Owen, could I ask everybody to take their BlackBerry off the table? Just holster them, because we're hearing some interference from some of the BlackBerrys from time to time.

Go ahead.

9:35 a.m.

Executive Director, Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg Inc.

Michael Owen

Our programs start when the kids are six years old and go right up to age 18, but we start offering different supports right at age six. We certainly encourage them to come to our clubs on a regular basis. We have staff who can relate to them well. We feed them every day. A lot of the kids who come to our clubs do not eat regularly, so we offer them a meal. Last year we had something like 3,500 kids who ate at our place. We served over 60,000 meals. So we start meeting their basic needs, and from there we get them into programs where they can learn new skills or help them in school, and these kinds of things.

In the summer we have summer learning loss programs that we run. These help kids keep up with their learning even though they might come from homes where English is a second language. It helps them continue and feel confident in their school work, and things like that.