Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the motion before us today.
Effective crime prevention initiatives have been a priority for our government since we were first elected in 2006. It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak about some of the ways we have been helping young people at risk avoid becoming involved in criminal activities and also talk about funding cadet programs in first nations communities.
Young people present our hope for the future. This is especially true in the case of aboriginal youth, the fastest growing segment of our population and a rapidly expanding pool of in-demand talent.
The first nations population is growing three times faster than the national average, with half of all aboriginal people being under the age of 25. Equipped with the right skills and education these young people can seize new economic development opportunities being created in first nations communities. They can also help to fill the thousands of jobs that are opening up as more and more Canadians reach retirement age.
Unfortunately, too many aboriginal youth currently fall short of their potential. They are more likely than their non-aboriginal peers to be both victims of crime and to be arrested and incarcerated for crime. In fact, they are almost eight times more likely to be in custody than their non-aboriginal counterparts.
Research tells us the most persistent young offenders have a history of abuse or neglect, problems in school, early substance abuse, anti-social behaviour, delinquent peers and inadequate adult supervision. Research also provides solid evidence that crime prevention works with these at-risk youth.
Effective prevention programs have proven to be able to reduce arrests of youth by up to 70%. This is one key reason our Conservative government has taken some very decisive action to strengthen and refocus the national crime prevention strategy.
We have made sure that our programs are targeted, effective and long term. We have also taken steps to ensure that funding for the crime prevention strategy is permanent rather than subject to the sunset provisions which the previous government had put in place.
Under the previous national crime prevention strategy, funding went largely to initiatives focusing on raising awareness among young people in general, and other projects such as those designed to help community organizations study the extent of delinquency in their area.
This translated into funding that lacked focus and often went to well intentioned but hardly specific enough initiatives. Under the previous crime prevention strategies, permissible funding was often too small and for too short a period of time, thereby limiting the potential for community-based projects to achieve real measurable results.
Today, the national crime prevention strategy has a renewed mission and core activities that provide a sharper focus on crime prevention. Funding is targeted to address high-risk and high-priority crimes, populations and places. Longer term and more intensive projects are now being funded with a view to reducing the likelihood that at-risk persons will offend. Projects to implement direct interventions with vulnerable children, youth and their families are being supported rather than more general awareness campaigns or social activities.
The idea is to help young people at risk to address circumstances or personal characteristics, such as drug, alcohol or other substance abuse, aggressiveness or violence and dysfunction in families, any of which might lead them down the wrong path and into a life of crime.
Our goal is to make sure that we achieve concrete results by supporting evidence-based projects that will help those most at risk achieve their full potential and make smart choices.
Hon. members will know that as part of our effort to strengthen and refocus the strategy, our government set up the northern and aboriginal crime prevention fund where crime rates unfortunately are often three times higher than elsewhere in the country.
The fund supports innovative and culturally sensitive crime prevention practices that reduce offending among at-risk children and youth. It helps to develop tools and resources tailored to aboriginal and northern populations, and to disseminate this knowledge across communities.
Especially important is that it helps to build capacity at the community level to develop or implement culturally sensitive crime prevention practices among aboriginal and northern populations.
How has the government been doing with the new strategy so far?
Between January and September of this year alone, our government has invested nearly $74.4 million in 46 crime prevention projects across Canada, many of them targeted to helping aboriginal youth. I will talk about just a few.
Our government is investing in a project in Vancouver that provides aboriginal youth between the ages of 12 and 23 with positive alternatives to gang involvement. This initiative is a collaboration between the Vancouver police department and a number of aboriginal organizations.
Our government is also investing in Winnipeg's Circle of Courage project which helps reduce gang violence and criminal activity by enabling aboriginal participants to learn practical life skills and strengthen their connection to their culture to help protect them from gang influences.
Also, the Seeds of Change Youth Inclusion program in Halifax is helping 14 to 18 year olds at risk of criminal involvement to develop new skills, to help with their education and focus on drug prevention and conflict resolution so young people can increase their social skills and sense of belonging.
The Aboriginal Women's Association of P.E.I.'s program Gathering Together is working to reduce in first nation communities incidents of violent crime and property crime associated with substance abuse. This program involves communities, families, service providers and youth in culturally sensitive activities that develop the skills needed to support effective crime prevention and reduction.
The Government of Canada has already done a lot to keep kids at risk out of trouble, and we are going to do a lot more.
The motion before us today asks the government to examine cadet programs in this regard. I would like to give hon. members a brief background into the Hobbema cadet corps which is active in Alberta, in the constituency of my colleague, the member for Wetaskiwin. This cadet corps is a shining example of such programs at work.
In 2005 the RCMP developed and implemented a cadet corps program for the community of Hobbema. It was conceived as a comprehensive crime reduction measure to educate first nations youth on the dangers of gang activity, drug abuse and the associated violence. The program has been a remarkable success.
The cadet corps program recruits young aboriginal people and advises them on positive choices and alternate ways to overcome the challenges and obstacles that prevent them from moving on in their education, or which serve to frustrate their career goals and opportunities.
In partnership with youth, the community and local police, the program provides culturally sensitive, tailored guidance while instilling discipline and providing experience, all while showing trust and respect to everyone involved. Cadets in this program become role models for their peers and the younger generations in their communities.
I will outline some of the success that this program has already seen.
School attendance has risen and crime has been significantly reduced in the community as a result of this cadet corps program. The program has received national and international interest from aboriginal, academic and policing communities for its focus on youth empowerment and its corresponding reduction in crime.
The bottom line is that Canadians want us to invest in what works and make sure we get the biggest bang for our buck. That is what our focus will be.
I want to thank and congratulate my colleague from Wetaskiwin for bringing forward the motion which highlights the potential of cadet programs. It clearly dovetails with our government's plans to strengthen crime prevention among youth.
In fact, I am already seeing how such a program could be beneficial in my own riding of Wild Rose, which is home to the Stoney Nakoda reserve.
I am encouraged by the fact that the three bands in Wild Rose have indicated the priorities for their reserves are education and economic development.
This summer our Minister of Indian Affairs announced that a new school will be built in the community of Morley. Our Conservative government is already showing our commitment to assisting first nations in Wild Rose to meet their objectives. But there is still more work that needs to be done.
This weekend I will be doing a ride-along with the Cochrane RCMP's rural section on the Stoney reserve. Unfortunately, the officers of this section report that the level of crime on the reserve is significantly higher than the rest of the area that they cover.
The benefits that are proven to flow from the establishment of a cadet corps would be welcome in this community. I would dearly love to see them realized for my young constituents in Morley and on the Stoney Nakoda reserve. Most important, they are benefits that would be generated by the first nations community itself, and on its terms.
Based on the early promise of projects such as those in Hobbema, I am optimistic that we will find lasting solutions to youth crime problems, and in the process, continue to build safer communities for Canadians.
I encourage all hon. members to support this initiative.