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Nanaimo city council endorses strategy to try to divert youths from gang violence

Nanaimo News Bulletin - 5/4/2023

Nanaimo city council has endorsed a plan to help divert youths from entering lives of gun and gang violence.

Work toward the Nanaimo Youth Resilience Strategy started a little over a year ago, when Public Safety Canada announced Nanaimo was among 22 municipalities in B.C. select to develop a gun and gang violence prevention strategy. The city was allocated $1.8 million to develop and implement a three-year plan, which was presented to council Monday, May 1.

"This strategy, I think, really acts as a road map for the work and the use of the building safer communities funds over the course of the next three years," said Damon Johnston, the city's manager of recreation services.

He said following council's endorsement, staff will develop a three-year work plan and budget and return to council for approval for submission to Public Safety Canada. A public information and awareness campaign will be launched, presenting information about potential negative impacts on young people's lives.

Six main recommendations from the research include establishing gathering spaces, engaging in outreach, connecting youths to Indigenous teachings, mentoring youths, enhancing existing programs, and presenting positive messaging through media and communications.

"The longhouse learning and healing framework is an example of what can be utilized to build in youths a strong, positive cultural identity, connection and a sense of responsibility," said Lisa Brinkman, city manager of community planning.

A steering committee to support the strategy's implementation and development has also been established. It includes representatives from policing, the business community, child welfare, education, youth advocates, youth employment, youth services, Snuneymuxw First Nation and others to work with the city to provide leadership and oversight, offer advice on how to spend funding, and to share information about the strategy and its programs with the public.

The steering committee has met monthly since January and will continue to meet over the next three years.

"Criteria and evaluation for the proposed programs to be funded will be drawn directly from the Nanaimo youth resilience strategy with guidance and leadership from the steering committee," Brinkman said.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong expressed the same concern about the strategy that she voiced at a governance and priorities meeting earlier this year.

"I have a lot of problems with this," she said. "Having much experience working with gangs, etc., you're only focusing on street gangs … Everything you've focused on is those with lower socio-economics standards, but the main gangs with the weapons and all that come from higher affluent families."

Christiane Sadeler, consultant in community safety and well-being with Rethink Urban, who has worked with city staff on the strategy since December, said Armstrong's question has been raised in other communities.

"As far as Public Safety Canada funding is concerned, working with organized crime is really out of scope for this particular funding," Sadeler said. "Their sole focus is on getting to the root causes and the risk factors that put youths at risk of becoming recruited by organized crime, but you're absolutely correct, it is not … focused on those already involved in organized crime."

Lisa Bhopalsingh, director of community development, said one of the strengths of the strategy process lies with the steering committee members.

"With regards to all children, whether they're from different socio-economic backgrounds, the committee members will be helping us with identifying those who are considered at high risk," she said. "The school district is a really important partner for us and so, through them, we'll be relying on the experts … including the RCMP to help us identify kids from a variety of backgrounds."

Coun. Janice Perrino asked about funding sustainability to keep programs, developed through the strategy process, running beyond 2026. Brinkman replied there is an emphasis on sustainability, and the city will be require to report its progress to Public Safety Canada.

Armstrong said since the strategy does not include targeting youths already in organized crime, she couldn't support it. The motion to endorse the strategy carried with Armstrong opposed.