Some community advocates in Yellowknife are concerned a healing program for men in the Northwest Territories is destined for failure as it faces possible changes. The program will be taken over next month by a relatively "untested" organization.

Last week, justice minister Louis Sebert announced the John Howard Society of the Northwest Territories will take over the A New Day program from Yellowknife's Tree of Peace Friendship Centre.

The new contract starts July 1 and continues for the next four years. Sebert says there won't be any interruption in services.

But advocate Arlene Hache, who helped develop A New Day, thinks the new contract means the program is "doomed to fail."

Arlene Hache

Arlene Hache, former executive director for the Centre for Northern Families, was on the committee that helped develop the A New Day program. She said the revised program leaves out an integral piece of the puzzle. (CBC)

"This is a four-year commitment to a new organization that hasn't worked in that field," she said. 

"Why would the government make a four-year commitment for an untested, new format for that program, with an untested organization?"

A New Day was developed by the territorial government with years of input from the Coalition Against Family Violence.

It's designed to help prevent domestic violence, teach men to be accountable for their actions and promote a safe environment for their partners and children.

Proposed changes 'incompatible' with program

The Coalition Against Family Violence is concerned too many changes are coming for the A New Day program.

The N.W.T. government originally issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the contract in April. When that RFP received no bidders, an extension was made, which once again received no bidders.

Facing a possible lapse in service, the justice department approached an undisclosed number of organizations to take over the contract, instead of issuing a new RFP.

The contract with the John Howard Society is for four years, instead of the usual nine months, and is valued at $600,000.

In a letter dated May 10, the coalition said some of the changes proposed in the original RFP are "incompatible" with the existing program. 

Hache says the program has been "stripped down" significantly, and no longer embraces a holistic community approach. 

"It really provides nothing in terms of a cultural approach that will make a difference for Indigenous men in the North," she said.

Since its implementation, A New Day has consisted of 20 weekly individual and group-therapy sessions delivered in four different stages. 

Hache is concerned the program will be reduced to group activities that don't consider the men's communities, children and families. 

Another community advocate, Lydia Bardak, said the revised program as outlined in the proposal is more like an employee assistance program, where you get help from whomever is available.

Her concern is that clients may not have immediate access to counselling services or may not be able to use the same facilitators on a consistent basis.  

Repeat failures? 

Other N.W.T. healing programs have had their share of challenges in the past. 

The territory doesn't have a dedicated addictions treatment centre; the government cut funding to the Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre near Hay River in 2013. 

At the time, the N.W.T. government said the centre wasn't fulfilling its mandate and that it made more sense to send people struggling with addictions down south. 

In 1999, the government also cut funding for the same reasons for the Northern Addictions Services outside Dettah.

Emily Saunders worked at the treatment centre at the K'atl'odeeche First Nation during its infancy. 

She says it's critical for the territory to have its own healing programs — run by Indigenous organizations — so that residents can get the care they need. 

mi-natsejee-keh-treatment-centre-hr

The territory's contract with the Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre in Hay River expired Sept. 30, 2013. (CBC)

"When we did our lectures, we used our language," she said. "We were able to provide the lectures and do some counselling in our own languages with the individuals.

"They want to be able to talk with somebody that would understand."

Government's response

Sebert has since responded to the coalition's letter, saying that the justice department "remains committed to supporting a healing program for men who use violence in intimate relationships."

In a letter dated June 1, he said proposed changes to A New Day are designed to improve access to the program.

Louis Sebert, minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation May 2016

Justice minister Louis Sebert says proposed changes to A New Day are designed to improve access to the program. (CBC)

"The program needed administrative adjustments to improve client and victim safety and offer greater flexibility in scheduling," he said. 

"The intent of the long-term program remains the delivery of a community-based facilitation of the pre-group and group sessions."

Sebert says the proposed changes will not impact the client experience, and that he expects the transition to be relatively seamless.

He and other MLAs will hold a public briefing to discuss A New Day's future at the legislature on Wednesday.

Corrections

  • This story has been updated to remove a name that was linked to the operation of A New Day. It has also been updated to remove an editing note mistakenly left in the story.
    Jun 08, 2017 4:00 PM CT