Province to cut funding at N'Amerind Friendship Centre, says executive director

The province is cutting programs aimed at reducing incarceration and combating violence against women and children, according to N'Amerind Friendship Centre executive director Al Day.

'It feels like a punch in the gut': N'Amerind executive director Al Day

Al Day says cutting a community justice program at N'Amerind Friendship Centre will take a toll on human lives. (N'Amerind Friendship Centre Facebook)

The provincial government is planning to cut two N'Amerind Friendship Centre programs aimed at reducing incarceration and ending violence against women, according to executive director Al Day.

Three staff jobs will be lost as a result, he said.

"It feels like a punch in the gut," said Day, who said he heard the news via the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. 

Altogether, the programs cost about $150,000 a year, but Day said the cost of losing them will be far greater.

In particular, Day pointed to the centre's Aboriginal Community Justice Program, which diverts youth and adult offenders from the justice system. Since the program began accepting clients in 2004, Day said it has diverted more than 1,600 people and achieved a five to seven per cent recidivism rate.

"It's been a substantial saving to the court process," said Day, pointing to the high government costs of incarceration. According to Statistics Canada, each Ontario inmate costs the province around $215 a day.

For Day, what's more important are the lives he said will be impacted if the program is cut. Day said many offenders involved in the program are young people who've made mistakes and are given the chance to get back on the right track.

"They're not going to have this opportunity anymore, so it's going to be a substantial impact on the community justice program participants," he said. 

"It's easy to quote numbers, the more important thing is the cost of human life."

Day said the province does offer its own direct accountability program that also aims to divert people from the justice system, but said this program lacks the cultural elements that make the N'Amerind program a success.  

Ending violence

The second program on the chopping block is the Kizhaay Anishanaabe Niin — or the "I am a Kind Man" program —which helps men build healthy relationships and end violence against women. 

He said the combined impact of racism, residential schools and difficult past relationships with caregivers can cause men to lash out at their partners, and the program helps combat that behaviour through cultural teachings. 

'Questions' about provincial government

Since the provincial conservatives took power, Day said he's heard little from the government about reconciliation with Indigenous people.

"The only word we've got is program cuts," he said. "So I guess that kind of tells us that the current government is... Well, we have some questions about future goals or directions with respect to relating to Indigenous people."

Day said he plans to campaign the government to fund the community justice program, and to rally support from local judges and crown attorneys. He said he also hopes the issue will be raised in question period. 

CBC News reached out to the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services for comment. Officials were not immediately available.  

With files from Kerry McKee