Revamped men's healing program draws criticism from advocates

The future of a crucial men’s healing program remains unclear as the Government of the Northwest Territories tries to figure out how to keep it going.

GNWT still looking for home for the A New Day program as June 30 deadline approaches

Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, said the government was aware of problems with its current plan for the A New Day program, which has so far failed to find a contractor to take over the men's violence prevention program. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

The future of a crucial men's healing program in the Northwest Territories remains unclear as the territorial government tries to figure out how to keep it going.

The A New Day program helps prevent domestic violence, teaches men to be accountable for their actions, and promotes a safe environment for their partners and children.

The program was developed by the territorial government with years of input from the Coalition Against Family Violence. The coalition consists of various representatives from government, NGOs, RCMP and agencies from communities around the territory. 

A New Day is currently delivered by the The Tree of Peace Friendship Centre in Yellowknife, but that contract expires on June 30. The territorial government tried to find a service provider through a request for proposals but the April 10 and the extended April 18 deadlines came and went without any bids.

In November of 2016, staff and supporters of the A New Day program waited for MLA's to debate extending it's funding into 2017. Now, the program remains without a new contractor as the current contract closes in on its expiration date. (CBC)

'Radical changes' came without consultation, advocate says

The lack of interest did not surprise community advocate Lydia Bardak. She was part of the committee that spent years discussing, looking at options, and eventually developing the program.
The lack of interest in taking on the A New Day program did not surprise community advocate Lydia Bardak. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

The new RFP does not, she said, follow the existing program, which has a proven track record.

"It was a wonderful collaboration in the community, so it was a big shock to a lot of us when an RFP was issued with radical changes in it with no consultation whatsoever and an unwillingness to hear what the community has to say," she said.

Bardak said the program currently has two facilitators who act as the first point of contact. They do program intake and facilitate both group and one-on-one counselling sessions.

She said this allows participants to develop trust in the facilitators and helps them make the transition into group sessions where they are challenged to adjust their way of thinking.

She said the new revised program as outlined in the proposal is more like an employee assistance program.

"You call a central number and they [government hired coordinators] will determine which facilitator you will go to. So you go do an intake process and then you go somewhere else to do your preparation for group process and then you go somewhere else for your group."

Bardak said clients may not have immediate access to counselling services or use the same facilitators on a consistent basis. 

No room for negotiation

Bardak said she attended a meeting for participants interested on bidding on the RFP and a follow-up meeting with the Coalition Against Family Violence. In both instances, she said government officials told the groups what the program would look like and how it would roll out and that there was no room to negotiate the program's structure. 

Earlier this month, the Coalition Against Family Violence sent a letter to Justice Minister Louis Sebert, expressing concerns about the revisions to the program.

"The new program design as described in the recently advertised RFP was met with a degree of surprise by members of the coalition. The new program design has some aspects that appear to us to be incompatible with program success and with continued widespread community support," the letter stated.

The letter urged the minister to work with the coalition to come up with a better plan for success. 

Bardak said along with complicating the structure, the proposal's end date of March 31, 2018 is not appealing to service providers that may be looking for longer-term contracts that provide job security and stability.   

'Kudos' to those organizations that did not respond to the RFP

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

"There was quite a community effort in developing culturally appropriate program that would suit Indigenous men in the North," Hache explained. "It was hearing from Indigenous men from across the North about factors that prevented them from engaging in violence."

"The program was really based on Northern Indigenous men's understanding of how they remained healthy and kept healthy and worked toward a balanced life," she said. "Out of that was developed from everything that was apparent. [It] was a great culturally relevant contextual program for Indigenous men to put them on a healthy path."

Hache said when the program rolled out in 2012 it wasn't perfect, but was still an effective program. She said the territorial government's evaluation of the program last fall proved how much progress it had made.

But despite the report's recommendations, the territorial government has taken a "flawed" approach, she said. 

"And then the government puts out an RFP asking people to take this absolutely flawed approach forward," Hache said. 

"I give kudos to the people that didn't apply because it shows they have some ethic about the work that they're doing in the Northwest Territories."

Hache said the program should be delivered by an Indigenous service provider. She wants the territorial government to explain why the government changed the format. 

'Flagged some problems'

Last week, Justice Minister Sebert fielded questions from MLAs in the Legislative Assembly. Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre questioned Sebert as to why no one bid on the revamped proposal. The minister replied that he did not know the answer and suggested Green "go ask them."

Minister of Justice Louis Sebert said he hopes a contract can be signed by July 1. (Richard Gleeson/CBC)

Green followed up with the minister and mentioned that members of the standing committee on social development were ignored when they"flagged some problems" with the RFP. She asked the minister if his department would work with the Coalition Against Family Violence to make the necessary changes.

Sebert said that the program "has not been significantly altered in our view."  He said he wants "to see how the negotiations with that NGO or another NGO work out over the next few weeks," noting that if those negotiations did not work out, the government would have to reconsider.

Sebert said he is optimistic the proposal's terms and conditions will be accepted and a contract signed by July 1. 

The Department of Justice declined an interview with CBC News.