Creators of Sask. gang report say $20K provincial grants not enough to help communities end violence

A Saskatoon-based grassroots organization devoted to helping people leave street gangs has released the second phase of a report intended to guide the development of a provincial gang strategy.

New report offers recommendations for provincial gang strategy

The findings of a report into how best to run a provincial strategy to reduce gang violence in Saskatchewan were released in Saskatoon Tuesday. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

The creators of a Saskatchewan report that calls for communities to lead their own anti-gang programs say their efforts to reduce violence are being "strangled" by a lack of resources.

Last month, the federal government announced it would provide $11.9 million to the province of Saskatchewan to address gang and gun violence.

Prior to the announcement, gang-exit support group Str8 Up worked with University of Calgary sociology professor Robert Henry to develop guidelines for a provincial gang strategy. 

On Tuesday, the report's recommendations were unveiled at Saskatoon's St. Thomas Wesley United Church in front of a crowd of former gang members, community leaders and volunteers.

The report's creators raised concerns about how the province is using the federal funding.

Specifically, Str8 Up workers and volunteers said the province's decision to offer 10 grants of $20,000 to community-based organizations was a waste of money. 

Shane Partridge was disappointed to hear the province was using part of an $11.9 million anti-violence funding pot from the federal government to offer grants of $20,000 to community-based organizations. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

"I see that as a huge waste of taxpayer dollars because all these communities are going to get these small little chunks of money and they aren't going to be able to do anything with it," said Str8 Up worker Shane Partridge, who worked on the strategy.

"When are we going to stop putting money towards locking people up and start figuring out how to support them when they're in the community?"

The research project was guided by a working group that included Str8 Up, the RCMP and various provincial government ministries, and the report has been submitted to the provincial government.

[Str8 Up] are more than welcome to submit their proposal to the government.- Policing and Corrections Minister Christine Tell 

Saskatchewan Policing and Corrections Minister Christine Tell responded to the funding concerns at the legislature on Tuesday afternoon.

She said the grants were for existing organizations already working to reduce gang violence, and that none of the community groups in Saskatoon had applied for them.

"With respect specifically to Str8 Up, they will have the opportunity when the [requests for proposals] go out to further this particular strategy," said Tell.

"They are more than welcome to submit their proposal to the government."

Response to report will take time: minister

She said it will take time for the province to decide if it will adopt recommendations in the report, which focus on preventative rather than law-enforcement measures.

Tell added that process would need to assess how the recommendations fit with the provincial government's approach.

"There will obviously be some that we can incorporate and some we won't be able to, but that's the purpose of the report," she said.

Str8 Up, which helps support people who want to leave criminal lifestyles, released the findings of their report at the St. Thomas Wesley United Church in Saskatoon on Tuesday. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

She said community-based organizations are important because of their ability to help former gang members reintegrate, and because "police can't do everything."

Tell said the province hasn't decided how to spend the rest of the $11.9 million it received from the federal government, adding that the government has already put money into anti-gang strategies.

That includes "providing gang-offender assistance to those in our correctional facilities, and also our policing units, to stop the drugs flowing through the province of Saskatchewan," she said.

'We're doing this all backwards'

Str8 Up's Partridge said one of the main messages from the communities consulted for the report was that policing should not be the main focus of reducing gang violence.

"We're doing this all backwards," he said.

"It's something that's frustrating and the communities we spoke to, they don't understand it."

The importance of funding long-term community-based initiatives, specific to the location, was one of the main findings of the report.

The organization said nearly 700 Saskatchewan residents had the opportunity to provide input through a community-engaged approach that included surveys, the Provincial Gang Strategy Forum held last May and nine follow-up community consultations held between November and March.

24 recommendations

The report said attendees at the consultations came from urban, rural and remote areas of the province, including the far north. The degree of participation "further demonstrates the urgent need for a provincial gang strategy," the report said.

The U of Calgary's Robert Henry, who was contracted to develop the community-based research process, said implementing the findings of the report will depend on whether governments of all levels take them seriously.

"What we continue to see with a lot of this community-engaged research and policy developments from the governments is they will go in there, do these nice little reports, say they're going to do this — and then they already have their own plan of implementation," said Henry.

"So we're hoping that the government here — the provincial and the federal government, as well as First Nations and Métis — will take these reports and say, 'How do we actually implement what the communities are saying?'"

University of Calgary sociology professor Robert Henry says there has been limited research into gangs in Saskatchewan. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

The first phase of the report made 24 recommendations under five overarching themes or priorities.

Recommendations included helping communities detect the presence and activity of gangs, increasing access to mental health services and providing stable, long-term funding for community prevention and intervention efforts.

The report's first phase also provided a "street gang typology" to help communities identify the level of gang activity in their communities. The categories ranged from "tagging crews" and "cliques" to street gangs and hate groups.

According to the second phase of the report, four of the nine communities that hosted follow-up consultations identified street gangs and hate groups as either the most prevalent category in their community or the type that needed the most attention.

It also said "addressing trauma, colonization and settler colonialism" and "addressing systemic oppression and structural issues of poverty and homelessness" were most often identified by the communities as the themes that resonated most with them.

Chris Moyah and Mark Bahnman were among those who went to hear about the new report in Saskatoon. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

Among the recommendations in the report's second phase, it said the need for increased programming and education around healthy family dynamics "was resounding among the community forums," with particular emphasis on programs that address "improving parenting skills for all parents."

It said systemic issues of poverty, homelessness and adequate housing must be addressed locally to ensure successful implementation of any gang strategy.

'Not every community is the same'

Sixties Scoop survivor Mark Bahnman, who was at the report unveiling on Tuesday, said he wished there was more support for youth when he was younger.

"I've been through some of these things, gangs and violence and drugs, and they came very close to destroying me and now I'm coming up from that — I'm in recovery," said Bahnman.

He said he was impressed the study had input from so many communities — something he feels is crucial. 

"They would go and speak to everybody individually and wouldn't put everybody as a whole" — important, he said, "because not everybody is the same, not every community is the same."

Another recommendation was the streamlining of funding for mental health, addictions and housing services to, "ensure the most vulnerable populations are being cared for first."

The report also said communities identified the importance of "incorporating lived experience and the lived voices" of those who are, or who have been involved, in street gangs when forming and implementing a gang strategy.


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