Does Saskatchewan Like Gangs?

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image: Emily Wright

image: Emily Wright

Saskatchewan’s Anti-Gang Action Plans Try for Improvement

Article: Adam Gamble – Contributor

There is uncertainty regarding gang prevention in Saskatchewan. Brendon Keewatin, a Regina gang member who stabbed a man for wearing red, received an extended sentence totaling just over seven years on Sep. 9, 2013. Is there help for people like him, or is arresting gang members the only form of resolution?

Regina is comprised of Aboriginal gangs such as the Native Syndicate and the Native Syndicate Killers. But, there are also the Hell’s Angels, Middle-Eastern gangs, and the new, white privileged, North-West Krew.

Kyle Wood, former Native Syndicate gang member, now Youth Mentor with the Street Culture Project’s Regina Connected Youth program spoke on the topic. Wood is also Aboriginal, and knows first handedly how gang members are perceived – especially those who are Aboriginal.

“People think those who are gang-involved cannot change,” said Wood. Regarding the justice system, Wood said, “There needs to be more understanding of the people living this life. The youth that grow up this way are pressured into it by family or friends, see it as family, and it becomes normal.”

Regina Anti-Gang Services (RAGS), a program implemented by the North Central Community Association (NCCA), assisted youth wanting to get out of their gangs, and safely, but ended due to funding cuts. From Oct.2007 to March 2011, the Federal Government’s Youth Gang Prevention Fund (YGPF) funded RAGS. RAGS then received funding from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice, which was short lived, ending in February 2013.

The Regina Police Service has introduced “RU Down or RU Out,” an addition to the elementary curriculum regarding gang awareness and prevention. However, currently, there are no anti-gang-specific programs in Regina. This questions whether a common view on gang prevention is shared in Regina, and across the province.

Rob Deglau, NCCA Executive Director said, “The justice system and non-profit sector tackle the issue differently.”

This is the reason for RAGS closing its doors in 2013.

The Ministry of Justice, as Deglau explained, “did not like RAGS’ proposed self referral process. They wanted to refer youth – who were already in the system –themselves.”

Doing so would mean that the only way youth in Regina could work towards exiting their gangs would be if they committed a crime first. Deglau believes that if money was put into integrated or community intervention programs, that money would not have to come out the back end, servicing youth who have become incarcerated.

Prince Albert’s anti-gang program, Warrior Spirit Walking, like RAGS, experienced funding cuts from the YGPF, having to close its doors. Warrior Spirit Walking was active from Aug. 15, 2007 to Mar. 31, 2011.

Somehow, Saskatoon’s gang prevention program, STR8 UP – facilitated by 10,000 Little Steps to Healing Inc. – continues to help those willing to exit the gang life.

Unlike RAGS and Warrior Spirit Walking, STR8 UP has achieved self-referral. Perhaps this is because they are not funded by the YGPF. Rather, they obtain funding from the United Way, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development’s Urban Aboriginal Strategy, and the John Howard Society.

Last Friday, Sep. 20, 2013, the Ministry of Justice held a meeting in Saskatoon regarding STR8 UP. The meeting resulted in STR8 UP receiving $49,500 in funding.

Janice Wilby, Communications Director at Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice – Corrections and Policing, said, the Ministry supports evidence based, outcomes focused programs that are run by grassroots organizations. Both RAGS and Warrior Spirit Walking are grassroots, evidence based, and outcomes focused.

Perhaps the Ministry is waiting for the latter requirements needed to sustain these programs to accord with their views.

Wilby mentioned, “RAGS [recently] contacted the [M]inistry. . . and U of R to look at [conducting] more research regarding gang prevention.”

If research does commence, it may lead to the acquisition of funding.

While Warrior Spirit Walking was briefly mentioned in the meeting, more work is needed on its proposal, in terms of an evidence based and an outcomes focused approach. The future of RAGS and Warrior Spirit Walking remains ambivalent.

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