The Violence Task Force is the first of a series of joint productions of The Coast and CBC TV leading up to the October 18 municipal election in Halifax. The joint productions will examine a series of local issues, including violence, transit, the mayoral race and others.
The members of the Violence Task Force met for an hour last Thursday morning in the CBC studio on Bell Road.
The Coast has posted a complete transcript and an audio recording of the meeting at thecoast.ca. The following is an abridged transcript of highlights of the meeting.
Jim Nunn, CBC broadcaster and moderator of the Task Force.
Chris Murphy, professor of sociology and anthropology, and a contributor and advisor to the Clairmont Report on Violence in Halifax.
Brenda Zima, watch commander with the HRM police department.
Jean Lalancette, taxi driver.
Victor Syperek, owner of The Economy Shoe Shop and The Marquee.
Myral Fairfax, server at The Economy Shoe Shop, and a mother.
Tara Gault, executive director of the Halifax Student Alliance
Michelle Verny, Uniacke Square resident and founder of the PEP Bro Divas, an advocacy group.
Reed “iZrEAL” Jones, spoken word artist and activist.
Jacob MacIsaac, casework coordinator with the Community Justice Society.
Ron Levett, a doorman at downtown bars.
Lori Bower, Principal, Halifax Youth Attendance Centre.
Nunn: There was a swarming on the Halifax Common. There was a person killed on the sidewalk downtown. There has been incident after incident of violent activity in Halifax… Let’s start downtown, Chris. Can you give us an indication of how bad the situation is, if indeed it’s that bad?
Murphy: Well, I think in some cases it was and it’s improving, but we had a situation in which there were a variety of problems; the first one that got a lot of attention was a lot of public disorder, late night drunkenness, assaults-- some of them of them quite violent, some of them fairly benign. There were incidents of disorder in communities as a result of this, and people being swarmed and assaulted on their way home… There was a sense that this was a situation growing out of control and that we needed as a community, as a city, to do something about both the causes and to enhance public safety downtown.
Nunn: Halifax got a bit of a reputation as a tough town.
Murphy: It’s always been a bit of a tough town, being a port city. But I think in the last three or four years these very public incidents, including knifings in the streets and murders, some of them solved, some of them unsolved, began to create a reputation for Halifax that we were increasingly uncomfortable with, as not a safe city and this vaunted quality of life that we advocate and promote everywhere else began to be questioned. As a city that depends on tourists and students and visitors and is trying to attract new immigrants, this is not a healthy situation to have.
Nunn: How did you let the situation get out of control?
Zima: When you look at crime in Halifax, it’s more than a police issue and it requires more than a police response. The downtown core itself has over 200 licenced liquor establishments and as it has been described in the Clairmont report, it really has created the perfect storm for violence in the downtown area: you have cheap drinks, very large cabarets, bars open until four o’clock in the morning populated by an abundance of young people that are highly intoxicated.
Syperek: I don’t think the bars are the problem. I think it’s kids hanging out on the Common swarming people, drugs. I don’t think there’s a drinking problem at all.
Zima: Well certainly kids hanging around at the Common has nothing to do with the crime we see at the downtown bar scene. They’re two separate issues altogether.
Nunn: You say there’s no problem in the bars downtown?
Syperek: I didn’t say there was no problem. Most of the problems downtown tend to be about either men and women fighting over each other, and I guess when people get drunk it tends to exacerbate the problem. The big brawl at Christmas was about a drug turf war; it had nothing to do with drinks---it started in a bar by people who weren’t drinking, and the brawl happened because the bouncers kicked everybody out just like that and so had to leave without their coats and so you get 400 maybe slightly intoxicated people outside without their coats pissed off and they started fighting each other.
Verny: Maybe if we adopted the same drinking age that the United States has, 21, maybe at 19 they’re not old enough to drink, maybe they can’t handle it.
Syperek: I think we have a poor drinking history here. In some European cities where they drink at eight years old, they’re more responsible. It’s not a sport there; it’s part of life.
Levett: I think there’s a bigger picture here, which comes down to the judicial system. Youths get off of crime really easily. I tend to agree with Victor: a lot of the problem is youth crime. There’s a slap on the wrist and no system of accountability, and they’re right back in the community. That’s one of the major issues. A lot of times if there’s people that are swarmed in the Common or a disturbance at Pizza Corner---it’s youth crime. It’s not necessarily people who come out from these nightclubs or bars looking for trouble. These people prey on those types of individuals. The two come together, but it comes back to the decisions made by the judicial system.
MacIsaac: I want to respond to the youth crime aspect. At the Community Justice side, we do take a holistic approach to solving that issue, and we’ve found that there’s a web of root causes that disengage youth from school, not having enough pro-social activities, community isolation. There are so many things that go into creating these young criminals, and it takes a web of support to get them out. So we measure risk and resiliency in our assessments in our trying to move them forward and reintegrate them. The Youth Criminal Justice Act-- there needs to be some adjustments to it it works really, really well for about 80 percent of the youth that are charged it works perfectly. But there’s this 15, 20 percent that falls through the cracks and the justice system tends to be a catch-all for all of these youth who are disengaged from school, who fall through mental health issues, group home youth, kids with addictions… they’re falling, falling, falling, until they get to the justice system, until they’re swarming people on the Common… We’ve dropped the ball as a community.
Lalancette: They’re 12 years old swarming people in the Common… why are those children out at nine o’clock at night? Why are they running the streets? Why aren’t they supervised? When we were kids and we were outside without supervision, we got into trouble…
Nunn: one of the proposals in the Clairmont report is a curfew.
Zima: Curfews are unconstitutional. And I think it would be inappropriate to put a curfew on people--- you’re going to penalize the masses for the indiscretions of a few. It’s not the answer to the question. There are social issues that need to be addressed first, and a curfew is a band-aid solution. A curfew is limiting the hours that they can commit their criminal acts; if they can’t commit them at night, they’re going to commit them during the day… This starts in the family. When you look at crime, especially youth that involved with crime, some of these kids are addicted to drugs, some of them come from single-parent families, some of them come from lower socio-economic households, some of them come from isolated communities and they have no support in their family and no support in the community. And these are the issues that need to be addressed in order to address on a more holistic approach, youth crime.
Jones: The biggest issue is that the kids have nothing to do. There’s no programs for them; there’s no after-school programs, no extra-curricula activities for them---they’re going to make their own, and that’s going to be violence…
Lalancette: There are all sorts of programs.
Zima: If you can pay for them. Some of the kids who need these programs don’t have the money to pay for them. This needs to start at the root causes of crime, which are community- and social-based issues.
Syperek: Bad parenting is the root cause of crime, then. This is what we’re concluding.
Zima: we deal with kids all the time that come from very, very strong parenting background, and that get mixed up with the wrong kids. I don’t think you can paint this with one brush and say that crime is caused by this or this---there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into consideration.
Nunn: I want to take this back downtown. People get hurt on the sidewalks outside of bars. What should we do about that? How do we change that relationship between the bar and the patron so that people are safe?
Levett: I don’t know that you’re ever going to change it. There’s always going to be fights, there’s always going to be arguments. That’ll come down to individual security staffs within a licenced establishment.
Nunn: Exactly---dropping drunks on the sidewalk. Are the bouncers sufficiently well-trained?
Levett: A lot of them aren’t, no, and they’re looking at putting training standards in that business.
Nunn: Are you fearful?
Fairfax: I’m not as familiar with the evenings, because I work days. But even in the daytime you can have the very odd incident where you can have a customer come in who can be fairly intoxicated, but you’re not sure, and sometimes it takes that one drink to send them over the edge. That can be disconcerting, at times.
Nunn: But you don’t refuse people alcohol?
Fairfax: Yes I do. I’ve refused sometimes, and I’ve had to go back to get the kitchen boys to back me up, just in case.
Gault: I disagree that there’s nothing we can do to make the downtown safer. One thing that is really important is transportation. We need to be able to get to and from the downtown safely… hopefully, coming out of , we’re going to see a late-night bus.
Nunn: one of the proposals is a well-lit, well-guarded bus stop with cameras.
Murphy: Yes. Or a taxi stand. But I want to bring it back to something very concrete, and that’s that we’ve found there’s a very clear relationship between cheap drinks, late nights and over-serving of young people, some of whom were under-aged, some of whom were just of age. There are ways to manage and limit the over-consumption of alcohol and reduce a lot of the problems that result. We have to keep in mind that what we’re talking about downtown is a very separate and distinct problem from swarmings in the Common or drug-related crimes on the streets---those are different people, different dynamics.
Nunn: Isn’t part of the problem that students get drunk before they go out drinking?
Lalancette: Keggers! All the time. I drop of people off there…
Murphy: Get rid of 99 cent drinks. That popularity of getting drunk before you go downtown became less of an option when it became cheaper to go downtown.
Syperek: I’m not an advocate of cheap drinks and don’t serve them, because there’s no point in them. You make your money on the cover and you end up with a lot of drunks who are a nuisance. I find the jovial drinking crowd actually a joy to be with, and I personally don’t have a lot of problems downtown. We have had incidents, especially when we were a cabaret, late night, and I got rid of the licence because it was a hassle---then you tend to get everybody else’s drunks. If everyone was open until 3:30, your crowd wouldn’t leave your place, and you’d know who they are, you’d know how much they’ve drunk. The trouble is when your bar closes at two and you go to another bar, the next bartender doesn’t know whether they’ve just walked in, they’ve just come from home…
Nunn: Now maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I’m not afraid to walk downtown. Now, I’m big, and I’m a male, maybe that’s the difference.
Syperek: I’d be afraid to walk through the park. I’d be afraid to walk through some parts of Gottigen.
Nunn: Are you afraid to be downtown?
Gault: Under certain circumstances, yes. And it’s students that are being targeted. It’s that age group between 21 and 25, who are most vulnerable, who are being victims of these crimes.
Nunn: It’s young women you’re talking about?
Zima: And young men as well. Between the ages of 18 and 24, they account for many more criminal charges then the youth ever have and ever will.
Fairfax: Never get it in your head to walk home at 1:30, two in the morning. I’ve never understood, where young women are concerned, where they get it in their head, walk home to the south end in a pretty little miniskirt at two in the morning… It’s hard to get a cab, so they walk.
Syperek: In the rain storm two weeks ago, there was an average one hour wait for a cab.
Lalancette: In some cities I’ve been in---I was 25 years in the Navy---after 11 o’clock, the taxi stands become the only place where you can pick up customers. You’re not allowed to pick up flag people, which protects the driver because there’s a whole lineup of people who see who’s getting in the taxi, and it protects the customer because they’re all together in the same place. These are supervised taxi stands---you can find them in Australia and in England. The taxis always come back to the same place to get the next customer.
Murphy: It should be straight-forward. The city can do it tomorrow, if it wants to, and if they’re serious about responding to this report, they should do that. I wanted to add one thing about bars--- there’s a difference between bars and the kinds of levels of violence that takes place. Where the riot took place, it had a licence for over 1,000 people. That’s not a good formula---it’s way too big, and too impersonal, and there’s all kinds of things about the ways service is done and how it’s set up. Smaller neighbourhood bars with a clientele where they’re known cause far fewer problems.
Nunn: But you’re talking neighbourhood pubs---we can’t engineer that, can we?
Murphy: Even downtown, I think Brenda will tell you the charges and the calls coming from different bars are significantly different depending on which bar we’re talking about it.
Zima: Absolutely. The smaller bars that are more personal in nature and where the bar staff gets a chance to monitor their clientele throughout the night, as Victor says, you have people come into your bar that you know, they come in on a regular basis, so you don’t have the impersonal and large groups where they are unsupervised.
Levett: I agree that in a bar where there’s a thousand or two thousand people there’s greater chances of something occurring, but it’s the atmosphere, in most of those places, you know?
Syperek: What, you don’t like wet t-shirt contests?
Levett: Yea, it’s that sort of atmosphere that draws in a certain clientele.
Nunn: Is downtown Halifax a safe place?
Syperek: Downtown is. It’s getting to and from it that isn’t.
Murphy: I think it’s what time of the night you’re talking about. And I do know that, talking to somebody in the hospitality industry, they don’t advise their guests to wander around downtown, and that’s fairly new.
Lalancette: There’s no port anywhere in the Atlantic that is safe anywhere between the two in the morning and five. You’re always recommended to walk in pairs, go in a group, especially in those hours, but alcohol has a tendency to loosen all the inhibitions and you end up walking on your own and you are a prime target---you’re inebriated, people who are not can take advantage of you very quickly.
Fairfax: And to make it somewhat safer, I think you have to totally abolish, if you have to, the 99 cent drink. They have to go.
Jones: You should be talking about responsible drinking. I like to go downtown and have cheap drinks, but I’m not going to get wasted. I’m going to spend my five dollars, have five drinks and, hey, I had a nice cheap night out. There’s no reason for me to go overboard, get drunk… Even when I was 18 and went out with my friends, we got drunk, but we never got stupid drunk. We were never the type of people that wanted to get in rowdy fights. There’s a certain mentality of people that want to go downtown and get that drunk and be in a fight. Like you said, it’s the environment of the establishment, and how wild it is. Some of those big cabarets that we’re talking about are just wild places. I run an event and have youth in it who are 18 to 25, and some people are drinking, you have people from all different areas, and we have no security, I have no problems. We’re doing rap battles, and people are arguing back and forth, and there are no fights. The environment that we have there is you have to respect that environment if you’re going to come there, and that’s how people treat it. It’s the mindset of the clientele you’re trying to attract.
Nunn: Let me try to broaden the discussion. Apparently, crime is down in Canada. Crime is down in Halifax?
Murphy: Violent crime is actually only moderately down, and it was pretty high before. Property crime has the biggest decline.
Nunn: The government of Canada wants to crack down on crime, get tough with the bad guys. You have the media which seems to be fixated with crime. Are you as citizens getting the real story?
Verny: As a citizen, and I’m going to get on the media… if I witness a murder, OK, and the next day I read in the paper, “drug dealer killed by other drug dealers,” well, guess what? I’m not coming forward, because that means retaliation. If you want people to come forward---what this person did to end up getting killed, or why they got killed---no matter what they did, no one deserves to take a life---leave it alone, people might come forward. The media---don’t be saying “this person was a drug dealer, he had this many charges, he did that.” He probably has a few friends with the same kind of things. If I go to court to testify against him, do I have to worry about his friends coming to kill me?
Zima: This is an issue that we have in the community, in relation to solving crimes, is that we don’t get the level of cooperation that we need. Most unsolved homicides are a phone call away from being solved, or a witness away from being solved.
Verny: The way the media---not just the media, other people---portray the person the person that’s been murdered, or the people the assume have done it, they’re saying, ‘oh, he’s a drug dealer…’
Nunn: How does it keep you safer, if the reporter doesn’t say that the guy was a crack dealer?
Verny: It doesn’t keep me any safer, but if I’m going to go testify against you, I really don’t want to know what kind of people I’m going to be testifying against, to be honest.
Zima: I understand your fear. But we certainly do need the public support.
Nunn: Isn’t it your impression that the police don’t pay as enough attention on black-on-black crime as they do…
Verny: I agree 100 percent with that. I find that the police stereotype. You’re guilty be association. I’ve had a situation, where I’m walking down the street with, yea, a shady character, but still my friend, I don’t care what he does with his life, it doesn’t affect me. And the officer stopped and asked me, “Why are you hanging out with him? Do you know what he’s all about?” That’s none of his business. To come up and stereotype me because he knows this young fellow I’m with… I said to the officer, “You assume I’m doing the same as he?” He was, “No, but why are you hanging with him?” It’s none of your business.
Nunn: The Clairmont report says that victims of crimes in this city tend to be black.
Zima: They’re over-represented.
Nunn: And those arrested over-represented.
Zima: That’s correct.
Nunn: Does Halifax have a crime problem or a race problem?
Jones: Both. It definitely has a race problem. This is one of the only places in North America that I can think of where segregation still exists. There are tons of black communities here that are predominantly black, like 99 percent black. It’s not forced segregation, it’s based on tradition here. Race definitely plays into it here. This is a pretty racist province, and that’s not going away. So when police officers are tending to crimes in black neighbourhoods, they have their own stereotypes that they’re taking with them, and that’s going to affect how they pursue the crime.
Murphy: Police don’t create these crimes. I mean, there are some real issues here, and they have to do with poverty and perhaps racism, marginalization, dysfunctional families, dysfunctional communities. So, to make the argument that police are to some extent the cause of this problem I think is wrong. I think there are some real issues that the police can play a role in addressing, but there are some real fundamental problems about income, employment, community, the integrity of communities, culture---these are more diffuse and harder to get at. While I think racism is an issue, we just can’t paint this complicated picture with that one rather simplistic assessment.
Nunn: Why don’t we focus on solutions? What do you see as the most effective way to bring crime in the black community down? Surely that’s in the hands of black people.
Jones: Yes, definitely. I think the situation in the black community is a lot of people are fighting for survival, and that’s playing out into crime. There’s not a lot of opportunity for a lot of people, and so what they are forced to turn to is crime. And if that’s all you see growing up, that’s the direction you lead yourself to.
Nunn: Have you thought about answers?
Jones: It’s education. It’s a little bit of parenting. I think there are a lot of things that go into helping fix the problems in the black community. But we’re reflective of the wider community, so we have a diverse range of problems just like everybody else, so it’s hard to pinpoint one think you can do to change things.
Fairfax: I think it has to start with some sort of an education, especially for the young black parents. A lot of them are young, back single mothers, and they’re not educated. It would be really nice to see them get some sort of an education, so that they’re able to provide for their children, and their children are able to have a nice, positive role model to look up to. That’s not prevalent in the black community.
MacIsaac: We deliver a program called “Life Lessons for Black Youth” at Waterville, in the youth detention facility, as well as working different programs in certain black communities in the city. One thing that we’ve identified is a real disconnect of cultural identity. In response to that, young black males and females learning about their culture from BET or learning about their culture from entertainment---CDs they listen to, magazines---sometimes, not all the time, the absolute worst influences and worst icons of black community. There are so many positive role models in our communities that young people never get to see because they are so enamoured with gang violence, they’re so enamoured with making easy money, this is what I have to do to survive---and there are certain survival issues, for sure, in some communities. But by and large, there is a lack of role models, mentoring, positive engagement with people they can identify with and connect with. More youth drop-in centres, more places like the rap battles where people are culturally expressing themselves---I think those are great and we need more of those.
Nunn: You live in the Square, don’t you? As long as I’ve lived in Halifax, that’s been identified as the centre of trouble.
Verny: I feel safer walking through Uniacke Square than I did Fairview when I lived there, and I grew up in Fairview. I have two girls---I couldn’t ask for better. there’s so much out that kids can get into. There’s just so much, and there’s nothing for these kids to do. Years ago, when I grew up, we had the swimming pool, we could go outside and play soccer on the road---there was always something for us to do. There was always a drop-in centre that we could go to. If we had a problem and we didn’t want to go to our parents, we could go to the woman next door, and she could help us with our problem. That’s what’s lacking right now. Everyone worries about themselves and their family. If you open up and look at the brighter picture, there’s more to life than just you, you know? Everyone has got to work together. And in our community, there are a handful of people who are making it look bad for the overall community.
Jones: I feel safer in the Square than I do in downtown Halifax, especially if there’s a hockey game going on or if it’s St. Patrick’s Day and you’ve got all these drunks running around the streets---I’d much rather be in the Square, because it’s safer, because this is a racist town. People are scared to go into the black neighbourhoods, but for me, it’s the safest place to go. I’m scared to go into the south end after dark. It’s a race thing.
Verny: I want to touch base on these programs for youth. I have a young single mother that lives in the Square, and she’s got a young girl. Now, she’s noticed over a few years her daughter has become angry and wanted to get her some help, OK? So my first suggestion to her was to call Children’s Aid, see if they can get you and her into some programs and all that. They didn’t want to help her. So I told her to call Community Services---and she’s telling these people, “My daughter’s in for a life of destruction if we don’t catch her.” And you something---still to this day there’s nobody that’s willing to help her. Children’s Aid wanted to open a file up and take your kids for assessments and all this and that---it’s not that she’s a bad mother; I actually think she’s a rather good mother for catching this, noticing that there’s something that’s not right up here---but she just needs somebody to help her, and she can’t get it.
Zima: We’ve just launched, in the last couple of weeks, the Youth Advocacy Program, and there’s going to be advocates working with youth in the community, and they’re going to be working directly with youth between the ages of nine and 14, that are at the most risk or at the most vulnerable to become involved in criminal activity. And the advocates are all people that live in the community.
Murphy: I think there’s a general lack, in some cases, to alternatives to crime. There are programs out there. One of the things the Clairmont report found is that there is almost no coordination between federal, provincial and municipal programs---everybody does their own thing. There’s a lack of adequate programs in certain areas, for instance drug rehabilitation. There are lots of people addicted to drugs who can not get into programs, and of course they’re going to maintain their habit and it’s directly related to crime … but there aren’t a lot of options available to people who either voluntarily or involuntarily want to do something about their drug problems. And we talked earlier about young women raising their children alone with absent fathers, there’s not a lot of support for that kind of need. In general, apart from a policing system that is more coherent, we need to be looking at community supports, family supports, recreational alternatives---these are the kinds of answers that will bring some kind of improvement in the current situation.
Nunn: I would like to think so. But when you think of eight or 10 young women swarming an older woman on the Common, what kind of intervention is going to change that activity?
Zima: Those crimes are particularly violent, they’re very unpredictable and they’re very difficult to prevent, and they’re very difficult to get a handle on because they’re what we call “signal crimes.”
Murphy: If you look at the background of those eight, I guarantee you’d find a history of dysfunctional family, parenting, etc. They’re unpredictable, but they’re predictable.
Nunn: What is a signal crime?
Zima: It’s a violent crime that seems to be committed without any provocation---a lot of times there’s not any monetary gain. It’s particularly gratuitous violence for no apparent reason against particularly innocent victims.
MacIsaac: With the signal crimes, I think there’s a breakdown in information sharing. You’ll find that teachers saw that happening, that activity, way before the police saw it. And with Restorative Justice, we’ve probably seen all of these kids when they were 12 and 13 and sent them back to the crown, back to the court, and said, “These are not appropriate for our program, they need more intervention.” But where does that information go? There’s a real breakdown. No one shares information with each other. Educators are seeing these problems in Grade Two and they can’t say anything until Grade Seven or Eight when the police get involved and there’s a pre-sentence report written by corrections, and all this comes out that we’ve been seeing for years…
Nunn: You work with the young as well…
Bower: There are options out there. They might not be widely known---the Halifax Youth Attendance Centre is certainly one initiative that Correctional Services came up with a year and a half ago. And we talk a lot about that coordination and the lack of sharing, and it is certainly recognized as an issue that prevents youth from getting the attention that they need, to get their needs assessed and their needs addressed. But within the Halifax Youth Attendance Centre you have disciplines from health, education, justice, community services all working under one roof. So you look at the youth, you do a risk assessment and identify what their needs are, and the Halifax Youth Attendance Centre provides programming to actually meet their needs. So every youth that walks through, they have an assessment done, if they need access to career counseling or education, mental health services, addiction services, they’re provided with those services.
Nunn: These are kids that have been in trouble with the law, or not?
Bower: All the youth that attend the Halifax Youth Attendance Centre are on court order. They go through a referral process---they’re generally referred by their probation officer. They have to be living within the HRM.
Nunn: Do they see you as part of their punishment?
Bower: They don’t, because it really is an environment that’s conducive to change. It’s a very supportive environment. It’s a prime example of how supervision and support can really towards helping these youth make changes.
Nunn: Do you think we’re finally getting some of this right?
Bower: I do. I think that we kid ourselves into thinking that it’s easy to work as partners, and we use that “collaboration and partnership” very loosely, but when you actually sit down and try to do it, it’s a difficult process, but we have to keep at it.
Syperek: Just a question to the police. When you hear a media report about, “This happened outside of well-known crack house”---how can everybody know about a crack house and nothing’s done about it?
Zima: We know about the crack houses, and we’re doing things about them. But it takes a lot of intelligence information. You can’t just go to a judge and say, “I think there’s a crack house here, I need a search warrant.” We are conducting searches under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act on a daily basis, and we are aware of these places, we’re gaining intelligence and our whole stance is we’re going to be tough on crime, we’re going to be tough on criminals, and we are hitting these houses. Drugs is a serious issue, and we’re dealing with it on a daily basis.
Syperek: If drugs were legal and administered through drug stores, would they still be a problem?
Zima: That’s a topic for a different day.
Murphy: Relative to that point, is what do the courts do with the charges when you make them? We’ve found that---at least the public perceives, and I think it’s legitimate---that there’s a lack of consistency between what the public expects, what the police have laid charges for and what is considered an appropriate response.
Nunn: So you think the courts are letting them walk?
Murphy: And in many cases they are. Let’s be frank. And in part because of the limits that the law places on their sentencing ability and also a positive approach---assuming there will be community options and alternatives for them which will make an impact and effect on them.
Nunn: What do we have to do---change the criminal code, make it tougher? You automatically go to jail for such and such an offence?
Murphy: Judges have the capacity to make those sentences now---we don’t need to change the criminal code. But they have a variety of objectives they have to meet.
Verny: I want to deal with issues. She deals with kids that have already been through---why do we have to wait for these kids to go out and commit a crime before we can get them the help that she offers? My daughter---when she was about eight, nine years old, she was angry and stuff. So I said, there’s something wrong. So I phoned SOS workers, is that what they’re called? I phoned Children’s Aid, I phoned my social worker to see if he could help me with anything like that when I was on the system. And all these different places. One woman from Corrections Canada literally told me that my daughter had to go out and commit a violent crime and hope that the judge ordered her to take anger management.
Bower: I think there are a number of initiatives that are taking place within education---there are things that are being done, because we do recognize that’s an issue. We don’t want youth to be involved in crime so that they…
Verny: But it’s after the fact. There’s nowhere you can go when, “Oh, I think my daughter’s going to end up doing this, where can I go to get her help before she goes and does this?”
Bower: And that’s a real concern. I do think there are initiatives out there that are happening now so that we can have services in place so it doesn’t come to that. Can we prevent all crime? Absolutely not…
Verny: I’m telling you, I think my daughter has something missing up there, we’ve got to get it back in there, where can I go to help her? “Oh, well, she’s got to go out there and do this and break the law” or “We’ve got take her kid out of her home and assess her.” People need a place to turn, somewhere where they can just talk to, where they don’t have to worry about that person going back and saying, “Well, I think she’s dysfunctional, let’s phone Children’s Aid and get her kids removed.” Because that’s a lot of the impression that people have---I’ve watched the Children’s Aid come into homes and take kids that there’s no need for them to be taken. Now, there’s homes where I wish they would come and take their kids, but these kids are still there…
Bower: A prime example of an initiative is Centre 24/7, which is located in the valley. Centre 24/7 deals with both incarcerated youth and youth from the community… There are community-based youth who are attending these programs that have not committed offences.
Levett: We’re talking about some of the solutions. Just being involved in that now, and working with some families that do turn to Community Services, and that there’s 100 different examples out there… but, a lot of times, I think it does come down to parenting. Now parenting is different today than it was 10 years ago. Now, it seems, parents, their hands are tied. They can’t give their kids a slap or a spanking, which may---there’s different views on that. But, growing up, I had a group of friends and sure enough, there was one individual that got into a lot of trouble. What happened? Well, all the other parents said nobody’s allowed to hang out with that individual anymore. And, I think that that’s probably not a good thing, and it gets back to the solution. It would be interesting if somebody could put some focus, experienced-base parenting groups together. Why aren’t parents, for instance, if I had a troubled youth, I probably wouldn’t turn to Social Services where people have gone to school for this stuff--that would be one aspect that I might be able to get some help from, but what about the parents who have been very successful and getting their experience? So, having some experienced-based focus groups from parents that have done really well, turned their kids around---I think that’s some of the solution. Parents should come together. I don’t know if there’s anything out there like it, but I think that may be part of the solution.
Fairfax: I like that idea, and I’ve been listening to you two ladies and this is something that’s been on my mind, probably since last week. For, I think it’s been the last five years or so, there’s been in the Halifax Shopping Centre, there’s been some sort of a drop-in program for youth, basically junior high and high school students. It’s wonderful.
MacIsaac: I run that program.
Fairfax: Do you? I’ve been reading about this program in the newspaper, and I think it’s a brilliant idea, and sometimes I wonder why we don’t have something like this downtown, further downtown. It’s in the Halifax Shopping Centre. It’s youth who---I remember the last article I read in the newspaper, there was one particular girl, she felt like she was heading the wrong way. I think she was 14 or 15, and she didn’t want to go the wrong way. She knew about this centre; it just sounds like a wonderful---who was it started by?
MacIsaac: In conjunction with the Halifax Shopping Centre marketing department, it was an initiative that we had…
Fairfax: They didn’t want them hanging out in the mall and hanging out in the stores.
MacIsaac: Yea, it was an approach we took to be really proactive about kids who just hang out in common areas, and for the last seven years, it’s kind of this underground thing. We don’t market it really well because we don’t have a lot of space.
Fairfax: Well, you should.
MacIsaac: Here’s the problem: we don’t have a lot of space, and if we had every kid come from all over this city we’d be full, and the ones who need it, we wouldn’t be there for them. We’re a very small staff. We need more.
Nunn: Are we making some progress? Is it possible that we’re cleaning up this town? There seem to be some new ideas out there.
Murphy: There is sign that this whole fuss over the last two years and the report and the discussion, that people have realized that there are problems here, and I think there has been a renewed interest in trying to do things, both at the provincial level, the city level, and if we keep this kind of dialogue going, we need to leverage more responses. And the police have done some new things that they weren’t doing a couple of years ago in response to these issues. So I think, actually, that we have turned a corner, and we need to keep putting the pressure on to develop the kinds of responses that we’ve heard here. We need to keep making politicians aware that we need these kinds of investments in people and communities to make a difference. And we will improve the situation. It won’t disappear, but at least people recognize there’s a problem, and there is a fair bit of community capacity in this city to respond.
Syperek: One thing I’d like to see is the police walking the beat. And it’s not so much that they’re preventing crime as you’re meeting the police, and suddenly it’s not that guy in the car who’s going to beat me up. It’s someone who helps you, you know, helps an old lady across the street.
Zima: We’ve been very fortunate through provincial and municipal funding to have an additional six full-time beat officers in the downtown core. That’s six full-time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have six additional beat officers in the downtown core. We have additional beat officers in north end Dartmouth. And we’re getting more additional police officers---in the last two years, we will have experienced 56 new positions, new police officers, boots on the street. Every boot is hitting the street, of those numbers, and they’re going to be in all different areas, and we’re enhancing our community response officer position, which is one of the things that we did in the last couple of years to particularly address crime in high-risk areas, and we have community response officers working in those areas.
Nunn: I have the impression that we’re making progress here.
Zima: It’s a long-term approach. We’re moving in the right direction, and as Chris says, this requires an inter-governmental and a multi-faceted approach to the problem. This is not a Community Services issue. This is not a black community issue. This is not a policing issue. We all have to work together.
Verny: You guys are putting all these programs into effect, which is a good thing, but how many people who are actually at this program have lived the life of a troubled youth, have lived the life of a troubled adult? You can not sit there and counsel somebody, I don’t care if you’ve gone to school for 15 years, unless you’ve lived that experience.
Jones: You definitely need to know what the people are feeling. That was one of the comments I made in a video blog that I do. There was supposed to be a youth program where they were giving $1.9 million to put these social workers with at-risk youth. How are they supposed to help these at-risk youth if they just spent the last eight years trying to get a degree in school and this youth has just spent the last eight years trying…
Zima: But that’s not who they are. They’re community members, these youth advocate workers that are funded with the $1.9 million…
Verny: The two that are coming to Uniacke Square…
Zima: They are people who have lived in the community and have experience the community issues. They were specifically chosen. It’s a federally funded program, it’s an HRM program… these youth advocate workers are people who have actually experienced the community.
Verny: Out of the two youths, there are probably about 42 other people that could fit that job better in Uniacke Square. That position was not public. Nobody, if you weren’t working within HRM, even got to see the posting for that, which I do not think was fair, and I’m not condemning the two ladies who got it, but there were a lot of other people out there who I think would have been a better fit for the position.
Nunn: You know what? We’re out of time. I want to thank you all for taking part in this conversation. I know there’s lot more to say.
Syperek: Let’s continue the conversation tonight down at the Economy Shoe Shop.
You can watch the CBC's broadcast on the CBC News: Nova Scotia at Six website.
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