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December 21, 2012

Winnipeg Needs to Act on Crime Prevention

Reuel S. Amdur

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When it comes to a coordinated effort to address crime in Winnipeg, key actors, including the mayor and chief of police, have been missing, not in action but in inaction. That is what Lisa Monchalin, a Métise, concluded in her Ph.D dissertation on reducing crime among Aboriginals in Winnipeg. She earned her degree in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa.

Her dissertation addresses crime among urban Aboriginals, considering Aboriginals as both perpetrators and victims.  Some of the causes go back to colonialism and the residential school experience. While she does not spell out in detail what she has in mind in speaking of colonialism, it may involve the unequal treaty-making process and violations of the terms of the treaties, leaving Aboriginals on poor quality land and lacking the assistance that they were promised.

As for the residential schools, Judge Murray Sinclair, who heads the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said that the destruction of Aboriginal family life over a period of generations will take generations to repair.  In this same vein, the sociologist Patrick Moynihan claimed that the experience of slavery continues to have a disorganizing impact on the contemporary Black family. 

These traumatic historical events have weakened Aboriginal culture (including spirituality) and traditions.  Kinship ties have been weakened, and family breakdown has become common, at times accompanied by family violence. 

Factors associated with criminality, all of which fit the profile of urban Aboriginals, include youth, single parenthood, crowded living conditions, high unemployment, limited education, substance abuse, and living in a high crime area. 

After reviewing some theories of youth criminality, she cites some programs addressing crime, with the accent on prevention.  As examples, programs have worked to improve parenting skills among low income single parents.  Others have targeted at-risk youth with arts programs or outreach workers.  These have shown positive impact on crime reduction.

She also looks at programs specifically addressing Aboriginals.  These employ Aboriginal cultural elements, often engaging Elders in the program.  There is a native spirituality element, and for those not comfortable with it a different religious focus is provided for them. 

For a local crime prevention program to be effective, she maintains, certain features are essential.  All the major players need to be involved, including local government, schools, housing, social service agencies, police, and families. The mayor and chief of police need to be actively supportive.  There needs to be a responsibility centre which has secure funding.  The responsibility centre involves stake-holders in identifying the specific risk factors and developing a plan which identifies the gaps in addressing crime prevention and alleviation.  It leads in the implementation of the program to curtail the criminal activity targeted.

Winnipeg leads the country’s major cities in number and percentage of Aboriginals.  Year after year it is at the top or near the top in ranking for major crimes.  While the province of Manitoba has carried out successful programs addressing car theft and gang activity, both in Winnipeg, there have been uncoordinated crime prevention efforts in the city, but the city itself has continued to deal with crime in a traditional fashion, simply after the fact.  A crime strategy should instead focus on prevention, identifying areas of the city and criminal activities to be addressed.  One aspect needs to be a focus on Aboriginal criminality and that aspect requires leadership in the hands of Aboriginals, along with extensive involvement of Aboriginal organizations and activists, she argues.

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