Gov’t response to youth violence report a first step

By Patrick Hunter Thursday August 30 2012 in Opinion
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The Ontario Government has finally responded to the recommendations of the “The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence” report it asked former Chief Justice, Roy McMurtry, and former Speaker of the Legislature, Dr. Alvin Curling, to produce four years ago.

 

It took another crisis in our community for that report to be un-shelved and dusted off.

 

In an attempt to walk the fine line between providing much-needed meaningful programs and support for the communities, and the knee-jerk reactive need to further empower the police, the initiatives the government announced last week can, hopefully, be seen as a beginning.

 

Ontario Minister Responsible for Children and Youth, Dr. Eric Hoskins, and Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister, Madeleine Meilleur, made the announcement on behalf of the government. It is supposed to be a $20-million program that includes the already pledged $5-million continuation of funding for TAVIS (Toronto Anti-violence Intervention Strategy) and its provincial counterpart.

 

The new initiatives also include increasing the number of youth outreach workers province-wide, “building on the outcomes of the Youth Challenge Fund” and supporting police, private sector and community programs that provide jobs after school and so on.

 

One area that is promised to receive more support is the reintegration services for youth who have been in trouble with the law. The plan calls for a “review and strengthening” of the supports for these youth to make positive choices. I hope that this plan is followed closely, with regular audits to ensure that it fulfils its potential.

 

The Ontario government also announced that its Youth Action Plan will have added the specific focus of the Roots of Youth Violence, and the Poverty Reduction Strategy committee – a cabinet-level committee – will be renamed to include the Roots of Youth Violence.

 

The idea is that all the pieces of the puzzle that would go towards poverty reduction and its relationship to the roots of youth violence will come under one “coordinating” body to improve effectiveness.

 

Here is where there may be a misstep or, to put it bluntly, an ignoring of the elephant in the room. In the “Review of the Roots of Youth Violence”, the authors called for a cabinet committee on social inclusion and anti-racism. The operative word here is “anti-racism”.

 

Throughout the document that accompanied the government’s announcement, there was no mention of the “r” word. Indeed, there was not even an acknowledgement of the role that racism may have in the roots of youth violence, even though the McMurtry-Curling report acknowledged its relevance.

 

“It is apparent to us that all of the immediate risk factors for violence involving youth can easily arise from the diminished sense of worth that results from being subject to racism and from the often accurate inference of what that racism means for hopes of advancing, prospering and having a fair chance in our society.

 

“When, as is so often the case, racism is combined with poverty and other sources of serious disadvantage discussed in our report, its central role in the issue that concerns us is all too evident.”

 

Since the Mike Harris government took over in 1995, “racism” – the word and its use – has been essentially banned in the Ontario public service. The McGuinty administration apparently also felt that this was a fitting policy. It has paid little or no attention to the role of racism in the context of Ontario society. To say that this is unfortunate is to understate the matter.

 

The failure of any government to acknowledge that racism and racial discrimination currently exist – not just as a past fact of history – is to devalue the reality of a large group of its people. The result is that it is buried, although its practice remains a key obstacle to the full participation in society of racialized persons.

 

One of the unfortunate by-products of all this is that even the communities which are affected by racism and racial discrimination seem to have allowed that concept to lapse into disuse. We have allowed ourselves to be cowed into not using the term, lest we face a “backlash”.

 

The fact is we know that racism exists. We know that anti-Black racism exists. But because the powers that be – those who practice it subtly – forbid its identification as racism, we succumb.

 

The former New Democratic Party government of Bob Rae not only acknowledged that racism exists, but also acknowledged anti-Black racism. The current NDP, however, does not seem to have a position on this matter at all, at least not one that they have articulated lately. I have yet to hear its leader speak on the issue. One gets the impression that they believe that if they did, it will keep them from power.

 

That silence, frankly, is what we expect from the Progressive Conservative Party.

 

Dr. Curling has been appointed as a strategic advisor to the Minister of Children and Youth Services on youth opportunity. He will also be an external member of the cabinet-level committee. Hopefully, he will reinforce the need to keep the matter of racism very much in the picture.

 

By PATRICK HUNTER

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