Closures are nothing to celebrate

Dear editor,

Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Greg Rickford, supports the closing of youth detention beds in the north as a money-saver which recognizes the reality that the number of young people in custody has declined since the inception of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003.

However, the truth is that the Ford government is taking money and jobs out of the north and investing in the south—at great cost to Kenora and the north. The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services has not only closed youth beds but invested 10.5 million dollars to expand treatment centres in Ottawa and Oakville—all at the expense of northern Indigenous young people and their communities and Kenora and Thunder Bay.

Well before the announcement of youth detention centre bed closures in Kenora and Thunder Bay, Kenora’s Northern Youth Centre, Creighton Youth Services, and others, made proposals to convert detention beds into treatment beds.

This is an idea supported by the experts. With funding from the federal government and Ontario, Professor Judy Findlay and Justice Brian Scully worked with northerners to promote such conversions so that young people could remain close to community, family, language, and culture. In Navigating Quicksand, they concluded that displacing northern young people to the south repeats the residential school experience, leaving children “even more hidden from society.”

Ontario is ignoring the advice and advocacy of experts and care workers alike.

And there is more damage being done to young people than the public is aware of. There are now no beds for young females in Kenora. These children will be shipped to beds in the east.

In addition to the harms to Indigenous communities the bed closures are causing, is the cost to the region of the loss of experienced, committed staff who had developed specialized skills in trauma informed care, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and other issues which reflect the needs of our young people.

Their work has been part of a long history, going back to the days of STEP on Longbow Lake, of providing crisis stabilization, fostering security and growth for young people and staff, through a relationship model. Their skills could have been used, could yet be used, in treatment centres in the north.

Finally, Mr. Rickford can take little credit for reducing the number of children in detention. That decline is the result of the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Life teaches us that what we see initially often is not really what is there. We must read between the lines and dig a little deeper to get at the sorry truth of some brutal decision-making.

Jack Martin and Peter Kirby LL.B.