Tuesday, March 16, 2010

First Nation Street gangs are spreading to rural areas targeting at risk youths

Prince Rupert is on the list, as are many communities on Vancouver Island and North-eastern British Columbia all locations in British Columbia where organized crime is gaining a permanent presence on local streets, and with it filling a void on those streets that is attracting at risk youth seeking for something to belong to.

The grasp of organized street gangs once limited to the major urban areas, is spreading rapidly across the country, reaching epidemic proportions in some centres, as Aboriginal street gangs expand at a surprisingly robust rate throughout the country.

An article by Susanna Kelley from the Canadian Press highlights the growing threat to youth in many communities, as the gangs take advantage of poverty and areas under economic distress to fill the void of those communities it has targeted.

In Kelley's article, Merle Carpenter, a Sergeant who is involved with the RCMP's National Aboriginal Policing Services, outlined the basic methods of operation for these groups, which mostly involve drug distribution, prostitution and theft, using violence and intimidation as their methods of coercion.

The Aboriginal gang situation was once considered a largely urban problem, with Winnipeg in particular considered the launching point for many of the expansion plans. Growing out of the jails which seemingly serve as a recruiting room and finishing school of sorts for those that then go out across the country and take up portions of territory. Though the various groups have learned over the years that there is apparently more than enough bounty to go around, learning to co exist rather than have things deteriorate into a succession of gang wars.

The list of towns that are finding gang influence on the rise is rather diverse and geographically spread out, highlighting the reach of these groups as they take advantage of conditions and community lethargy to gain control of criminal activities and use intimidation to keep that control.

The article mentions such Aboriginal gangs as Red Alert, Cree Boys, Native Blood and Native Posse are reaching such distant locales as the Inuvialuit First Nation in the Western Arctic, to Fort St. John, Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert.

Part of the article is based on the work of Steve Koptie, an aboriginal social worker who spent several years working in the mental health field for 21 reserves in Ontario's Northwest, he has serious concerns over the twin themes of education and employment where as he puts it,  "If we don't get youth educated and we don't get them... participating in the workforce we're going to continue to watch this deterioration.".

He feels that the need is to make education a priority, providing better funding for schools in reserve areas,  something he fears has fallen on deaf ears in Ottawa.

Other background for the article, is from the findings of Dr. Mark Totten, a sociologist and expert on Canadian street gangs, who has provided a good portion of the background on the situation with a 2009 report into the conditions and problems.

He has released a comprehensive examination of the epidemic of street gang recruitment and provides a chilling look at the life that has led up to that recruitment and the violence and degradation that comes after those gangs have taken control of those they target.

The twenty two page report is at times horrifying to read, candid in its examination of the conditions of those that are recruited and disturbing in the recitation of acts of violence inflicted on those that sign on for the entry level spots of drug distribution and sexual trafficking.

Totten points to what he says are clear failures in the educational system, the Child Welfare system and the Justice system, which has created the vacuum which these gangs are stepping into.

Through the twenty two pages are a number of cases stories that highlight a dysfunctional social system and broken family compact that leaves many of the youth in precarious situations ripe for exploitation and abuse by these gang leaders and their own system of gang bureaucracy.

Some of his recommendations will not be finding favour with a large segment of society, who have become used to the programs of the past as the best way to approach the problems of today.

Trotten clearly believes that the current model of incarceration  from the Justice system is failing, creating more problems than it is solving.

He also has strong opinions on such programs as the DARE program, which in his opinion only offers up short term change, with just as many participants likely to join a gang later as those that won't.

In his report the work of  social workers, youth and recreation workers or Aboriginal leaders to outreach into gangs are ineffective, unless they are combined in a comprehensive and coordinated community-wide approach.

He finds some success stories in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where The Warrior Spirit Walking Project, delivered by the Prince Albert Outreach Program Inc., targets 12-20 year-old Aboriginal gang members and youth at high-risk of gang membership.

Regina's Anti-Gang Service project (RAGS) targets 16 – 28 year-old gang leaders and their partners/family members, offering them life skills development,  individual and family counselling and outreach to gang-involved young persons in correctional institutions, court, and inner city schools. All in the goal to either keep at risk youth out of the gangs or help those in them find a successful exit strategy .

Vancouver's CHARM Project (Creating Healthy Aboriginal Role Models) targets youth aged 12 – 18 years in East Vancouver who are most at risk of being recruited into gangs. All core services are based upon principles of positive youth development and asset building, including: Basketball program; Late Night Resource program; anti-violence and safety workshops; and individual support and counselling. Most programs operate from 10 p.m. – 8 a.m. daily.

He has a wide range of other horror stories and suggestions for change in his report, far too many to list individually here, but well worth reading over from this link.

It provides an eye opening review of the changing nature of our streets and perhaps a few suggestions on what may need to be done to try and regain them.

Whether you agree with his final thoughts or recommendations or not, the journey he takes us on is a rather worrisome examination of much that has gone wrong over the last few decades and what is contributing to the surge of gang activity in regions that at one time thought of that as only a Big City problem.

It gives us a better understanding of the threats in our community today and challenges us to find a way to turn things around before we find that youth gangs find our apathy on the issue much to their liking and adds to the success of their plans.

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