Federal funding delay may land youth in jail

Federal dithering over funding has robbed some young offenders of the ability to choose The Good Path.

Federal dithering over funding has robbed some young offenders of the ability to choose The Good Path.

The Tan Sakwathan (The Good Path) Skookum Jim Diversion Program, which supports aboriginal youth in Whitehorse has started turning away new clients.

It’s doing so because the federal Justice department has not decided whether to fund the program past March 31.

“Most programs run for longer than three months and we don’t know whether we’ll have the money to continue,” said Tan Sakwathan diversion co-ordinator McKenzie Grant.

“To take any new clients right now would be like gambling with the kids’ futures in the sense that if they start with diversion here and the program ends then they’ll just end up back in court,” said Grant on Friday.

The program, and eight others like it in the Yukon, is funded through the Aboriginal Justice Strategy.

Both Ottawa and Yukon government co-fund the strategy — each contributes approximately $450,000 for a total of about $900,000.

The program’s objectives are to reduce crime and incarceration rates in Canada’s aboriginal communities by giving the groups more of a say in the administration of justice and improve the system to find solutions that fit aboriginal communities.

Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell’s staff has tried to get answers on the program’s funding from the federal Justice minister’s office.

They were told the matter is still under consideration.

“(The Aboriginal Justice Strategy) is very important — it’s done some excellent work in the Yukon for not a lot of money,” said Bagnell.

“It’s a lot less than the cost of having these criminals in jail, or re-offending in society, which has immense costs,” said Bagnell.

“These programs that help on alternative sentencing and working with offenders on restorative justice have proven very successful and very cost-efficient.”

This type of inaction has been common from this Conservative government, said Bagnell.

“If there’s a program they don’t like, instead of cutting the existing fund they just wait until it expires and then don’t renew it.”

For now, the futures of programs like Tan Sakwathan are up in the air. Workers wonder whether they’ll have jobs come April 1.

“This decision should have been made a year, or a year and a half ago,” said Grant.

“We should have known by May or April, at the latest.

“It’s a pretty sizable part of the justice community.”

There are currently nine Aboriginal Justice Strategy programs running in the Yukon — Community Group Conferencing in Dawson City, Community Social Justice Program (serving the Kwanlin Dun First Nation), Dena Keh Justice Program (serving the Liard First Nation), the Haines Junction Community Justice Program (serving the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations), the Southern Lakes Justice Committee, the Old Crow Justice Committee, the Tan Sakwathan Skookum Jim Diversion Program, the Teslin Tlingit Peace Council and the Dena Gude’ Guk’E; Kuk’Uts’Ets Program (serving the Ross River Dena Council).

Contact Leighann Chalykoff at leighannc@yukon-news.com

GOVERNMENT

Deputy head of Highways axed

Highways and Public Works deputy minister John Stecyk has been fired from his post.

Janet Mann, the former assistant deputy minister in the Executive Council Office, has been appointed as acting deputy minister for Highways by an order in council issued Thursday.

On Friday, people calling Stecyk’s office were told he “no longer works here” and that he wasn’t in the building.

Stecyk came to the Yukon from Saskatchewan.

He was appointed as the deputy minister of the department of Infrastructure by Pat Duncan’s Liberal government in 2002.

That department became Highways and Public Works after Premier Dennis Fentie’s Yukon Party government took power in November 2002.

“The deputies serve at pleasure of the government,” said Patricia Daws, Public Service commissioner. “We won’t say anything further than that.”

(TQ)