Crime Prevention Yukon throws in the towel

Crime Prevention Yukon is closing its doors at the end of March. The non-profit group is shutting down before it goes broke, after getting the runaround by the Yukon government for funding over the past year, said executive

Crime Prevention Yukon is closing its doors at the end of March.

The non-profit group is shutting down before it goes broke, after getting the runaround by the Yukon government for funding over the past year, said executive director Ryn Bunicich.

“We haven’t been able to get support for important action in Yukon to address crime,” said Bunicich.

Territorial officials insist the group’s funding arrangement has not changed. But in 2008 the group had to wait eight months longer than usual to learn a funding application had been denied, said Bunicich.

As well, RCMP and the territory seem unwilling to work with the group to co-ordinate activities, he said.

It could be the life-cycle of your typical non-profit organization.

Such groups are usually forced to compete for funding from a half-dozen pots of money. If lucky, they secure enough money to work on a project for several years.

Just as the project begins to take off, funding is typically pulled by fickle governments that see greater value in announcing new projects – which give a greater sense of achievement and of “moving forward,” in the idiom of politicians - than funding existing work.

Staff frequently burn out and leave for better-paying, less-stressful jobs with government. Institutional knowledge leaves with them.

Eventually the organization implodes. Then a new group is formed.

The cycle continues.

In the case of Crime Prevention Yukon, it could have been uglier. At least it is solvent. Many non-profits blaze out in bankruptcy.

When this group dissolves, it should have enough money left over to give five Yukon charities about $10,000 each. The charities are to be announced shortly.

But the group faced bigger problems that funding crunches. It was left chasing money tied to crime prevention any way it could.

As a result, it ran a small, and now-unused, research library for social workers.

It helped organize neighbourhood barbecues. And it funneled money to other community groups.

How effective some of this work was in preventing crime is anybody’s guess, said Bunicich.

Money for winter youth activities, for example, would be used to put up kids from rural communities in a Whitehorse hotel for a week during a ski trip.

“Is this crime prevention?” Bunicich asked. “We may as well go wash cars.”

Annual revenue fluctuates, but on a typical year, $500,000 would pass through the group. Much of it would simply flow to other groups.

Bunicich earns a salary in the “$60,000s,” he said.

The group leases a cozy house at 205 Rogers Street from the territory for free. The newly renovated basement, which holds the unused library, is also used by other non-profits, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Narcotics Anonymous.

Bunicich used to have four staff. Now it’s just him, left to shut the group down.

Bunicich, an outspoken Dutchman with a degree in social work, has led the group for 18 months.

Department of Justice officials showed little interest in keeping his group afloat during his first meeting with them, he said.

“I was literally told, ‘Sometimes it’s the right time for an organization to close.’”

Bunicich, it must be said, frequently bites the hand that pays him. He’s frequently criticized the Yukon government’s efforts at curbing crime as shallow and short-cited.

The territory’s crime prevention co-ordinator “does nothing,” he said.

And he blames the RCMP for not disclosing crime statistics for the past four years and hobbling change.

The RCMP says its database won’t produce local numbers – which is strange, because Statistics Canada doesn’t seem to have trouble obtaining those figures.

Yukon’s crime rate is more than three times the national average, according to Statistics Canada 2005 figures.

Assaults are nearly four times the average. Break and entries are double.

The strident criticism probably didn’t help his group’s prospects of obtaining government money, he admits.

“I shot myself in both feet.”

But an outspoken critic is needed, he added.

“Avoiding the problem doesn’t help anyone,” he said.

So, what’s to be done?

While long on criticism, Bunicich offers few concrete solutions.

We need to better educate children, strengthen family ties and build social cohesion, he said.

Sure. But how?

With a lot of reports and studies, in short. Bunicich is convinced we haven’t yet figured out the real source of crime in the Yukon.

His group has operated for 13 years. Since it started, it appears no closer to drawing any conclusions on how to prevent crime.

But it’s lent a few books to social workers, filled bellies with hotdogs and hamburgers during summer afternoons and helped kids go skiing.

Has this curbed crime? Who knows.

But public money has been spent in worse ways.

“This is social development,” said Bunicich.

“It takes a long, long time.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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