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Cuts kill justice programs

In January, Andrea Bailey came to Haines Junction from Toronto to co-ordinate the community’s justice program.

In January, Andrea Bailey came to Haines Junction from Toronto to co-ordinate the community’s justice program.

Now, with the territory and Ottawa dithering over program funding, Bailey doesn’t know whether she’ll have a job at the end of the month.

“If the funding goes, I go and the program goes,” she said on Tuesday.

“Coming from Toronto, there’s a really strong program that’s going to be affected there — the repercussions are going to be felt everywhere I think.”

With just over two weeks until the end of the month and no solid promises from either government, the program has stopped accepting new clients.

“There’s no way of knowing if we’re going to be able to help them,” said Bailey.

“Once you take a client on, there’s the process of figuring out the response and then there’s an ongoing monitoring responsibility.

“Without the ability to follow up, we’re just leaving people unaccountable and the program just wouldn’t be feasible.”

The Haines Junction program runs on $77,000 per year, which pays one full-time salary and leaves a bit left over to fund workshops, presentations, honoraria for committee members.

Also included is an in-kind donation of office space from the Yukon government.

“It’s not a lot of money and it requires a bit of creative budgeting,” said Bailey.

As the only paid employee, Bailey is responsible for co-ordinating the circle sentencing and diversion work for the nearly 20 people who use the program per year.

Clients are referred to the program from the Crown, the RCMP and straight from the community.

When an offender is brought into the program, a committee meets, bringing all involved parties — such as the victim, Crown and cops — together to devise a strategy to deal with the offence.

“It has a larger impact on the offender. It gives them a chance to see the effect their actions have had on the community as a whole.”

To atone, offenders work with the community to determine where their services are needed.

“Sometimes they’ll have a young person build a deck for an elder, for example,” said Bailey.

“A lot of the time, the work is done in the community and for the community.”

The Haines Junction program is one of nine such territorial programs and countless others across the country funded through the Aboriginal Justice Strategy.

They are designed to reduce crime and incarceration rates in Canada’s native populations.

The Yukon’s programs are co-funded with equal $450,000 contributions from the federal government and the territory.

The strategy funds seven full-time and three part-time positions throughout the territory.

The Southern Lakes program, which services the Carcross/Tagish First Nations and non-aboriginals around Carcross, runs on a shoestring budget of $58,500 per year.

The program’s benefits outweigh its cost, said its co-ordinator Elaine Ash.

Over more than 10 years in operation, the program has offered counseling, and diverted dozens of offenders from the courts and the jails, saving the justice system time and money.

The program also affords its clients a unique approach to healing that incorporates support groups, mediation and circle sentencing.

“Every person is looked at individually to see why this happened and to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Ash.

It also can advise the court on sentencing and assists with monitoring court orders.

At one time, the program operated without funding relying on committed volunteers.

But that’s not ideal, said Ash.

“We found it was very important to have one person in a paid position who keeps things organized.

“If we ended up with no funding, it would be up to our volunteer committee to decide whether to keep going.”

The community would suffer if the program dissolved.

Meanwhile, the New Democrats are pressuring the federal and territorial governments to pony up the cash and support the programs.

The Yukon should step up with bridge funding, said NDP justice critic Steve Cardiff.

“When projects prove valuable to the community there has to be a way, at the end of the project, to make sure it doesn’t die,” he said.

The crisis comes as the territory is rewriting its corrections plan, he noted.

“There was a commitment to change the approach to correctional programs so they address the need of victims and offenders,” said Cardiff.

“It also recognizes that communities, First Nations and volunteers have to be involved.”

Federal and territorial officials failed to respond to interview requests before press time.