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‘Show them consistency:’ Winnipeg advocates work to combat violent youth crimes

WINNIPEG – Many youth have walked through the doors of 605 Main St., a one-story building with a red brick facade maintained by leaders of local grassroots organizations.

WINNIPEG – Many youth have walked through the doors of 605 Main St., a one-story building with a red brick facade maintained by leaders of local grassroots organizations.

Ashton Sinclair sits on one of the many well-used sofas inside on a December afternoon and reflects on what brought him there.

A year ago, the 14-year-old questioned his path. The Winnipeg teenager watched as some of his friends were jailed and feared he might be too.

“All this stuff goes through your head, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t be in this situation right now because it’s not healthy,'” Ashton recalled during an interview.

He reflected on how his actions affected his reputation in the community and at school. Ashton decided to make a change.

He called a friend and asked for help.

“There is always a better way to live life. It’s not always about gang violence, money or drugs,” he said. “I didn’t want to be that person, so I took a better path.”

Help came from Matt Davidson, an advocate dedicated to leading youth toward positive leadership.

“We show them consistency in a good way with love, caring and respect,” Davidson said.

Advocates say a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic’s depletion of social services and a lack of consistent and positive role models has forced young people to seek support from negative influences, leading to a recent spate of violent crime involving youth have.

A 15-year-old boy is said to have been part of a group that stabbed a new Ukrainian bear and sprayed another bear on Canada Day at The Forks.

The following month, four people were attacked during what police said was a random wave of violence. Marvin Felix, 54, and Danielle Ballantyne, 36, died from their injuries. Two 15-year-old boys are charged with second-degree murder.

Four male youths have been charged in the death of a man who was stabbed to death in a downtown library on December 11.

While nonviolent juvenile delinquency remains at historically low levels, these events indicate an upward trend in violent juvenile delinquency.

Complete data for this year was not available, but statistics provided to The Canadian Press show that from September 2021 to August 2022, the Winnipeg Police Department found that juvenile violent crime increased more than 40 percent over the previous 12 months had.

Overall, juvenile delinquency remains low compared to the previous five years.

A scan of police publications up to mid-December revealed at least 12 youths have been charged in connection with homicides.

These statistics are consistent with other parts of the country. Statistics Canada data suggests that the rate of juveniles charged with violent crimes in the country increased by six percent in 2021, while the rate of juveniles charged with other major categories of crimes fell.

When the pandemic struck, social services were brought online or shut down altogether, in line with public health measures. Restrictions have been eased, but some programs have failed to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Many youth accused of violent crimes this year are at-risk teens who have relied heavily on positive interventions outside the home, said Hillarie Taschen, a criminal defense attorney with Legal Aid Manitoba.

“Social isolation was an important factor for these children,” she said.

Taschen said for the numbers to go down there needs to be a reinvestment in mental health activities, programs and interventions for young people.

“When a young person has suffered throughout their life … that is a recipe for meddling in the criminal justice system unless they can find a place for themselves in the wider community where they can choose a better path for themselves.” ”

A spokesman for Manitoba Justice noted that funds were allocated to safety programs, shelters, addiction programs and a youth healing shack in the North this year to address safety concerns. In a statement, the spokesman said the government will continue to work with community leaders to distract youth from violent crime.

Mitch Bourbonniere knows that providing a safe space for young people can mean the difference between life and death. He has spent decades working with at-risk youth.

Gang or drug culture can provide a path for disenfranchised youth, he said.

“It’s an outlet that they can be drawn to, and that’s really what the gangs rely on,” Bourbonniere said. “It’s easy to recruit children who are lonely, isolated and looking for a family. So we need to reach these kids before they do.”

This means introducing children to “positive activism” in the form of cultural practices, taking them to the countryside or involving them in volunteer work.

Bourbonniere said it’s important to recognize that youth involved in violent crime make up only a small portion of that population.

“I see triumph, success and I see young people changing their lives every day,” he said.

For Ashton, being a part of something bigger than himself is the motivation to keep chasing positive influences.

“Instead of taking from the community, I give back to the community,” he said.

“I love what I do.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 31, 2022.

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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