NDP Manitoba Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief paid a visit to Thompson on April 3 to discuss the issue of youth crime prevention in Thompson and how to ensure their future successes.
Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Steve Ashton, the NDP MLA for Thompson, introduced the new minister, as well as speaking to the high regard that the province holds for its youth.
“If there’s anywhere in the province that this is important, it’s Northern Manitoba,” said Ashton, “we have one of the youngest populations in all of Canada, and I think the average age of people in Thompson is 26.”
This year marks the 100th year that Northern Manitoba has been a part of the province, and Ashton says that the North is in an enviable position going forward.
“We have a tremendous natural resource base, along with a young and growing population,” said Ashton.
Chief has spent a great deal of his life working with young people through sports and recreation, and was elected in Winnipeg’s Point Douglas riding last Oct. 4 before becoming the minister of the province’s newest department.
The majority of Chief’s work with youth over the past five years has been in Northern Manitoba, a region he says he is very fond of.
“I’ve always had a love for Northern Manitoba, and I’ve spent a lot of time up here,” said Chief, “I was always asked when I was a student athlete in Winnipeg to come up and speak at the high school and the Friendship Centre, and so I’ve made it a habit of coming into Thompson.”
An attentive crowd of close to 50 people listened as Chief explained the steps in youth crime prevention, including suppression and intervention. Members of the Thompson RCMP were in attendance as well, and Chief made note of the role they play.
“The RCMP are out there making arrests and things like that,” said Chief, “so that’s the suppression portion, but then they need support for things like rehabilitation and family support, that’s the intervention. We need to start looking at the prevention side, what can we as a community do so that the RCMP aren’t out there arresting people.”
Crime prevention is not the sole mandate of the Child and Youth Opportunities department, and part of Chief’s tour around Manitoba is to establish an identity for the department as a whole.
May Mossip, chair of the Thompson Anti-Gang (TAG) ad-hoc committee was in attendance, and spoke up about the need to make kids feel like they are a part of something.
“We (Thompson) are the hub of the North and we have so many kids who are coming in from outside communities,” said Mossip, “I work with so many of these kids and the biggest issue is that they feel they don’t belong. What we end up seeing from this is they go and join gangs and other kids who are on the streets.”
Chief’s response to Mossip’s comments was that children need to see that there are options available for them and need to see other young people succeeding.
“I remember when I was seven years old and a friend and I were taking a bus to go to the swimming pool,” said Chief, “and my friend pointed out that the bus driver was aboriginal, and it sank in with me that we could be bus drivers too. It would be irresponsible for us to expect children to overcome some of their challenges unless we can show them other young people who have been able to do it.”
School District of Mystery Lake chair Alexander Ashton was also in attendance and shared some of his personal experiences and how they can be related to the situation Thompson is faced with.
“I went down to Winnipeg for school and was one of only two people taking engineering from here, so I was pretty much out there on my own,” said Ashton, “but I found a sense of belonging through hip hop dance classes. I think we need to beef up programs here for the kids because every kid has a talent or an interest.”
Chief will be making regular trips to Thompson to facilitate further community consultations like the one held April 3.
“I hope to be here a lot over the next four years,” said Chief, “working with the community towards some positive solutions.”