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MLAs call to extend A New Day
Justice minister told to check his facts on program

Kirsten Fenn
Northern News Services
Wednesday, November 9, 2016

All 11 regular MLAs voted to pass a motion last Wednesday in the legislative assembly calling for the Justice Department to extend a pilot healing program for men by another year, after heckling and questioning the justice minister about whether he understood how the program works.

NNSL photo/graphic

A New Day program co-ordinator Laura Boileau, left, speaks to a crowd at the legislative assembly last Wednesday. - Shane Magee/NNSL photo

"We need a program for men in place and right now that's the only program we have," Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson said in an interview with Yellowknifer.

Simpson spoke several times during Wednesday's session to call attention to the issue.

A New Day is a pilot program that first began in 2012 to offer free counselling services to men 18 years and older who have used violence in relationships. It is run by the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre, with funding from the Department of Justice. The funding is set to end on Dec. 31.

The program is currently under evaluation - something MLAs and advocates of the program say should have been done sooner. Now, a break in service is likely to occur in order to implement any of the evaluation's recommendations.

"I think that's the real issue," Simpson said. "We're all afraid that if we lose this program it's going to be a while before we get anything back to help men."

The Healing Drum Society was the original host of A New Day, but the society shuttered a few years ago due to lack of funding.

It caused a nearly nine-month break in services before the Tree of Peace took over the program in 2015, according to John Howard Society executive director Lydia Bardak.

The idea behind the motion, which passed with cabinet abstaining, is to fund the program through Dec. 31, 2017, while the evaluation is reviewed and implemented. The motion recommended the Department of Justice inform the Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning about how it will implement the motion before the end of the year. The GNWT is asked to provide a response to the motion within 120 days.

Friday was the last day of session until the legislative assembly reconvenes on Feb. 1. Funding for A New Day is set to end before the 120-day deadline to respond to the motion.

"I'm fairly confident that a program for men's healing will continue," Simpson said. "I'm not as confident that it will continue without a break in service."

In an interview at the beginning of November, deputy minister of Justice Martin Goldney told Yellowknifer the Justice Department has enough funding to continue providing the program's services after Dec. 31.

When Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. questioned Justice Minister Louis Sebert about funding in the legislative assembly on Wednesday, Sebert said he was not certain how much money was available to continue A New Day.

Simpson also suggested the minister "checks his facts" after Sebert disagreed with him that A New Day's services are offered twice a month to people in remand.

According to a February 2016 community engagement report on A New Day, program co-ordinators offer open group counselling sessions to inmates at North Slave Correction Centre twice a month.

Program co-ordinators Laura Boileau, William Greenland and Bardak could be seen shaking their heads in the public gallery as the justice minister answered Simpson's questions. MLAs heckled the minister, shouting, "Wrong!" in response to what they believed to be incorrect information.

"I don't know how or why the minister wouldn't know that the New Day program is being offered at North Slave Correctional Centre," Bardak said.

"I know because the inmates I talk to have told me they're also in that program."

The rate of violence against women in the NWT is at least nine times the national average, according to Statistics Canada. As of 2011, the NWT's rate of family violence was about eight times the national average.

The program's 2016 engagement report shows 60 per cent of clients who accessed the program's counselling services in 2015 self-referred, while 85 per cent of clients returned for more than three sessions.

Sebert told MLA's that the program's evaluation is expected this week.

While advocates of the program said they believe it is too late to prevent a gap in services, they hope it doesn't end altogether.

"The biggest fear is losing a men's program and not getting it back," Simpson said.

"Not only am I concerned that this program may disappear from Yellowknife, I'm concerned that the regions will never get to see a program like this."

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