A Solution to the Gang Problem?

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Frontier Centre

For far too long, the city of Winnipeg has endured the scourge of gang-related crimes that have residents of this fine city feeling unsafe. Worse, the problem appears to be growing. What did we do to deserve this? We will look at some of the reasons and a possible solution to this plague.

Since much of the gang problem originates with aboriginal gangs, where did many of these gang members come from? This answer is simple to many First Nations people. Many have fled their dysfunctional reserves in large numbers — many to outlaying communities but mostly to the city. Here in the city, life is not easy for those who lack quality education or any form of industrial or professional training. Those First Nations peoples who have earned these skills have, in many cases, done well for themselves and fit into mainstream society. But for the rest, lacking any employable skills, the life of welfare is barely an existence.

In talking to many aboriginals on the street, they speak of the pressures to join gangs. Sadly, for many this may be the closest thing to a family they have ever had. This newfound “family” may provide money, drugs and women in abundance, which generally leads to an intoxicating downward spiral, constant contact with the law and, in far too many cases, incarceration.

Many citizens have complained of a judicial system that favours the criminal. So what are the options?

The present jail system is a training ground for more crime down the road. The incarcerated aboriginal gang member must look to his or her gang affiliations in order to survive in the system. As new residents in the jail system, they find new contacts and better criminal ways of earning a buck on the streets. Gang members leave jail better-educated in the criminal world than before, and in most cases simply continue where they left off.

One option may offer a chance at a new life for the gang member and possibly a new way of looking at the world and becoming a better person as a direct result. This alternative to the current jail system is a military-style boot camp that could be located in the far north, away from society and accessible only by air. Here the gang member would follow the stiff regime of military-style character building. It would include the following six pillars of character-building as gleaned from various military-related websites:

    Trustworthiness – honesty, integrity, promise-keeping and loyalty
    Respect – valuing self, others, tradition and country
    Responsibility – duty as in the sense of accountability
    Fairness – honour; upholding what is right and just
    Caring – selfless service, placing the good of others before yourself, and
    Citizenship – duty as in obedience to established rules and laws, placing the good of the country before self, personal courage and seeking the common good.

The north provides many ideal locations for boot camps such as islands surrounded by pristine waters where the only sound to break the silence may be the barking of orders by the drill sergeant at 6 am on the parade grounds as new recruits stand at attention to begin their day. In addition to a strict form of military discipline and training, additional classes could also be part of the daily regimen: carpentry, plumbing, and electrical and business management, offering future alternatives to street life. Some may even choose a career in Canada’s military.

For many, this type of incarceration will take time to adjust to, for they have grown up without parental guidance, having had to fend for themselves most of their young lives. Others have been shuffled through the child and family services system from home to home. Now that they are old enough to live on their own, many are forced into the prostitution trade and other criminal activity to make ends meet. Sadly, for other younger people, gangs force them into this lifestyle far too early in their young lives.

Many young and older aboriginal people I have talked to agree that this style of boot camp would develop a better person to reintroduce to society — far better than the current system. But will the government of Manitoba have the “spirited energy” to pursue this idea further? We must demand it.