Advocating for Youth, Families and Women at Risk

Last week, the Minister of Children and Family Development, responsible for provincial youth custody facilities, announced the proposed closure of the Victoria Youth Custody Services Centre in View Royal.  The Minister cited under-utilization and cost-savings as the rationale for closure and suggested that all youth remanded or sentenced from Vancouver Island Courts would be transferred to custody facilities on the Lower Mainland or elsewhere in the Province.  At the same time, the Victoria City Police Chief announced that his organization would not accept youth into custody in police cells.

As a former Probation Officer, Family Court Counsellor and Divorce and Family Mediator, I find this proposal to close the facility distressing.  The Victoria youth custody facility is the only one on Vancouver Island and was opened only about twelve years ago.  Closure means that youth in custody will be removed from their family and community supports, resulting in negative impacts on rehabilitation planning.  The closure, combined with increased fares and cuts to services by the BC Ferry Corporation, means that families from Vancouver Island will face real hardship traveling to the Lower Mainland and youth will face real barriers to remaining connected to their loved ones.

We know that young offenders have the greatest potential to turn their lives around, provided that community support programs, services and professionals designed to re-direct them out of the criminal justice system, remain close to home and easily accessible.  To remove young offenders from these supports and expect them to make a positive adjustment to living crime-free is folly in my view.

The second part of this significant flaw in public policy relates to the lack of custody facilities on Vancouver Island for women remanded or sentenced from Vancouver Island Courts.  This is a long-standing issue that, at its heart, is about gender inequity and inequality.  So my solution is simple.  Keep Victoria’s youth custody facility open and re-purpose part of the building to house female offenders from Vancouver Island.  The facility would be well utilized and cost-savings would be real.

What to do?  Starting late last week, I used social media to alert my Council colleagues in other municipalities to bring forward to their Councils, a motion requesting the Province to re-consider its decision — request the Minister to keep the youth detention facility open and re-purpose it to accommodate women.  As a result of my local campaign, as of today May 5, eight other municipalities have asked for a copy of my draft motion and, over the next few weeks, elected representatives will bring the motion to their Council tables for consideration.

You might ask how this is relevant to local government.  The Capital Regional District appoints up to seven representatives to a mandated body called the Youth and Family Justice Committee.  Oak Bay has recently appointed a community member to serve on the Committee, joining other municipal representatives, some of whom are elected Councillors and some of whom are field professionals in youth and family matters.  My campaign is therefore timely and does involve the work of local and regional governments.

Stay tuned.  If between now and June, the Province’s proposal to close the facility does not change, then I will take my motion forward as a UBCM resolution.  The next annual UBCM Convention is September 2014.