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Chapter Twelve

Strengthening Communities

Families and young people live in communities. There is a limit to what can be done to strengthen families or young people if the local community is plagued with poverty and unemployment. Healthy families need a level of income that provides decent housing, nutritious food, and positive orientation to the future. The work that schools do for young people will be undermined if children return home to substandard housing, and if they know there is no economic future for them in their communities. In previous chapters, recommendations have been made for early interventions in the lives of children who are at risk. These must be complemented with support for communities that are at risk. It should be remembered that while the children who participated in the Perry Pre-School Program did have far fewer encounters with the law than those children from their community who did not, these children did have many more encounters with the law than a similar number of children from a higher socio-economic status would experience. (Seven percent were arrested or detained five times or more, and 59 percent received social service benefits.)

While the interrelations are subtle and complex, it is apparent that social and economic factors have a profound impact on the rate at which young people come into conflict with the criminal justice system. Communities marked by inequality, extreme poverty, and social exclusion have problems with violence and crime. Extreme poverty has been linked with:

  • inhibited cognitive development in children

  • child abuse and neglect

  • multiple stresses that undermine parents' ability to raise children in a caring and effective manner

Even though increases and decreases in employment rates do not always translate into increases in the crime rates, labour market issues are of extreme importance in this regard. Young people who have engaged in delinquent behaviour during their early adolescence often have difficulty finding and retaining employment. Furthermore, the employment they are likely to qualify for is usually low-paying and lacking in opportunity for advancement.

The presence or lack of career prospects, long-term employment stability, and an economic future for a community and community members shapes community health in a variety of ways. Stable employment is one of the roads along which people travel from adolescence to adulthood. High levels of unemployment block that road and make crime and a criminal career more appealing. Chronic unemployment makes people less suitable and attractive for marriage, thereby increasing the number of single-parent families. The stress of chronic unemployment can have a serious and negative impact on a parent's emotional behaviour.

Poverty is the single most significant condition connected to child abuse. Parents in all socio-economic classes abuse children, but abuse is far more prevalent among poor families (Gil; Giovannoni and Billingsley; Pelton). Two U.S. surveys of family violence concluded that violence toward children, especially severe violence, is more likely to occur in households with annual incomes below the poverty line (Gelles). Canadian studies show that 58 percent of the children taken into custody by child welfare authorities were from families on social assistance (Armitage).

Unemployment can also lead to increases in child neglect and abuse. According to the Discussion Paper on the Health Impact of Unemployment, prepared for the Canadian Public Health Association in 1996:

An association between parental unemployment and risks of child abuse has been suggested at the aggregate level; for example, trends in reported cases of abuse or of children taken into state custody. Using US statistics of reported child abuse Gil (1969) found that nearly 50% of the fathers were unemployed, three times the national average. In Britain (1976), the unemployment rate among reported abusive fathers was estimated to be six times the national rate. (Canadian Public Health Association, page 10)

Most poor families do not abuse or neglect their children. However, poverty has consequences, and one of them is heightened levels of child abuse and neglect.



The AJIC supports public policies that work to achieve the following goals:

  • income policies that ensure children grow up in families that can meet their developmental needs

  • employment policies that provide meaningful work at wages that ensure children grow up in families that can meet their developmental needs

  • policies that reduce social inequality.



There has been little progress made towards reducing poverty or increasing economic equality in Manitoba over the past decade. Indeed, at the macro level, most of the developments have been decidedly negative. This is reflected in an analysis of the 1996 census statistics for the City of Winnipeg. It showed that in 1996

  • More than one-half of all inner-city households had incomes below the poverty line.

  • More than two-thirds of single-parent households in the inner city had incomes below the poverty line.

  • Four-fifths of Aboriginal households in the inner city had incomes below the poverty line (Lezubski, et al).

It is clear that poverty no longer moves in lockstep with the business cycle. Where, in the past, poverty rates rose during recessions and declined during recoveries, during Canada's last economic recovery, Canada's poverty rate increased, reaching 17.2 percent in 1997, one point lower than it had been at the height of the recession of the 1980s. Results of this nature are linked to a set of broad provincial, national, and international trends.


Labour Market Deregulation

  • Unemployment insurance is now much harder to qualify for, pays a lower benefit, and lasts for a shorter period of time than in the 1970s.

  • Manitoba's minimum wage was one of the highest in the country in the 1980s. By the end of the century, it was one of the lowest.

  • The elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan and the introduction of the Canadian Health and Social Transfer (coupled with overall reductions in federal transfers) led to reductions in welfare payments across Canada (Silver).


Macro-Economic Factors

  • During the 1990s, the federal government maintained high levels of unemployment to reduce inflation.

  • There has been a disinvestment in the public sector (particularly in health and education) as a part of the drive to reduce public deficits.

  • There has been a dramatic growth in part-time work and low-wage jobs.

While Manitoba currently enjoys a very low unemployment rate, that rate remains unconscionably high for Aboriginal communities. Secondly, changes in the job market have created a situation where employment no longer offers a guaranteed exit from a life of poverty.

The guiding economic policies of the past decade have been market-driven. The Manitoba and Canadian economies, which were always relatively open economies, have been opened even further. Increasingly, Manitobans consume goods created elsewhere in the world, and create goods and services that are meant for export--largely to the United States. Investment is often external and, as a result, profits from local economic activity leave the province. These policies stress the need for a flexible and competitive workforce. Such policies are often at odds with employment policies that aim to provide meaningful work at wages that allow children to grow up in families that can meet their developmental needs, or that reduce social inequality. (Social assistance policies, under a market-based approach, should never provide a higher level of income than a person could make while working at the lowest paying available job. Under this model, social assistance rates do not take the cost of living into consideration.) Furthermore, these policies discourage government policies that focus on fostering regional economic activity, whether the activity be in northern Manitoba or inner-city Winnipeg. The guiding belief is that individuals should be prepared to leave their home communities in search of economic opportunity. Furthermore, they should be prepared to lower their wage and job-security expectations in exchange for employment. Finally, economic policies are focussed on meeting export demands, not local market needs. As a result, housing, education, and health needs can remain unmet, even as provincial unemployment declines (Black and Silver).


Economic Development and Crime Prevention

Economic policy can play an important role, at both the macro and the micro levels, in reducing crime. Communities are supported by policies that:

  • place a priority on job creation

  • provide incomes at a level that allows families a decent standard of living

  • encourage full-time over part-time jobs in the labour market

  • provide childcare to allow women and men to participate in the labour market

  • emphasize investment policies that address human need, not market demand

These policies would alleviate many of the negative impacts that accrue from previous economic policies. However, they need to be supplemented with additional measures. Full employment, living income policies will benefit all Manitobans. However, the employment and income needs of Aboriginal people are the most severe in the province, and require bold and targetted measures.

In Manitoba, a high number of Aboriginal people have migrated, and continue to migrate, to urban centres, especially Winnipeg, for better economic and social opportunities. Over 40 percent of all Aboriginal people in Manitoba live in Winnipeg and face a myriad of obstacles. A number of reports over the past decade have noted the unenviable fact that Winnipeg was the Canadian child poverty centre. A disproportionate number of those children were Aboriginal children.

Secondly, Aboriginal communities lack significant control over their economy. Money arrives as transfer payments and leaves in the form of payments for goods and services.

A crime prevention model for economic development would be a community economic model. It would operate on the basis of a number of important principles and would emphasize:

  • use of local goods and services

  • local production of goods and services

  • reinvestment of profits locally (Along with the first two principles, this would create a convergent economy that prevents leakages and builds economic linkages.)

  • creating long-term employment

  • training of local residents for jobs that are being created

  • local ownership and decision making

It should be noted that these principles stand in opposition to the principles of market-based development. These measures would contribute to community stability and economic development, and the principles have underpinned the work of Winnipeg Native Family Economic Development. The WFNED has served as the umbrella group for a number of community initiatives including Neechi Foods, the Payuk Inter-Tribal Co-op and the Niigaanaki Day Care. Taken together, these three enterprises address job creation, local consumption and investment, housing, early childhood education, and the provision of childcare to allow adults to participate in the labour market.

These, and other enterprises both in Winnipeg and in rural Aboriginal communities, demonstrate the possibility that community economic development holds (Winnipeg Native Family Development Inc.).

It should be noted that such a development approach need not be restricted to the City of Winnipeg. In the 1970s, the Manitoba government developed a community-based plan for northern Manitoba in response to historical approaches to the North. The historical approach operated on the following conceptions of the North's place in the Manitoba economy:

  • It would be a source of resources that would be extracted and exploited for the benefit of people living outside the North.

  • It was a hinterland whose Aboriginal residents were marginal to economic development.

  • The state would play a key role in developing large-scale economic development in the region.

The North was developed as an export economy that imported most of the goods required for production. As the twentieth century progressed, the emphasis on large-scale development continued. There was also a growing belief that resources that were not consumed were wasted, leading the 1963 Manitoba government's Committee on Manitoba's Economic Future (COMEF) to write "The power resources of northern Manitoba are a good example of a resource whose potential economic value can be lost if left undeveloped too long. The benefits to be reaped from the early development of what is now a wasting asset [in this case, northern forests] in northern Manitoba offer adequate justification for government intervention." (quoted in Loxley, in Lithman et al, page 59) At the same time, the COMEF concluded that "industrial concerns in [northern Manitoba] should not be expected to employ native labour which is not as productive as white labour. ... It is difficult enough to persuade large investors to put money in resource development in the north without expecting them to assume the added cost of solving the welfare problems of the native population." (quoted in Buckley, page 74) This attitude served to limit the number of mining jobs that Aboriginal people received.

In the 1970s, a second approach to northern development and Aboriginal participation in that development was conceived. This approach built on the Manitoba government's stay-option, a policy that sought to provide people with the economic opportunities to stay in their home communities. It targetted small-scale participatory developments that would keep the benefits of economic development--and jobs--in the north. The Northern Plan of the 1970s focussed on developing a local, northern housing industry, a food stuffs program, and transportation, education, and development programs. The costs of this development proposal were less than the capital outflows from the North and the reallocation of existing expenditures in the North. It was an approach that remains largely unrealized. The emphasis throughout the 1980s and 1990s on large-scale developments, such as mines, hydro dams, and forestry complexes, remained central to government economic development plans in the North. These approaches have brought numerous benefits to the Manitoba economy. They have not, however, succeeded in addressing the vulnerability and dependence of northern economies, nor were Aboriginal people able to exercise any control over these projects or receive a share of the surpluses they generated.

As noted at the outset, the link between crime and unemployment is complex. To achieve their greatest impact, economic policies designed to increase employment should be complemented with community-based economic development strategies that allow local communities to retain the maximum benefits of any such policies.

The Manitoba government can play an important role in supporting community economic development by:

  • assisting Aboriginal organizations in developing planning, policy and advisory capacity in the area of community economic development

  • assisting in the creation and development of Aboriginal-controlled community economic development capital corporations to operate throughout the province (A number of such corporations are already in existence but levels of capitalization remain low.)

  • assisting groups that are providing education in community economic development

  • investing in employment and training programs specifically targetted towards Aboriginal people

  • expanding childcare services

There are numerous successful, community economic development models that have been employed in Canada and in Manitoba. A great deal can be learned from these models. However, it should be recognized that the specific nature of the issues in Aboriginal communities in Manitoba, particularly the lack of financial resources, means that development policies that have worked elsewhere may not be applicable.


A commitment to full employment, and to democratic and local control over investment, are of long-term importance to a crime prevention strategy. Key to this are concepts of public investment and community control. There are many, very real, unmet community needs in Aboriginal communities across Canada. Elsewhere in this report, the need for teachers, recreation workers, and child care workers has been identified. In addition, Aboriginal communities need improved housing, transportation, and food supply (to list only the most basic of human needs).

As noted at the outset to this section, the work of strengthening families and strengthening young people will require a commitment to working on the issues that affect communities as a whole.


Table of Contents
Executive Summary
Section 1 - The Aboriginal Justice Inquiry: background and key issues
Section 2 - Aboriginal Rights and Aboriginal Relations
Section 3 - Community and Restorative Justice
Section 4 - Crime Prevention through Community Development
Section 5 - Concluding Thoughts

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