This exchange is in response to an update from the Minister of Justice on A New Day men’s healing program. I have made multiple statements and asked numerous statements on this issue – they are posted on this site. 

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I thank my colleagues for proposing the questions.

Every time this is brought up in the House, the Minister states that minor changes were made to this program based on the evaluation report that was done. Right near the beginning of this report, it recommends that consideration should be given to the fact that the program is more than a curriculum, and community outreach should be considered a part of any future program.

The community outreach that has been happening at The Tree of Peace includes workshops at the North Slave Correctional Centre, I believe the only program available to those in remand. It has happened in adult education centres, with the YKDFN, the Salvation Army, the Bailey House, and more. In addition, there have been training sessions delivered to nurses in the Stanton Psychiatric Unit which the nurses seem to find quite useful.

However, as I understand it, the RFP states that program facilitators must strictly adhere to the curriculum as set out by the department, which excludes all of this community outreach. The evaluation report also states that some men are not well-suited for group counselling sessions, and future programs should include provisions for individual counselling based on A New Day’s curriculum. Yet, as I understand it, in the new RFP, men who are not well-suited will be referred to outside counselling services, in stark contrast to this recommendation. The one recommendation that I did find that was followed was to break the program up into segments so that if you drop out partway through, you can get right back in without having to wait the 20 weeks.

The evaluation also stated that many of the individuals that they interviewed would not change the program the way it operated. Yet, we have a letter from the Coalition Against Family Violence which spent years developing the New Day program tailored for the North, and this organization was made up of – the Government of the NWT was a part of it; Disabilities Council, Status of Women Council, Tree of Peace, Yellowknife Women’s Society, White Ribbon Campaign, Alternatives North, Salvation Army, and the RCMP.

Most of the organizations I just mentioned sent a letter to the Minister on May 10th stating essentially that they have no faith that the program the way the department envisions it is going to be successful. They write, “It remains the position of the coalition that a successful program must be a community-based therapy program. The work with men who abuse must be ongoing while healing and treatment options that are designed to be flexible enough to address the actual needs of those who seek help from this program. As such, the new program design as described in the recently advertised RFP was met with a degree of surprise by members of the coalition. The new program design has some aspects that appear to us to be incompatible with program success and with continued widespread community support.”

I ask the Minister: why was the coalition engaged in the first place if now their input is being disregarded? They are begging the department to — well, I will not say “begging.” They would like the department to work with them to retool this program into something that they think would be successful. How do they know what is going to be successful? Well, they work with these people every day. They developed the first program. They are the people on the ground. It still boggles my mind that they are being completely ignored and left out of this process. It has been front page news that all the coalition members refused to bid on this RFP, because they felt so strongly that it was such a poor program. These are people who are dedicated to helping end family violence, and yet they were not willing to put their name behind a program that the department says is going to do that.

I do not want to use unparliamentary language, but there is some arrogance from the department on this, I find, and I am at loss. Why will the department not work with these people who have years, decades, hundreds of years between them, of experience in this field? Maybe I will start there with questions. Why did the department flat out refuse to work with the coalition or coalition members to come up with a program design that would be palatable, at the very least, to the coalition? Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. McNeely): Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Minister Sebert.

HON. LOUIS SEBERT: Thank you. I am going to refer that question, if I may, to Martin Goldney, my deputy minister. Thank you.

CHAIRPERSON (Mr. McNeely): Thank you, Minister Sebert. Mr. Goldney.

MR. GOLDNEY: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and there is a lot to unpack there. I am going to do my best, but I certainly would welcome follow-up questions as well.

First, I think I have to challenge the notion that the department was unwilling to work with the coalition. I think we are very appreciative of our community partners, but I think there might be a bit of a disconnect. We do commend our community partners for their commitment to addressing this issue, but I think where there might be a bit of a disconnect is in the department’s recognition that this is not a program that will fix all family violence issues or even is appropriate for all offenders and men who use violence in their intimate relationships. It is a program that is very specific, is designed for men of a certain risk profile, and cannot be the solution to all of our family violence programs or issues. It is not a one size fits all solution.

I think what we hear our partners saying is they are looking for additional supports and additional avenues to address all aspects of family violence, and we agree. We are happy to work with any community partner with a proposal that could be complimentary and that could tackle some of these related issues perhaps in another way, perhaps for a different segment of the population with a different risk profile. But when we talk about A New Day, when the department talks about A New Day, it is talking about that very specific curriculum and very specific program, and our challenge was really to do the best we can with that program and the resources that we have available.

I would suggest we did not make any significant changes apart from focusing the administration to make sure that we get the best results possible, and we did look at the evaluation very carefully. We are also informed by our experience delivering the program and looked at what needed to be improved. Clearly, we recognize that outreach is one component, but if you look at the number of men who were made aware of the program, very few actually enrolled in the program and made the commitment to do the work required. We think, frankly, there are better ways to connect men with the services that they need. That tells us that a very small number of the men who were made aware of the program felt it was the appropriate program for them or maybe they were not ready at that time.

The new program designed does offer the opportunity in that structured assessment phase to connect people with different supports, and we hope that leads to improved outcomes.

Certainly, one of the biggest changes was that modularity, that flexibility to recognize that we need to deliver it in a more flexible model, so we did focus on that change. As I mentioned, we are very willing to work with community partners. I think there has been some disappointment expressed that the department didn’t go to the coalition to discuss the changes. I think it has to be appreciated, at the balance, the need for and the potential benefit for further input, with the reality that we had a pretty clear understanding of what changes needed to be made.

Again, we are not saying this is the program that is going to fix everything. We do recognize that there are going to be continued conversations required, but we also had to balance the need to have a fair procurement process, as well. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for us to talk about things that would show up in an RFP, which is a select group of organizations recognizing that that might create some unfairness to other potential proponents who aren’t members of that organization.

I think it is also fair to note that not every member of the coalition supported that letter. Thank you, Mr. Chair.