OJEN’s March 27th meeting of Network partners brought together high-level decision makers from leading justice, education and community-building sectors. Presided over by the Chief Justices of the three Ontario courts, this annual meeting is a forum for sharing ideas and finding synergies that can advance OJEN’s justice education activities.
Each year, the Network meeting focuses on one aspect of OJEN’s operations. This year, the focus was on the Youth-Police Dialogues (YPD) program. This high-impact program, promotes positive youth-police interactions by fostering genuine, balanced dialogue between youth, adult allies, police and members of the justice system.
The Youth-Police Dialogues Program
The six to eight week YPD program brings young people and police officers together to learn from and about each other. Youth learn about police practices and perspectives while building effective communication skills. Police officers gain insight into the life experience of youth in their communities. Each YPD culminates with youth sharing their thoughts and ideas with police officers and other adult decision-makers in a facilitated exchange. Both youth and police report that the experience changes the way they view the other and helps them relate differently with one another.
Since the first YPD in 2009, interest in the program has grown steadily. It has received project funding from several sources, allowing OJEN to formalize and thoroughly pilot the program. It has now been adapted for a wide variety of vulnerable youth populations, including Indigenous youth, youth in closed custody, young mothers, Francophone newcomer youth and youth from high-risk communities.
In 2018, multi-year funding was secured through an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to deliver the program province-wide. OJEN will deliver 24 programs to communities experiencing conflict between youth and police over a three year period. With the first year of the grant coming to an end, OJEN looked to the Network for input about ongoing direction and sustainability of Youth-Police Dialogues.
OJEN’s Network partners were joined by senior officials from the Toronto Police Services, including Deputy Chief Peter Yuen. Police officers and lawyers who had volunteered with YPD and community partners who had hosted the program were also invited to attend. Roundtable discussions gave participants the opportunity to find out more about YPD from those directly involved and share ideas about what support they could offer going forward.
After a lively discussion, Chief Justice George R. Strathy asked each group to share the main points from their conversations. He closed the meeting with thanks to everyone for a meaningful and productive dialogue.