The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) announced last week that the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) has been approved for funding to expand our successful Youth-Police Dialogue program across the province. The $389,800 OTF grant will permit the program to be replicated in 10 Ontario communities within the next three years. Over 400 youth will have the opportunity to engage with local police officers to identify solutions to youth-police tensions in their communities.
OJEN’s Youth-Police Dialogue (YPD) program was first piloted three years ago in Toronto to improve relationships between police and youth in neighbourhoods that were experiencing high levels of tension. Last year, with funding from the City of Ottawa and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, we piloted the program with four Ottawa communities, and with First Nations youth in Sudbury and Thunder Bay.
The YPD program is a youth-led initiative that provides them a forum to share their perspectives on issues that cause conflict with the police. The program is comprised of a series of sessions in which youth develop communication, advocacy and leadership skills. They learn about police practices and youth rights and responsibilities. Youth, lawyers and police officers, participate in shared learning activities and work together to identify strategies to improve the relationships between police and their communities.
The program has been adapted for a various unique youth audiences. In Toronto and Ottawa the focus was on urban youth from racialized and newcomer communities, connecting them with local police officers. The Sudbury and Thunder Bay programs was aimed at high-risk Indigenous youth, and municipal, provincial and tribal police services operating in their regions. Participating in scenario based role play activities together and sharing their perspectives in a safe, informal environment, encourages respectful exchanges. Youth leave with greater confidence about their rights and responsibilities with police and a sense that their voices have been heard. Police officers gain insight into the needs of youth in the communities they serve. Many officers indicate they would like the program to be repeated yearly so new officers have the opportunity to meet with youth and that more youth could be reached.
Developing relationships of trust between legal professionals and communities with historically challenging relationships with the justice system takes time, patience and a commitment to sustained programming. OTF funding will allow us to offer the YPD program in a greater number of communities experiencing youth-police tensions and develop the necessary infrastructure so they can continue on an ongoing basis.
Youth Police Dialogues reflect OJEN’s commitment to give youth voices an opportunity to be heard by the justice sector.
To read more about Youth-Police Dialogues, public legal education, and social change, visit – http://ojen.ca/en/youth-police-dialogues-public-legal-education-social-change-interview-mara-clarke-jessica-reekie
For more information about OJEN’s Youth Police Dialogue Program visit – http://ojen.ca/en/program/youth-police-dialogues