No dramatic, breakthrough solution to youth violence was proposed in the report authorized by former chief justice of Ontario Roy McMurtry and former speaker of the Ontario legislature Alvin Curling. However, in their blueprint for action, McMurtry and Curling have produced a comprehensive plan to address youth violence.
McMurtry and Curling were asked to conduct this review in 2007 after the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordon Manners at a Toronto area high school.
Poverty, racism, community design, issues in education, family issues, health and mental health, alienation and joblessness all underlie the gangs, guns and drugs prevalent in some troubled neighbourhoods, especially among young men. These interconnected roots took years to grow. McMurtry and Curling indicate that immediate, quick fix solutions are not realistic.
In the final report, released on December 11, 2008, McMurtry and Curling offer 30 recommendations to serve as a foundation in building a better society. Among the recommendations put forward:
- broaden youth mental health services to identify and treat violent tendencies before they cause injury or death;
- increased steps to combat racism, including the collection of race-based data in policing and other areas;
- creation of new “community hubs” where youth would have a safe place to gather, especially in the evening hours after school;
- hire teachers and school administrators who better reflect the neighbourhoods they serve;
- more sports and arts programs; and
- more private sector involvement in providing jobs and mentors for at-risk youth.
To push this agenda forward, McMurtry and Curling suggest that Queen’s Park create a new cabinet committee on social inclusion and anti-racism, supported by a dedicated secretariat.
With respect to safe schools policies and practices, McMurtry and Curling found that many youth have been suspended or expelled without a full consideration of their circumstances and without proper educational or other support. In their view, the safe schools policies have had a disproportionate impact on racialized students, students with disabilities and youth whose parents are not adept at navigating school administration. While the recent amendments to the Education Act were applauded, the co-chairs of the report see them as only the first step in addressing what they have identified as “serious systemic issues” of students who run afoul of safe schools policies.
The report identifies the curriculum as another risk factor for youth violence. Members of the public who participated in the report’s consultation meetings told McMurtry and Curling that the current curriculum is not reflective of the cultural diversity of many students, particularly Black and Aboriginal students. The cochairs heard that the European focussed curriculum may be taken as a signal by some youth that their cultural background is not valued in Canadian society, and they may develop a sense of detachment at a time when young people develop their identities.
McMurtry and Curling also expressed concern that guidance counsellors, as well as teachers, lack training in the complexity of the lives of ethno-racial youth who seek their advice and instruction, and may have developed low expectations based on a student’s ethno-racial background. The cochairs heard students who participated in the public consultations say they wished there were more teachers and administrators from their own race and colour, which would provide positive role models and give schools the benefit of having staff who can relate to racialized youth.
In addition, McMurtry and Curling identified expulsions and suspensions as increasing the likelihood that student behaviour will be criminalized, just as zerotolerance policies have led schools to rely on police to resolve threatening situations rather than handling them in school.
The government has yet to comment on which of the report’s recommendations it plans to implement. As such, it is unclear what role school boards and educators will play in the creation of new policies and programs. If schools and school boards are expected to implement new programs to address the roots of youth violence, it is critically important that they be actively involved in program development.
What is envisioned is a careful, coordinated and comprehensive approach to youth violence, one that, if sustained and adequately funded, could make significant inroads in response to the serious issues of at-risk youth.