As the contract for the A New Day men’s healing program in Yellowknife nears its end, the NWT’s justice minister says it won’t be renewed. Instead, the funding will be opened up for new applications.
Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland on Friday asked the territory for an update on the program’s status. The John Howard Society’s four-year contract to run the program, for men who use violence in their intimate relationships, concludes at the end of March.
“I am concerned about the future of this program,” Cleveland told the legislature earlier this month, highlighting high rates of family violence in the NWT.
“Family violence is not isolated in Yellowknife. It is found in every community, in every income bracket, and sometimes behind curtains you least expect.”
Minister RJ Simpson said the contract is not being renewed as the government plans to “transform the program into more of a community-driven model” to “empower local communities to come up with some local solutions.”
Simpson said that means opening the same funding to applications, which will be reviewed by a men’s healing fund committee.
“I think we can see that there have been some issues with the program over the past few years,” Simpson said of A New Day. “We have seen the length of it is a problem. It’s probably not the best program to be run in the North. We will try to avoid those pitfalls.”
A New Day is a voluntary program for men aged 18 and older who have been violent toward their partner.
The program is designed to teach men ways to improve their relationships in 20 weekly two-hour sessions comprising groups of six to 10. Cleveland called it the “government’s flagship support for men.”
A New Day, run by various organizations in Yellowknife since 2013, has faced criticism.
An external evaluation of the program in November 2016 found problems created by gaps in agency support and changes in staff. The report highlighted low completion rates and conflicting understandings between staff and the territorial government about the program’s mandate and operations.
That evaluation recommended pursuing a more flexible programming format in future.
Evaluators did note that the data showed a noticeable difference in levels of reoffending after two years for clients who completed more than 10 sessions.
In 2017, after the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre’s contract to run the program came to an end, there were initially no bids to take it over. Then-justice minister Louis Sebert faced criticism that the territorial government had been too heavy-handed in making changes to the program, leading to nobody expressing an interest in running it. The John Howard Society eventually took on responsibility.
‘It doesn’t cut the mustard’
Arlene Hache helped to develop initial plans for the A New Day program. She said while it was envisioned as a “cutting edge” and trauma-informed program that was well-structured and intensive, those plans were dashed on implementation.
“The GNWT totally deserted the work that had gone into the New Day program and shaved it back to something that was unrecognizable and a joke,” she said.
“When you go from a very in-depth, evidence-based process that addresses intergenerational violence to a six week, hour-here hour-there kind of group discussion, it doesn’t cut the mustard when you’re dealing with epidemic rates of violence.”
She believes if the territorial government invested in the originally intended solution, there would be a decrease in rates of violence.
Earlier this month, Cleveland queried the drop in A New Day’s participant numbers and called for more supports outside Yellowknife.
According to the Department of Justice, 75 men started the program between 2015 and 2020. Of those, 31 completed it. The department told Cabin Radio participant numbers in the program had always been low as men often registered but decided they were not ready to complete six months of group sessions.
The department told Cabin Radio the last group to finish A New Day did so in February 2020. A new group was scheduled to begin at the North Slave Correctional Complex in May 2020, but that was postponed due to the pandemic.
The department said in October that the John Howard Society was gathering interest for a new session at the jail, and one in the community, before the end of March.
When asked about other supports for men who use violence in relationships, the justice department pointed to the domestic violence treatment options court. Through that alternative court process, people who have used violence against a partner can plead guilty and receive support and counselling. That includes a program with eight modules designed to address the emotional and psychological causes of domestic violence.
The department said there have been a total of 629 referrals to that court since its inception in Yellowknife in 2011 and Hay River in 2015. A total of 173 people have successfully graduated from the program.
For those affected by violence, the department highlighted the victim services program, which is delivered by community organizations rather than government staff. According to the territorial government, those programs have recently undergone a “thorough and carefully considered” evaluation and recommendations are being reviewed.
Citizens respond to call for action
In response to calls from a group of women in Yellowknife for men to address the root causes of violence, a number of men’s groups have recently been created in the NWT, including in Yellowknife and Hay River.
A territorial government spokesperson said the GNWT was open to working with new partners.
“The GNWT is very encouraged that residents are taking an active role in addressing gender-based violence,” the spokesperson wrote. “Addressing gender-based violence requires effort and collaboration from all residents, businesses, associations, communities, and governments.”
Hache said she was encouraged by the groups, adding that she felt a deeper understanding of the issues involved was lacking in the territory, even among front-line service providers.
“It’s refreshing and great to see that men recognize that they have a role in making their peers accountable and addressing gendered violence,” she said.