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BY Djamila Amellal, Ph.D, Communications Officer, Communications and Citizen Engagement Sector
Photos: Bill Rankin and Courtesy of Peter Daniels
Today, more than ever, the safe transition and reintegration of offenders into the community requires not only preparing offenders for parole from the beginning of their sentences, but also creating partnerships within the community that will receive the offenders. It is this ultimate objective that CSC is pursuing, day after day, by building bridges with various groups in the community.
The manager of National Ethnocultural Programs, Marcel Kabundi, talks to us about the issue and about current and future achievements related to ethnocultural offenders.
“Building bridges and establishing partnerships with the community and with business people, in particular, is at the heart of CSC’s Mission,” said Kabundi. “That is why, in 2005, thanks to the financial aid provided by Canadian Heritage, we organized a conference in Toronto entitled Building Bridges with Ethnocultural Communities. It was a resounding success. It allowed the business community to gain awareness of the reality that offenders face when they are released from institutions —the stigma of a criminal record, their cultural affiliation and their training acquired during their incarceration. There have been numerous positive spin-offs from the conference, including a very useful guide that provides a list of companies that will support parolees seeking employment.”
The Toronto conference has achieved its objective, and has not only built awareness around the potential of this new labour force, but has also paved the way for several partnerships with a variety of business people. A good example is the partnership between CSC and Full Circle Bicycles.
Full Circle Bicycles is a Mississauga-based company owned by Peter Daniels, who originally comes from Trinidad. Daniels signed an agreement with CSC to offer professional training and technical advice on vehicle maintenance to women offenders from Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener. This training in a non-traditional field has been specifically requested by offenders.
“I am very happy to be part of this innovative project and to make a contribution to public safety,” commented Daniels. “When offenders acquire sought-after skills, this gives them a better chance to find a job quickly.
“This project is important for me. For practical reasons, we have decided that the company representatives will go to the institution to provide the offenders with theoretical and practical training at various levels and in various subject components. This training will last three to six months, depending on the candidate’s level. Offenders will be awarded a certificate on completion of the training.
“Full Circle always recruits trained employees,” Daniels notes. “These offenders can apply for jobs within this company or other companies when out on conditional release. It is hoped that the job will motivate them and ease their gradual and safe return into the community, will ensure financial independence, and promote a feeling of pride and accomplishment.”
As outlined in the action plan from the first conference, Kabundi, a man of vision, set down to the hard work of finding the necessary funding to carry out a multitude of projects similar to the Full Circle Bicycles project. His determination has paid off. Under the program Enhancing the Cultural Competency of CSC in Dealing With Ethnocultural Communities and Offenders from Diverse Cultural Backgrounds, CSC has been granted $400,000 over three years by Heritage Canada. The memorandum of understanding has just been signed and the funding is already beginning to generate noteworthy initiatives related to the reintegration of ethnocultural offenders. One such initiative is the KARIBU program (a Swahili term meaning welcome).
The funding from Heritage Canada has enabled the development of a second conference, which will take place later this year, to build on the momentum of Building Bridges. The KARIBU program, a long-term effort based on research in criminology and data collected by ethno-cultural advisory committees across Canada, will be unveiled at that conference.
KARIBU is the result of a collaborative effort between Kabundi and internationally known psychologist Professor Emerson Douyon, the Chairman of the National Ethnocultural Advisory Committee.
“Professor Douyon and I are working to develop the KARIBU program, which is specifically geared to ethnocultural offenders,” said. Kabundi. “This program takes into consideration many of the details contained in Commissioner’s Directive 767 in order to effectively address the needs of offenders. KARIBU is a comprehensive program that also includes a chapter on offenders who will be deported at some point in time during their sentence because they are not Canadian citizens.”
In addition to this eagerly awaited program, the upcoming conference will include the presentation of other extremely useful tools, including a list of CSC employees who speak many languages and can assist as cultural mediators in various ways behind the walls, such as at the initial admission assessment or in conflict situations. They also hope to establish a list of business champions who will hire parolees from ethnocultural communities.
“These champions will reinforce our objectives by making official commitments to give these offenders a second chance – despite their criminal records and the differences in their appearance from the rest of society,” explains Kabundi.
Many community partners, professionals, and role models from Canadian ethno-cultural communities have been invited to the conference, which will also help raise awareness of CSC’s mission. It’s a way to express to members of the community how much CSC values their contribution, their role in working with parolees, and their contribution to public safety.
Kabundi, who brings to this task 20 years’ experience at CSC and his experience as a magistrate in his native Congo, says alternative routes have been needed to overcome challenges. He has personally solicited the support of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) for ethno-cultural offenders on parole, and now educates the executives about the discrimination offenders face in the community and their difficulties in finding employment.
“Integration only occurs through employment,” he says, “so the only solution is to inform and educate people in the business community who can help out. These education efforts are in the interest of offenders, CSC and the safety of the entire community.”
While work continues on other projects that will be unveiled at the conference, Kabundi says that support for the conference continues to pour in. For instance, CCCE Executive Vice-President David Stewart-Patterson has confirmed participation in the conference.
Proud of his intuition about the future, Kabundi adds: “We are on the right track. Little by little, we are getting closer to our objectives and I am very optimistic. We must strengthen existing partnerships and establish new ones. We must raise awareness and educate people because they need to understand that it is our duty to contribute and that we all have a role to play. Each of us must bring a piece to rebuild the broken walls and create a harmonious living environment characterized by respect for our diversity. We must not hesitate to reach out to others. We have a moral obligation to help each other and give a second chance to those who deserve it. Isn’t this what the sense of collective responsibility and social solidarity are all about?” ♦