October 24th, 2020

Fund social programs, not The Watch


By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on June 11, 2020.

Jaisie Walker

and Rebecca Runions

The Watch was established in Lethbridge in 2019 in order to “increase the perception of public safety” (Lethbridge Police Service’s 2018 Annual report.) The volunteer-run program received $1.2 million of taxpayers’ money over its first two years. However, there are growing concerns amongst community members who are questioning the efficacy of this program, and proposing Watch funding be re-allocated to support harm reduction and re-housing initiatives.

We spoke to former Watch volunteers, academics, social workers and harm-reduction specialists on the frontline of homelessness, policing, and outreach initiatives, as well as everyday citizens concerned about the frequency of violence and racial profiling enacted by Watch volunteers against the unhoused population in Lethbridge’s downtown core.

One community member spoke to The Watch’s “colonial legacy of the militia-based policing of marginalized bodies and lives in North America” stating: “Rather than providing meaningful and actionable care and resources, The Watch roams the downtown area, intimidating and abusing marginalized people while being celebrated by white settlers. Nothing proved that more clearly to me than when I saw four separate Watch members, on two different occasions, approach an Indigenous person who appeared to be experiencing an overdose and choose to kick that person to see if they were alive, rather than speaking to them” (Jamie Lewis, recent graduate).

A Community Support Worker says The Watch have “repeatedly approached clients [they] have worked with in aggressive ways that scare and startle individuals” and “[do] not understand individual’s state or mental health and that many of those they approach live with invisible disabilities such as FASD, [and] ASD.”

One previous Watch member even spoke to the “inherent prejudice” of the program, describing how they wear “a uniform white people can run to.” These community concerns are supported by feminist legal scholar Dr. Caroline Hodes, who commented: “a group like ‘The Watch’ follows an outdated and inappropriate crime control model that has no place in LethbridgeÉ ‘The Watch’ have developed a reputation for putting people’s personal security at greater risk and for discrimination, harassment, and violence.”

Community members have various ideas as to how the money could be reallocated, with the intention of helping the most vulnerable populations in Lethbridge. These include a new treatment centre, a drop-in center, and housing initiatives; as the budget for The Watch was originally cut from the Housing First program. A former member of The Watch stated that “[a]t best it is a referral program, and is simply a Band Aid effort to improve the lives of the homeless population and increase public *perception* of safety. Funds are much better spent on housing, support and harm-reduction strategies than on a group of people with radios and no real authority.”

Unhoused communities in Lethbridge deserve programs that are informed by best practices for support, and we call on city council to hear the thousands of people who have signed our petition and mobilized their voices for this cause. In fact, our proposal supports the key strategies of the City of Lethbridge’s Reconciliation Implementation Plan (2017-2027), where the City expresses its commitment to “[s]upport alternative forms of community justice initiatives to divert individuals from criminal justice processes for minor offences to more culturally relevant restorative justice processes framed around healing and rehabilitation.”

As Dr. Hodes suggests, “given the recent and overwhelming support for the BLM movement and the transnational public outcry against police violence, you need to find more productive, community enhancing ways to spend this money.” Ultimately, in the words of one community member, “When Black/Indigenous/people of colour say The Watch has not done much for them, you should listen” (Poahksikakii B. Child).

Jaisie Walker (they/them) is a graduate student at the University of Lethbridge whose anti-violence research with rural LGBTQ2S+ non/monogamous communities has received international recognition for research excellence, public policy and social change. They have over seven years of experience in non-profit governance, community education, and crisis intervention through positions in women’s shelters, harm reduction programs, and resource centres across Lethbridge and area.

Rebecca Runions (she/her) is a third-year Biology student at the University of Lethbridge who has experience volunteering in the downtown area. She has a passion for cultivating safe communities and hopes to work towards the implementation of necessary programs that assist Lethbridge’s most targeted and under-resourced populations.

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Kim Siever

Thank you for your research and leadership in this important initiative, Jaisie and Rebecca.

chinook

The loudest voices on this front seem to be a minority who have good intentions but ignore the fact that we have a massive problem here in Lethbridge most of which originates from the Blood Reserve. Population there is around 10,000; yet they generate 95% of Lethbridge problems primarily due to bad parenting. These women should be advocating for social programs for the reserve starting with parenting skills. Rather they focus on bashing white society calling us racist, colonials etc. Fact is white society has been very generous and now we are paying a heavy price seeing our city degraded before our eyes: gangs of losers drugging and drinking in public, trolling our alleys looking for things to steal to get their next fix; laying around in our parks drugging, drinking and fornicating in the open (I’ve got pictures); helping themselves to new new clothes and needles paid for by us tax payers. This sector has no pride of getting by on their own steam; rather they play victim believing white society ‘owes them’. After World War 2 hundreds of shell shocked veterans burdened with PTSD settled here and in spite of years of horror they went on to work and make this city great; they didn’t get hand outs; didn’t spend their lives crying and playing victim, they worked in spite of their psychological traumas. Back then natives weren’t even allowed in Lethbridge. A few decades later, here they are with them we have problems and more problems. Yes there are natives that positively add to our city but what we see too much of on the streets, filling our courts, hospitals etc are losers who are every bit racist as they call us. The Watch needs far more power and more funding as do the police. They are the only buffer we have between the law abiding taxpayer and the parasites that have infested our city. De-funding The Watch program or the police is a pie in the sky dream concocted by a naive minority.

biff

thanks for the thoughtful letter, and for the add on, c.h
as an aside of the topic, i cannot agree with a perspective by c.h: “The trend at the Supreme Court of Canada increasingly circumscribes police powers and safeguard the protection of people’s rights.” while this might be correct in the de jure sense, the de facto is another reality. please consider increased surveillance via cameras – public and privately placed ones -, check stops (i cannot imagine these being ok’d in the 1970s, for example), and now, breathalyzers any time police wish, convictions based on police “experts” (aren’t they all, now) who have developed the great and heightened gift of determining who is under the influence based on subjective interpretations, monitoring of personal and private data of citizens’ phones, internet, and of course, police spying directly upon individuals and organisations that have not been charged with any illegal act, and the use of police out of uniform and wearing face coverings to create chaos at legal and otherwise peaceful demonstrations.
c.h., if you or someone else knowledgeable could help, i and i think others, would appreciate clarification of, “All settlers in Lethbridge are living and working in the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy.” can you help us understand what this means to the city of lethbridge (do blackfoot own lethbridge, and/or can the blackfoot take back their “ownership” of the city whenever they might choose?); what does this mean for owners of homes/land in lethbridge (do they own the land, or do the blackfoot)? thank you.

Dennis Bremner

This says it all ” The Watch roams the downtown area, intimidating and abusing marginalized people while being celebrated by white settlers.”

No reason to address the rest of the comments, its a pair of racist authors who think racism only goes one way! Killing Lethbridge is the prime directive , and of course to punch a ticket for the pearly gates!

Just spent an hour with a fellow from Medicine Hat, he says all the Drug Addicts are literally GONE, gee I wonder where they went Mr Mayor and Council? Perhaps a question to Bourgue and Manning may help you?

As for the Watch, it was always nothing more than a diversionary tactic to pretend that Lethbridge would be safe under Spearman and Council’s misguided and delusional understanding of addicts. The proclamation by Spearman of “Southern Alberta Rehab facility” did exactly what I said it would( my experience with Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Antwerp, London, Edinburgh, Southern US, South America etc) which was, clear out every addict for 100 miles in all directions to Spearman/Phillips/Fitzpatrick, Bourgue and Mannings master plan of killing Lethbridge and creating Methbridge!

Now that all the addicts are here, you will find that as the do gooders continue to impinge on your rights, the only people who have them are the addicts, because they are not held responsible, are sick, need help to consume, need a source of income (your property) They need Drug houses in your neighborhood ( Lethbridge has 100 of them) so they can ruin your life, because “they are sick and need all our resources and your money”. So now the SCS roll in this is relegated to “Provider of Needles and Pipes” only. Dare you say the word “rehab”…well “the addict has rights” so can refuse for as long as he/she wishes too, and you? Well you have the obligation as a “white settler or non consuming Indigenous” (note from above) to support these addicts for the rest of their natural lives, and smile while they rob you blind, and ruin your community and business!

I love this part:
Jaisie Walker (they/them) is a graduate student at the University of Lethbridge whose anti-violence research with rural LGBTQ2S non/monogamous communities has received international recognition for research excellence, public policy and social change. They have over seven years of experience in non-profit governance, community education, and crisis intervention through positions in women’s shelters, harm reduction programs, and resource centres across Lethbridge and area.
Rebecca Runions (she/her) is a third-year Biology student at the University of Lethbridge who has experience volunteering in the downtown area. She has a passion for cultivating safe communities and hopes to work towards the implementation of necessary programs that assist Lethbridge’s most targeted and under-resourced populations. enquote

What “safe community are you referring too”? , The one you are ruining with your pandering of people who have no or little intention to EVER rehab! You do realize that less than 30 out of 1000 addicts remain sober after 2 years, right? And you do realize that Methbridge is attracting about 15 methheads per month (Bourque’s number not mine ) and we are now approaching Organized Crime/Hells Angel attention level because of clueless politicians and clueless do-gooders who assume they should attract and help everyone right? You do realize that without COVID we would be seeing deaths from gang related activities at 6 this year, right? I don’t see either of you as being expert in orqualified in organized crime, or drive by shootings? You have no experience in the criminal underworld, that this creates, none!

I have warned repeatedly exactly what would happen to this city…. no one is listening,……I am surrounded by uninformed NUTBARS!

Steve Bottrell

First off, 1.2 million? I’d like to see the where that money went. Anyway, it was never going to work. And giving the money to social workers isn’t going to work either. Because neither solution is about addressing the root of the problem. This isn’t a new approach, either way. And both have failed many times. It’s most likely just about the money, as usual.