Str8 Up urges province to fund its provincial gang strategy

When Stan Tu’Inukuafe learned that the federal government was giving Saskatchewan $11.9 million to combat gangs, he was excited.

Tu’Inukuafe is the president and co-founder of Str8 Up, a Saskatoon organization that supports people who want to leave gangs and start new lives. It is largely run by volunteers and stays afloat through short-term grants and private donations.

Last year, Str8 Up secured a federal grant that allowed it to hire someone to create a framework for a provincial gang strategy. With that money, University of Calgary professor Robert Henry visited more than 60 communities across the province and heard from people who said they wanted the freedom to have their own community-specific anti-gang organizations, with Str8 Up being available as a source of information and support.

Tu’Inukuafe would like communities to be able to establish offices with paid staff who can work to prevent people from joining gangs and provide support to people who are trying to leave them. He wants Str8 Up to receive stable funding so it can support these communities.

He doesn’t know how much that would cost, but suspects it’s less than $11.9 million.

The federal government announced last month that it was giving $214 million to provinces and territories over the next five years to be put toward combatting gun and gang violence. Saskatchewan is receiving $11.9 million of that.

Tu’Inukuafe hoped the Saskatchewan government would use the money to implement the strategy Henry had worked on. But that hasn’t happened yet.

Not long after the federal funding was announced, the province invited community groups to apply for one-time grants of $20,000 to support action against gun and gang violence.

Tu’Inukuafe says that’s not enough and the province needs to be more strategic in how it spends the $11.9 million.

“$20,000 doesn’t do anything,” he said.

He said he’s worried the province will direct the money toward police and RCMP to support gang suppression instead of prevention and intervention. The communities Henry spoke with indicated they did not want law enforcement to lead anti-gang strategies.

Shane Partridge, a former gang member who was able to turn his life around with the help of Str8 Up, says it’s important to create a network of properly-funded community-based organizations across the province that can help people who want to leave gangs.

“If there was a strategy like this in place when I was first trying to get out of trouble, I would have reached help the first time around,” he told reporters at a Str8 Up press conference Tuesday, where the organization shared its provincial gang strategy.

“Not only would I have reached help and received help, I would have gotten direction, I wouldn’t have had to have spent the first couple of years struggling and trying to grasp at whatever programs I could find that were available for me. I would have had an opportunity at something that was really valuable for my recovery and for my rehabilitation in the community rather than just taking advantage of what’s there.”

Henry said Saskatchewan has an opportunity to be a leader in combatting gangs if it funds the implementation of his strategy.

“If the province wants to do this in a good way, they’ll be leading the country — if not the world — in actually doing this from the ground up,” he said.


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