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The beat cop who lends an ear to criminals

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Teresa Strong remembers sitting in her jail cell in the middle of a five-year sentence for robbery when, on a whim, she asked to make a call—to a police officer. Thirteen years earlier, when Strong was on the streets and tied up in gangs and the sex trade, an officer named Dan Jones had stopped to hear her story.

“Dan told me that if I wanted to change to give him a call,” says Strong. “All those years later, his voice came into my head and he has literally been in my life since. I’ve been clean for 14 years. It’s had a huge impact having him there for me.”

A 21-year veteran of the Edmonton Police Service, Insp. Dan Jones is an anomaly. He’s not just a cop; he’s an anthropologist trying to debunk the idea that bad guys are always bad. Canadian prisons are closed to most outsiders, but Jones is part of an academic research team conducting the largest ever qualitative study within provincial prisons.

On any given day, 118,000 adults are caught in the Canadian correctional system. That’s about the population of Peterborough, Ont., or Lethbridge, Alta. As part of a larger set of 800 interviews, Jones has analyzed the experiences of 111 male offenders. He’s found that the vast majority—88 per cent—were victims of violent, property or sexual offences before their first arrest. That means most offenders are also victims. Knowing this, Jones says, could help the justice system prioritize healing and rehabilitation.

Sandra Bucerius, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, co-leads the larger study within which Jones’s research sits. She underscores how groundbreaking his findings are, not only in Canada but also internationally. “There is almost no research on the victim-offender overlap in a prison context,” Bucerius says. “And in Canada, there is none. Nothing. That is simply an access issue because most researchers haven’t had access to prisons.”

Jones came to his research after two decades working the street as a beat cop. One case reshaped his approach. A youth worker was charged with sexual assault, and when the victims were tracked down, five of the 13 were awaiting trial in the remand centre.

“I felt something was wrong,” Jones says. “Victimization is a predictor of crime. As police, we are not dealing with good or bad people. We’re just dealing with people, many in a bad situation, with horrendous circumstances in their life. If we had the same experiences, we might be in the same position, or worse.”

Jones is the only one of Edmonton’s 1,800 police officers pursuing a Ph.D. in criminology. It’s all the more unusual given that Jones came to policing without an undergraduate degree. He skipped straight to a master’s degree, winning a place at Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology in 2016 based on the depth of his real-world experience. (Bucerius wrote Jones’s recommendation letter.)

Jones’s use of stories and not just numbers as data runs against the research grain. Modern policing uses a system called CompStat, featured in TV shows such as The Wire, which relies on quantitative data, not on qualitative data drawn from interviews and observations in the places where people and police interact. Jones’s kind of research is called ethnography.

“He is one of the only people interested in ethnographic research, and who even knows what ethnographic means?” says Celene Lemire, who is in charge of stakeholder relations for Edmonton Police. “If you spend a lot of time dealing with the same people over and over, like many police do, it can be frustrating. Of course, no one wakes up in the morning and chooses to live as an addict. There is motivation behind their behaviour, and Dan is often helping us recognize this perspective.”

The researchers found that within the first two minutes of sitting down with an offender, many would openly share stories about being raped, beaten up or left for child welfare. The team recorded 10,281 instances of victimization (from the group of 111 men), less than one per cent of which had been reported to police.

Strong, who now counsels people in jail, remembers how tough it was to build a trusting enough relationship with police to ask for and accept help. “People do things based on what they know, and it’s this cycle. It’s rare to have cops who know that and are non-judgmental.”

With both the stories and numbers in hand, Jones pushed for victim services to operate inside Edmonton’s remand centre. Now people waiting for their day in court can be connected to practical and therapeutic supports. Although the experiment is in its infancy, Darlene Adams, who heads Victim Services for Edmonton Police, sees benefits. “We’ve been in the remand centre for two months, assisting the most vulnerable victims,” Adams says. “We’re listening and we’re staying with people as they get closer to court, working with outside agencies to make sure they get the counselling and housing they need.” Not all Victim Services staff members and volunteers, however, are “comfortable with the changes we’re making,” Adams says.

Jones summarizes the discontent this way: “Some people get mad and say they don’t believe the research. Others say it’s so sad. They can’t believe they haven’t seen it before and feel terrible they hadn’t opened their eyes to it.”

“We are part of the system that gives people a bad label,” Jones says. “And until someone tells them that they are better than the label, they continue living up to that.”

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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