Below is a complete list of my responses to the ‘This is my Community’ forum questionnaire. These were submitted to the organizers a few weeks prior to the event taking place.
• In your opinion why is Brandon feeling the effects of a meth crisis?
I believe some underlying factors are contributing to the current meth crisis in the city. Socioeconomics and social pressures, ease of access, and the relatively low cost to purchase the drug being three of the most significant contributors. Methamphetamine is a drug that is not solely tied to any one of these factors alone though, and it not a drug that is easily defeated. I believe as a council our responsibility to continue to be innovative in working with law enforcement and health care officials to assist in the design of programming that helps work towards limiting the effect the drug has on our community. One example of such programming is the Community Mobilization Unit. The unit’s role is providing early intervention to people in crisis in our community. More innovative thinking like this will help stem the tide of a growing opioid crisis in our community.
• Describe services that you feel are required in our community to meet the needs of those struggling with a substance use disorder.
I believe having opportunities for early intervention is critical. Whether this comes in the form of treatment facilities, detoxification units, or safe injection sites where users can connect with the services needed to be healthy, all are contributing factors to finding our way clear of this in our community. The important point though is as a city council we cannot be in a position to play “food chain politics” on this. We need to actively guide the discussion and change in our community and provide leadership in advocating other levels of government to engage and support the healthcare and justice services required to put our community on the right path.
• What are your views on safe injection sites?
As was noted above, I would be supportive of such an endeavour provided adequate research and consultation was done. That consultation should include other levels of government, justice, education, healthcare officials and most importantly the community. Often we are too hasty to look for a quick answer based on how others have approached an issue. We need to be holistic in our approach to tackling the opioid crisis. As a council, we can show leadership by being the vehicle for such advocacy. We need to be on the forefront, engaging with members of the government that there needs to be action. If professionals deem that a safe injection site is the best avenue for combatting the opioid crisis, then I would be willing to seek movement on their recommendations. Throughout this, I would like to see council maintain good lines of communications with other levels of government, justice, education and health officials on this front and continue to seek their professional guidance in approaching opioid issues in our community.
• Explain how bigotry could be something that a citizen may experience in Brandon.
We have seen that bigotry and oppression of others exist in our community and it is regrettable that this is the case. I think we can continue to move to a more inclusive community through engagement and education. I would like to see continued efforts to educate others on different cultures, belief systems, orientations and thought processes. I would like the community to continue to seek their guidance in making Brandon a more inclusive and diverse community. A city built on the ideals of open thought, inclusion, and the shared values of building for a future that is both positive and interconnected.
• What are the effects that unchecked bigotry can have on a community?
Unchecked bigotry can be very detrimental to our community. The effects on residents could include social disconnect, substance abuse, feelings of depression and anxiety and potentially suicide. Unchecked bigotry could also lead to creating a culture that is not inclusive of others and a community that has no social interconnectivity. That lack of interconnectivity leads to a silo effect where people are unwilling to look outside their own social or economic circle to create a better community.
• What do you feel our community could do better to combat bigotry in our city?
Our community is doing some wonderful things on this front. Whether it be celebrations like the Winter Festival or events like the Brandon Pride parade, we have come a long way as a community. This by no means creates a climate where we can brand ourselves and entirely inclusive, but it does move the barometer in the right direction. Continuing to recognize the diversity of our residents will provide for more opportunities to create the inclusive community we seek.
• In your opinion what is contributing to recent spikes in crime in Brandon?
In my opinion, the leading cause of an increase in crime is the ripple effect of the drug trade. I would be hesitant to call it a spike as year-over-year it has fluctuated. In 2017, over 51% of the crime in the City of Brandon was reported as crimes against property, most often categorized as theft under $5,000. These crimes usually have a direct tie to the drug use and the drug trade. Small thefts provide an opportunity to turn a quick profit, which again cycles back into substance abuse. The Brandon Police Service report from 2017, notes that officers responded to over 39,000 calls for service with the leading driver being thefts under $5,000.
Our community can help combat this, first and foremost by using an out-of-site-out-of-mind approach. Locking valuables and always being aware of the potential pitfalls of unattended items such as bikes, garages etc. As well, working with youth to continue to provide opportunities to connect in our community. Whether this comes from involvement in sports, clubs, social groups or school extracurricular activities, they all give rise to opportunity, which can often be the difference for youth. I witnessed this firsthand as a coach and mentor. I feel that preventative measures can often lead to possible solutions, youth engagement is one of those preventative measures. As a council, we can be leaders in ensuring recreational opportunities that benefit our youth are at the forefront of civic planning.
• What do you recommend the citizens of Brandon, and Brandon Police Services, do to protect themselves and their community from crime?
One of the best things residents of the City of Brandon can do to prevent crime is removing the opportunity. So often crime is instigated by perpetrators who were presented with an opportunity to offend. Locking up property goes a long way in preventing crimes of opportunity. It is by no means the only answer, but it does help in stemming some of the primary crime issues we face.
I continue to be an ardent supporter of the work of the Brandon Police Service. I feel as a council we must remain supportive of the preventative work members of the police force continue to undertake in the execution of their duties.
• Share your knowledge about the sexual exploitation that is becoming more prevalent in our community.
Sexual exploitation, particularly of young women in our community is generally regarded as a harmful byproduct of the drug trade. It is shocking that individuals continue to exploit others in such a way. As a father of two young daughters, it is frightening that they may be subjected to situations that could place them in a vulnerable position, and like many other parents, we will go to the ends of the earth to protect them from such a fate. As a resident of Brandon, we must continue to advocate for, and ensure supports are in place to assist those who are vulnerable in our community.
• What is your understanding of the impacts that mental health can have on a community?
Statistics show that 1 in 5 people have struggled with a mental health need throughout their lifetime. It is not a challenge faced solely by a particular segment of the population, or those who are disenfranchised. Mental health supports are needed in our community as poor mental health can often lead to a myriad of social, economic, family, addiction and physical health concerns. As a community, we need to continue to advocate for health, protective services, and social supports to be in place to assist those in our community who have experienced episodes of poor health as a result of mental wellbeing.
Challenges with mental health in our community can often include increased access to health care, increased hospital visits, negative interactions with members of the justice field, use of prohibited substances and substance abuse. As well, mental health concerns can lead to the breakdown of family life, loss of employment, and ultimately in some cases creating thoughts of self-harm.
• Share your understanding of what the impact of mental health issues has on our health care system?
Challenges with mental health can have a negative impact on our health care system in the province. As mentioned above increased wait times for care, challenges with adequate staffing levels in the justice field, substance abuse concerns and breakdown of the family unit are among some of the biggest challenges facing care in our province as a result of poor mental health. As a council remaining vigilant and in contact with our provincial counterparts to find solutions and avenues of care. Initiatives that are supportive of positive mental health are imperative to us being able to assist those in our community who are facing challenges.
• In your opinion should mental health and addictions be categorized together? Why?
I do not believe they should be categorized together, but often they find themselves as byproducts of each other. Problems with addictions can sometimes lead to poor mental health, while concerns with mental health can often lead to addictions. It is essential we do not categorize both as tied to one another, but always recognize that one can often lead to the other.
• In your opinion what is the cause of poverty that is facing citizens of Brandon?
Poverty is a challenge faced by many Canadians on a daily basis. Poor access to care, unemployment or chronic underemployment, mental health concerns, cost of living challenges, food security issues and chronic lack of affordable housing opportunities all are factors leading to poverty in our community. As a council, we must continue to provide opportunities for people to find their way out of poverty. By continuing to attract industry to the city that will provide employment, working with our counterparts in government and private sector to make commitments towards the construction of affordable housing units, and continuing to support the work of local food banks to create access to fresh foods all are excellent opportunities to tackle poverty and homelessness. Most importantly everyone in our community could do their part in acting as advocates for those who face the challenges of poverty on a daily basis.
• What are the impacts on a community to have citizens that are struggling with poverty?
There are various impacts on a city when residents deal with poverty. Increased visits to hospitals, shelters, food banks and in some cases poor interactions with members of the justice field can all be byproducts of facing poverty challenges in the community. Poverty is a non-partisan issue and should be dealt with as such. Members of all levels of government, as well as the private sector, have a social responsibility to assist whenever possible and to find ways for our community to help in breaking down the barriers that cause poverty.
• Can you share examples of how you feel poverty is tolerated in our community?
In some instances, poverty is viewed as a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue. Unless we are confronted with it daily or know people who struggle with chronic poverty, as a community we can often turn a blind eye to it. We must remain aware that we should do everything we can to assist others to find a way ahead, and where possible volunteer our time or resources to make sure that those facing challenges with poverty or food security in our community can find their way as well.