ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — British Columbia's Education Minister Rob Fleming says a new anti-gang strategy will help at-risk youth make the right decisions and not join criminal groups.
The ministry says in a statement the school-based strategy is part of an expansion of a program called Expect Respect and a Safe Education, or ERASE, and will be offered in 12 priority communities identified by police and safety experts.
The $1.12 million initiative will provide new training and "intensive supports" focused on gun and gang violence awareness and prevention and will also create new resources for classroom teachers.
Funding will go to the B.C. School Superintendents Association and support school districts to partner with the Boys Club Network, a non-profit organization that works to create safe spaces for boys ages 12 to 19.
Through the partnership, the ministry says after-school programs will be set up where they don't already exist and new local secondary school elective courses will be created that focus on connecting teen boys.
An organization called Safer Schools Together will provide students, parents, teachers and others with an overview of the current gang landscape in the province, gang recruitment strategies, warning signs and information on how to help someone who is being recruited or already involved with gangs.
It will also develop videos and a teacher guide to help students develop healthy relationships, avoid unsafe or exploitative situations and protect themselves from harm.
Localized monthly reports on public social media posts regarding gang activity will be provided to school districts, along with support as needed on how best to address any concerning online behaviour, it says.
"Ending the gun and gang violence that's taking young lives and threatening our communities will continue to require strong, strategic prevention and enforcement efforts," Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, says in a statement.
The B.C. government introduced the ERASE Bullying program in 2012. Throughout this school year, ERASE is being expanded to be a more comprehensive resource, and will also focus on gang prevention, mental health and wellness, substance use, social media and sexual orientation and gender identity.
Stan Petersen, chairman of the Abbotsford Board of Education, says in the statement that Abbotsford is facing ongoing challenges with gang conflicts that involve some Abbotsford students and he's pleased to see a portion of the funding coming directly to the community.
Glan Hansman, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, says members are supportive of any effort to make schools more safe and inclusive.
"The government's efforts with the ERASE strategy will help us combat bullying, violence and harassment through education," he says.
The Canadian Press