Episode 26: Incarcerating Trauma

In this episode of Let’s Talk Poverty, Jaclyn Silbernagel connects with Dan Jones, a police-officer turned academic to discuss human-centered and trauma-informed practices in the criminal Justice system, the victim-offender overlap, and how evidence-based practice can reduce crime. 

Updated 15 May 2024

 In this episode of Let’s Talk Poverty, Jaclyn Silbernagel connects with Dan Jones, a police-officer turned academic to discuss human-centered and trauma-informed practices in the criminal Justice system, the victim-offender overlap, and how evidence-based practice can reduce crime. 

In this episode 

  • Canada’s approach to justice often doesn’t take into account previous trauma and what leads people to commit crimes. 
  • How the housing crisis is impacting crime

Three key takeaways 

  • The most expensive part of the justice system is incarceration. If the money that goes towards penitentiaries was split between reintegration and restorative justice, we would see a reduction in crime. 
  • The justice system isn’t broken, it works exactly how it was designed to. To shift the system, we need to have trauma-informed policing that focuses on restorative justice over a system of punishment.  
  • Police training centers around seeing everything as a threat – to shift how we police we need to foster proximity because it breeds care, where distance breeds fear. 

About Dan Jones 

Dan Jones retired from the Edmonton Police Service after 25 years of service. He worked in General Patrol, Foot Patrol, Undercover Operations and Gang Unit as a Constable, Professional Standards Branch, and Homicide Section as a Detective, General Patrol as a Staff Sergeant, as well as Investigative Support Branch Downtown Division Patrol and Research as an Inspector. He earned a Master’s Degree in Applied Criminology from the University of Cambridge where his research focused on the victim/offender overlap and the impact that trauma has on the justice client. He is currently the Chair of Justice Studies at NorQuest College.  

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Welcome to Let's Talk Poverty, the podcast that helps you understand poverty in Calgary through the lens of Enough for All. It tackles the stigma surrounding poverty, challenging biases and assumptions. From the voices of lived experience to community members, to highlighting raw data. We speak with subject matter and policy experts, community leaders and you to explore the root causes of poverty in our city and how we can come together to make changes that matter.  

Let's Talk Poverty is recorded in Treaty Seven, the lands of the Blackfoot nations, the Siksika, the Piikani and the Kainai. We also acknowledge the Tsuut’ina and Stony Nakoda First Nations and the Metis Nation of Alberta, Districts 5 and 6.   


Welcome to Let's Talk Poverty. I'm Jaclyn Silbernagel and today I'm joined by Dan Jones. Dan has worked in the Justice System for more than 27 years. He's the chair of Justice Studies at NorQuest College and is a PhD candidate. His focus of study is the victim offender overlap and looking at how research and evidence based practice can create positive systems change. Dan, welcome to Let's Talk Poverty. 


Thanks for having me. 


So good to have you today. We're really excited to jump into the conversation. Um, I do want to start off just by with a little bit of a warning for our listeners that some of the things today that we're going to talk about may feel heavy, they may be a bit hard to hear. 

Um, but they are reflective of interactions that people have had with the justice system and include stories of people that have experienced trauma. So just want to let folks know that before they jump into the podcast today. Dan, I know a lot of your research is so relevant to poverty and the systems that keep poverty in place, and you have a lot of insight, both from your research, but also from the front lines as a police and correctional officer. Um, but can you tell our listeners just a bit more about yourself to get us started? 


Yeah, no, I've been really fortunate. I grew up in Edmonton, um, and one of the things I often talk about is my childhood. All of my friends, uh, save one or two, went to jail, and I was hanging out with some people that they were really good people making really bad decisions. Oftentimes I say teenage pregnancy saved my life, which is probably a weird thing to say, but my wife and I had our first daughter when I was 18 and she was 17, and it pulled me out of the dark place that I was going down with the people that I was hanging out with. 

 And like I said, they were good people, but they were making bad decisions and that kind of gave me a whole different view of the system as I went through it. When I started in corrections, I started at the young offender center. Then I moved to the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional center. Friends of mine were incarcerated in the jail when I was there, which was very interesting and humbling and taught, uh, me a lot of lessons. And then I moved to the Edmonton Max and friends of mine were incarcerated there. Um, and then I became a police officer and, uh, I spent a couple years in patrol and I spent five years walking 118th Avenue foot patrol, which I always say that's the hall of fame jersey for me. 

I was part of a community. Uh, to this day, people, I still have the same phone number. People from the beat still call me. Uh, I still talk to people. Some have done, some are sober for 20 years. Some are still in the life and unfortunately struggling. But it's that connection and that deep connection to people that I believe is the best part of policing if we allow it. 

 And then I kind of. I moved around. I was in gang unit in homicide section and I was in professional, uh, standards match versus our internal affairs. And it was a really good career. But I also struggled with the system so much, uh, that I was a part of for so long. 

 And I've watched the system do exactly what it's designed to do and that's to keep people in a certain position. And that's, uh, something I think we need to really talk about. We need to talk about how do we reform a system, a colonial system, really, that is out there, uh, continuously still colonizing today in today's society. 

And you can see that with the response from police agencies to unhoused people in the province of Alberta. 


Yeah. So I guess what moved you to then start exploring this victim offender overlap and can you talk a bit more about what that actually is? 


Yeah. So there's, there's two really huge events. Uh, there's a bunch of little ones, but there's two massive events that really moved me to look at the victim offender overlap. The first one was an, uh, individual by the name of Gordon Domney. Gordon Domney was an Anglican priest who sexually assaulted at least 13 young men in a home in Edmonton. 

It came out to about 20 years later that this occurred. And while the individuals were giving their statements, one of them, who I knew quite well went home and killed himself after, after providing a statement to the police. Fast forward a few, uh, months. It was going to preliminary hearing, uh, and five of these young men were incarcerated. 

And when I went to victim services, which I was actually the inspector in charge of victim services at the time, and said, yeah, we need to go into the remand center and provide some support to these guys. Victim services refused. They said they don't deal with bad guys, they deal with victims. 

And I'm like, these were victims first. The positive, and I'll give a positive side of that, is, after I did the research, we ended up having a full time person that addresses people incarcerated on their behalf. Recognization. So that's the evidence. Police service did do something positive with that. 

Um, the other thing was, I always say it's my, uh, the best gift policing gave me. In 2005, I arrested a young lady, she was 19 years old, for conspiracy to commit murder. And I had a wiretap running. And I listened to this, this young lady talking to her gang associates, and she was really harsh and rank and scary. 

 And then I listened to her talking to her brothers, and she was this loving, beautiful soul who was nurturing. She lost her mom when she was 14, she lost her dad when she was 16, and she became the de facto parent to these, her brothers. So I started, I connected with her, and, uh, I've adopted her, basically. 

She's my. She calls me dad. She's my daughter. She's just like my other two beautiful bio daughters. Um, and to this day, actually, it's two years ago tomorrow, I think that I walked Nicole, my adopted daughter, down the aisle in Hawaii seven days after I walked my oldest daughter down the aisle in Hawaii. 

What it taught me was a lesson early. And I've had, like I said, I had several of these lessons, a lot of it being my own previous history with people. The, uh, understanding that we are not, there's no good and bad. There is a whole bunch of gray, and there are. 

Most people are really trying their best and just are in bad situations. And I also think the construct of choice is something that privileged people like myself don't quite understand, that the choices I get to make as a white cis male are very different than the choices other people get to make. 

And that's kind of why I wanted to do the research. And I call it, it's a victim offender overlap. But I often refer to the justice client, uh, rather than offender. I don't like the word offender because the labeling theory, right? We strive for the labels that we're given. 

If we're told that we're bad, we're going to be bad. And, ah, if we're told that we're an offender, we're going to be an offender. But if you're a client. And I also think that's the problem with, one of the problems with policing is policing sees an us versus them mentality, and unfortunately, that's trained in them. 

When everyone's a threat and everyone's a threat, how do you be compassionate with said threat? And then our biology tells us that if you look different than me, you're a threat. So now, I think that's, uh, a pretty easy explanation for the use of force. When you look at use of force on people of color and Indigenous people, it's higher than the views of force on white people. And I think that's a biological reaction. I think we have to change the way we interact and the way we talk around, um, who the police interact with. And they're clients, they're not offenders or victims. 


Within the Enough for All strategy that we work in, we obviously talk a lot about lived experience, and we think it's foundational to, uh, and important to hear from the voices of lived experience. And I'm just really curious in relation to kind of the nature of research and balancing statistics with recognizing the importance of people's stories and their experience and what that looks like. And I'm just wondering if you can reflect a bit more on that in terms of understanding the picture of what your experience has been and what you see in the justice system between those two things. 


Yeah, you know, it's interesting, the lived experience pieces. You bring up an interesting point, because one of the things I did. So I was fortunate I got to do some training. I developed justice, uh, uh, trauma, uh, for policing course that I taught at the Edmonton Police Service for a while. 

One of the things I always did was I'd bring someone with lived experience in, uh, I'd bring a friend of mine who's a lifer, who's on day parole, who went to jail at 15, and he's now 42, and he was given life, no parole, for six and a half years, and he's never been on full parole. 

And, uh, then I bring another friend of mine who was actually a guy I grew up with when I talked about my high school growing up. And he was one of the guys incarcerated at the Fort Saskatchewan jail when I was a correctional officer there. And he and I are very close. 

We talk at least once a week. But I brought those folks in to talk to the police. And it's interesting, it's amazing how a single interaction can create a total change in the way officers start to think when they start to see the person as a human. And they're like, and I had several members come to me going, why haven't we done this earlier? Like, why have we not seen this earlier? And then we, we did something in the police service. It took us seven years to do it, but it was called the compassion series. Where I had lived, experienced people speaking and just candidly talking about their experiences in the justice system, good, bad and ugly. 

And it took us seven years because the one chief at the time refused to allow us to play anything that said there was negative impacts or negative interactions with these individuals. And I think that's the problem. I think what we have is we know the justice system is false, is it's terrible. It doesn't work. You know, you incarcerate youth, 80% of the time they're going to reoffend. The worst thing you can do is put a young person in prison regardless of what they did. You've got certain places now in the United States, and I hate that the United States is sometimes more progressive than Canada in certain places. 

 I think that's insane. But you have places like Camden, New Jersey that will not incarcerate a young person unless it's a murder. That's it. They will not put young people in jail. What you're going to see is five to ten years from now, a massive reduction in crime. And Irvin Waller and all of the researchers show that, uh, if you focus on that youth piece, if you listen to the lived, experienced people, because the same thing they did in Camden, New Jersey, was when they redid their police service. 

The second thing they did after firing everybody and then rehiring the good ones, they went and met with one of the highest level drug dealers that was in the city as he was walking out of the penitentiary and said, we need your help. We need your help to get these young people off the street and bringing those individuals in and giving that permission for them to be part of the solution is a significant move. 

And it's also, uh, a move that is very, very fought by the system because the system doesn't want to hear from people with live experience, because that would mean that we'd have to start to actually change if we're going to listen. 


Yeah, I'm curious a little bit more about, I guess, your thoughts on the hesitation of why we resist or the system resists the human centered, trauma informed approach there. 


You know, that's the question that has been bugging me my whole life. And I look at it, I even look at in the Edmonton context, when Chief McPhee first got into the role - he was taught - the things he said were, don't arrest the ones that you're only arrest those that you're scared of, not the ones that you're mad at, off- ramping individuals, less incarceration. All of that is, that's the way we should go. Regardless of the leader says that it's not the same. And then you look at a recent video and I don't know if you saw this recent video that came out of the Edmonton Police Service where Deputy Chief Darren Derko was walking through an area where there was an encampment and he was talking about how the land may never recover and the, the, uh, excavation. And he showed these weapons and said he called it a cache of weapons. Like, and I'm like, it's from victimization to vilification is what it is. And, and when you look at it, the excavation number one. My question is, why would you think the unhoused people excavated anything? Where are the piles of dirt? 

Do you think they had trucks, that they could truck this dirt into another location? So obviously the excavation wasn't done by the unhoused. And if you know our history in Edmonton, we had coal mines and all kinds of different mining that was going on in the Edmonton area. And that's what that was. That was an old abandoned coal mine. And that the conversation of, I don't think the land will ever recover, basically saying the unhoused people have destroyed the land so much that it's never going to recover. And it makes me really frustrated because that vilification piece is so false. It's such a false narrative. 

Look at when COVID-19 happened and we shut down all kinds of different things and how quickly the earth recovered. So for people to say things like that, uh, to, I think, inflame a certain, certain situation and potentially get a certain portion of the population on your side is offensive, in my opinion, and it's not helpful. 


Yeah, there's a lot of division and challenges that were particularly vocal in different ways. 


Um, sorry, one of the things you said, what is it? Why isn't it? Because there's not enough courage in police leadership, that's why. That's my belief. I believe that there's two things you need to change policing. You need courage and you need miles and miles of heart. And those miles and miles of heart have to be compassion based. 

And we need to lead with compassion. I wrote a paper on compassionate policing. And I compared it - I call it universal precautions for compassion. Because we teach first aid every two years. And 0.6% of the population in Canada has a Hepatitis C, 0.006% of the population has HIV. And when I wrote the paper, 2.17% of the population had COVID-19 and we were all wearing masks. 

In our research, 97% of women and 95% of men incarcerated in Canadian institutions, both federally and provincially, have trauma backgrounds, with the vast majority of that trauma occurring at the average age of nine. So you're talking average childhood experiences prior to the first detected offense. And we don't think of that, uh, universal precaution of compassion. 

And I think that's the biggest failing of the justice system, is the dehumanizing of the individuals that we incarcerate and the individuals that we arrest. And my friend Myrna McCallum, who has the Trauma Informed Lawyer podcast, she had an entire podcast on “To dehumanize is to traumatize”. So all we continuously do in the system is retraumatize, retraumatize, retraumatize. 

And we keep people in systems where in systems that have failed them their entire lives, and not realizing that we are perpetuating cycle rather than in any way interrupting it. And I think the lack of courage in police leadership to actually impact and do real change is astonishing. 


Yeah, I had the opportunity to connect with some outreach workers at Calgary John Howard Society here in Calgary, um, a little bit ago, and they were talking about one of the campaigns they ran, uh, called More Than My Criminal Record, which had a lot of impact, to talk about that, talk more about human nature in relation to an incident or an event in someone's life. And I'm curious about restorative measures and education about that for both those interacting with the justice system, for those operating within the justice system, whether that's a lawyer or someone else, in terms of what you had, just to go back to what you had touched on earlier, in terms of if someone doesn't end up in jail or prison, just how to avoid that, or how do we educate, uh, enough people to know that there's a different path that we can help people get on, or, you know, that people can advocate for themselves for. What is your take on where that education maybe is at? Or how do we do more in that space of restorative and alternative measures? 


Yeah, you know, that's a great question. And I've been fortunate to go and present my research to the judges and to, uh, crown prosecutors. And the number one thing that keeps happening is I keep hearing there's no restorative options for us. And I think what's happened is we've failed to fund it, um, because everything costs some money, right. Um, but when we realized that one of the most expensive things to do is incarcerate, why don't we? And right now, if you look at the Correctional Services Canada budget for just for an example, is like $2.4 billion a year, they right now have, because we haven't. We don't incarcerate as many people as we used to, which is a good thing. 

You could shut down eight penitentiaries in Correctional Service of Canada. If you took the money from shutting down eight penitentiaries and put that into two buckets, one for reintegration when people leave a jail system, and one for restorative justice, you would, you would see, I guarantee you, you would see if you gave it a period of two to five years, a significant reduction in your crime. 

The problem is we have this punishment mindset. I always say that we are the worst of two worlds. We get the worst of the British law, and we get the worst of the American law, because we are not American. We don't have a Miranda, we don't have all of these things, but we watch American crime shows. 

So we are punishment minded. Then we also have this image that our Canadian prisons are soft. And anyone who thinks a Canadian prison is soft has never been in a Canadian prison, because they are the least thing from soft. They are punishment oriented, and they are there. I wouldn't. 

I wouldn't want. I wouldn't want to be in one because we don't rehabilitate, we incarcerate, and we throw people away. But if you start talking about restorative justice, people get very upset. And I'm going to talk about a specific group right now, and I might piss people off, and I apologize if I do. 

Domestic violence. We have mandatory arrest policies for domestic violence because we have. It's an emotional topic, and I understand that. But when you remove emotion from it and you look at research, there's a working paper in Harvard right now, I can't remember the doctor who's doing it, that shows that any state that has a mandatory arrest law, um, for domestic violence, has a higher murder rate in domestic violence. 

Restorative - and the other thing is, we've taught the wrong thing. We teach people that if you are in a domestic relationship and you get hit on Monday, you're gonna die five years from now. Well, Matthew Bland and Barak Ariel did research that shows that they looked at 35,000 domestic violence cases and very few domestic violence cases, almost, I think it was less than 2% increase in violence.  

If you get smacked on Monday, you're gonna get smacked every Monday. If you get hit with a baseball bat every three months, that baseball bat might kill you. But the thing also has shown that when you do restorative justice with domestic violence offenders, it reduces the offending, it reduces the post traumatic stress symptoms in the individual who suffered the victimization. 

And you have a better system because you start to teach people to not offend, and you don't vilify them. You don't create this us versus them mentality. You don't incarcerate them. And the same for sexual violence. Um, there is a lot of research that shows restorative justice for sexual violence is extremely effective. 

I just listened to a young woman speak at a conference who fought for a circle for her sexual violence, uh, her sexual victimization. And it was one of the most powerful presentations I've ever seen. And we fail to realize, or fail to, I think, in the system, we want to punish, and we don't think that we don't want someone to get the easy way out. 

Well, I can tell you right now, sitting there in a circle with your victim is not the easy way out. It is probably the hardest thing. And sitting in a circle with your offender is not an easy thing, but it's a lot better than a defense lawyer in a sexual violence, uh, circumstance, trying to make you, trying to use all the rape myths against you and ask you what you were wearing and how much you drank, and the horrible, horrible re, uh, traumatization that occurs in a courtroom of a victim of sexual violence doesn't occur in a restorative justice circle. And I honestly think that we need to really change the way we look at justice from a, uh, not just a policing perspective, but from a societal perspective, because as a society, everyone wants people punished, and people think, oh, I don't want that soft way out, and we don't want these offenders just walking free.  

And I. And I think we need to really look at evidence rather than just what our emotions say. And I get it, uh, I get when you are in it and you, it's a family member, there's going to be emotions. And I'm not trying to take anything away from people that have victimization experience, but what I'm trying to do is say, we have to separate emotion from evidence and follow the evidence when it comes to how we're going to make our community safer. 


I think that really speaks again, to that trauma informed approach on all sides. Yeah. With the hope of leading to better outcomes. Um, I think another area you kind of touched on when you mentioned encampments. Um, a lot of the work we've done for years, uh, with Enough For All, is related to housing. And there's obviously a particular focus as we center, I guess, on this housing crisis we're all facing. Um, but there's also. We've done a lot of research recently around, um, the alarming number of Calgarians that are on the brink of homelessness. And I'm just curious how you think that homelessness in our province is impacting the justice system and what that relationship looks like. 


It's such a. It's one of those. Homelessness is totally impacting the justice system. What you're seeing is the - there's a crossover and the miss - there's this continuous - everybody's in so many different - we have so many different strategies. We have a meth strategy. We have an opioid strategy. We have a, um, homeless strategy. 

We have an end poverty strategy. We have. We have all these strategies, all of which the vast majority of these folks fall into all of the strategies. What we don't have is a human centered strategy. Right? So the justice system is then, okay, we've got encampments, and  

people are mad, and there, you know, there's garbage, and there's no, there's no toilets, so there's waste and all that stuff. And that's all true. And that's not to take away anything from the folks who are experiencing their businesses are losing business, because that's a. That's a. That's a reality, too. What we have to do is go, pause, stop. Let's stop trying to arrest people in encampments. Let's stop trying to make them seem like they're criminal. Let's try to look at how we can impact. Let's start looking at how do we get supportive housing. Supportive housing in the community reduces crime in the community. And even if you put that in a community that doesn't have unhoused folks, you're going to reduce crime because you're going to have a whole bunch of people that belong to something. 

Now, they belong to the community, and they want that community to be better. And their research is really clear on that. But the NIMBY-ism is, I don't want permanent supportive housing in my backyard. I don't want those people around, blah, blah, blah, blah, partly because we have police leaders on the news talking about caches of weapons and the land is never going to recover. Vilifying this population to the nth degree when we know that there are few. If you looked, and I can't remember the exact number, so.  

But I'm going to give you a rough example. We looked at, when I was in policing, we looked at the unhoused population during the pandemic, when we looked at crime within the unhoused population. And we, I think it was something like out of the 2200 people that we looked at, nine uh, people were responsible for 50% of the victimization, which is a, it's a, it's a sociological criminological theory of the power few. It's called right where these, these people create the most highest harm and those are the people you should focus on. 

So out of 2200, nine people are creating all the problems. Why are we vilifying the 2200? Why don't we go focus on the nine and then provide services to the 2200 others? And that's the problem. And it's always, I always hear these, these things, oh, there's no housing. There's no housing for certain people. 

 Let's be clear. Because when the Syrian crisis happened, we found 900 empty vacant suites in Edmonton. I'm sure Calgary found the same thing. So there's no housing for certain people. Because we are a systematic, we are systemically racist. The vast majority of our unhoused folks are Indigenous. We have uh, systems that are, that are in place that are keeping these folks exactly where we want them to be. 

I always say this. The justice system isn't broken. The justice system is doing exactly what it was designed to do when it was designed. And when you look at our history in this country and you look at the Bagot commission, you go back to residential schools, the sixties scoop. 

Well, we're doing it today. We've just replaced residential schools and the sixties scoop with Child and Family Services and prisons. In uh, Alberta right now there are more Indigenous children in care of Child Services than at the peak of the residential school system. We're creating another parent-less population. 

And I'll use this example, and this is an example of my other daughter that I talked about, Nicole. So Nicole, her parents passed away when she was young. Her dad was in residential school. So she didn't have, she didn't have a whole lot of, you know, parenting, um, witnessing positive parenting because uh, her parents died when she was young. 

Her daughter was born in a jail. She has now broken the cycle. Her daughter is about to graduate from high school with honors as well as an associate's degree from university. At the same time, she graduates from high school and she's going to another university in the United States. 

Her kids are all in sports, they're all academically strong. We need to help people break the cycle. Right now, the Province of Alberta is offering people $15,000 if you make under $180,000 to adopt children. We're basically paying families to take children rather than giving the money to the families to get their children back. 

It makes no sense. It makes zero sense. And I watch this, I watch this and this is my struggle and, uh, some of my struggles in the justice system and some of the, maybe guilt's too strong of a word, but I remember going to houses with Child and Family Services and taking children away because there's no food. 

And then now I think, why didn't we just bring them food? It would have been significantly cheaper. It would have been way less traumatizing. And I remember this one incidentally, and I remember this lady holding on, clutching her child. He was about ten years old and she's crying and she's like, these people are going to hurt you. They hate you. And he was like, it's okay, mom. They're going to be nice to me. These guys are nice. And this ten year old consoling his mother and you look at the mother's history of residential schools and all of the things that she went through and we are ripping her child out of her hands. 

And that is not trauma informed, that is not appropriate. And we, I'm not saying there's not times that we need to remove kids because there are, there's safety concerns. So I hope people listening don't think I'm saying we never can do this and never because none of these are nevers. 

What I'm saying is we have to be really, really purposeful and we have to look at it with a different perspective and really start thinking, what's the best thing for this family now and what's the best thing for our future in the province of Alberta? Because with all of these parentless children right now, we are just creating another layer of non reconciliation.  


Yeah, it's really back to that gray, right. That there's not one version, there's not this good/ bad dichotomy happening. There's a lot of gray. And then the solutions that need to be varied and options need to be available. Choice needs to be available in terms of how we respond. 

Because if we keep responding in a certain way, then we should expect that we're creating the conditions to continue to have the same interactions or the same outcomes that are not, uh, resolving anything. 


Yeah. And that's the problem, is every single police leader that I've met over the years is always looking for the silver bullet. We need one bullet to solve all problems. Well, there's a bullet to solve all problems. We need to look at from a justice perspective. We need to look at what actually works. And we know that there's things that actually work. We know that there are evidence based practices that reduce crime. The problem is what I've seen, and this is my perception, and my opinion is that, uh, academia and policing are so far removed from each other, and even my own self in policing, I tried to bring some of the stuff in there, and I started getting told, you're too academic. 

 Well, 17 years of my 25 year career was operational and investigative. I didn't leave the street or not go investigate. I was in homicide, and I was on the street for 17 years. I go back to school for get a Master's degree, and all of a sudden, I'm too academic. 

 And part of it is, and this is, again, I'm not going to make a lot of friends when I say this, but it's the arrogance of leadership. And. And this isn't just policing. This is. This. You can take this to AHS, you can take this to education. You - what we have is we have these people who have been promoted based on something that they've done in the past, regardless of that thing was effective or not, and they continuously perpetuate it. 

One of the most best ways to describe this is drugs on the table. Every single major city has seen a picture in the newspaper at least 35 times with a police officer in a white shirt or somebody in a uniform standing with kilos of cocaine and a bunch of cash on the table. 

That has done absolutely nothing that has impacted the system. Absolutely not at all. Because if we were smart, we would look at economics. And I'm not an economist, but supply and demand, if you haven't interrupted the supply so much that the price changes, you have done nothing. And the amount of drugs that are, and, uh, the other thing that you could possibly have done is actually create harm, which people don't want to hear when I say this, because all of a sudden you have a drug dealer who has a decent supply that is not toxic. You take that 15 kilos of non toxic drugs off the street and replace it with 15 kilos of toxic drugs, and all of a sudden you have 60 overdoses in a day. 

And that is one of the problems too, with our system. Because when we did see things like that happening, we asked AHS if we could like set out a bat, a bat signal, basically saying, hey, there's a toxic drug. So there's, there's worse toxic drugs on the street today. 

And the answer was no, because all drugs are bad. Because we have this weird aversion to looking at the system and looking at the drug system. And I uh, it frustrates me to no end when people get mad at harm reduction and people get mad at safe supply. 

Because there were two things that stayed open during the pandemic. Grocery stores and liquor stores. Liquor stores are safe supply. There are countries in the world where people die from alcohol poisoning because alcohol is illegal and people are making illegal alcohol. And that's not a safe supply, it's a toxic alcohol supply. 

But for some reason in our brains, it's okay for us to be alcohol consumers. Alcohol addiction, uh, we can be, um, we can be functional alcoholics because we have to keep the liquor stores open because there's a lot of people that would have been hurting if we didn't. And when you start to look at the concept of supervised consumption, I'm always like, what do you think a bar is? 

A bar is a supervised consumption service that's less, that's way more fun than the supervised consumption services for inhalation or injection because they're so much, they're so medical. But a bar, what's the bar, what's the, what's the server supposed to do? Not serve you if you, if you drank too much over service as an offense, keep you safe, not make sure you don't drive home. There's all of these things in place that are harm reduction, seatbelts in cars, harm reduction helmets on bicycles, harm reduction. And people can't get their freaking heads around this whole thing with drugs. And we have a bunch of people out there dying. 

And if you look at it, um, I think it was in the first, in the first six months of last year, I think just about 4000 people died in Canada. And that's, I think I broke that down to being 20, 737’s crashing. Imagine if 20, 737 planes crashed, what would we be doing? We would be paying attention. But the difference is who's on the plane and who's on the street. And that's where the justice system has to stop. Stop. We have to stop marginalizing, dehumanizing and creating this us versus them mentality. And we have to have courage to do that, we have to have compassion built into as a - as a competency in the justice system. 


Yeah. In addition to that, I'm just wondering if you can reflect on, I think, in preparing for a conversation today, I just heard you kind of speak about drugs as a symptom of trauma. So can you speak a little bit more about that? 


Yeah, absolutely. Um, and that's a problem with a lot of it. Drugs are a symptom of trauma. The vast majority of crime is a symptom of trauma. And what we are doing in the system is we are addressing symptoms, but we're not addressing the root cause. I often use the analogy that the police are like an antacid tablet for, uh, pancreatic cancer. 

You have the heartburn, so we're gonna give you something to make that heartburn feel better, but it's not addressing the cancer, and you're eventually gonna die from that cancer. Um, probably the best example that I have from our research is, ah, and there's a million examples from our research. 

We interviewed over 800 incarcerated people, but this one example sticks out with me all the time. A 34 year old Indigenous woman with no criminal record who was a, uh, survivor of the sixties scoop and sexually assaulted in foster care for years. She was on the waiting list to get therapy for three years and couldn't get therapy. She was self medicating the drugs and alcohol. Somebody told her that you can get therapy for free in federal prison. So she went to her bank with a plastic gun, painted black, robbed the bank, waited for the police to get there, got arrested, went to her first appearance, pled guilty, asked for a federal prison sentence so she could get therapy to address the root cause of the drug use, the root cause of that robbery, it's the trauma, and we are continuously incarcerating trauma. And if you look at the, if you look at public health and you look at crime, the precursors to both are exactly the same. And we are addressing one with health, one with jail. And when you really look at these symptomatic criminality, because you are unable to function in this world, you are having addictions, you have to address your addictions. 

So therefore, you commit a crime, and that crime allows you to get your drugs, and that drugs allows you to feel better for a minute, and then that we just can re- perpetuate that cycle. And then we, the police, I'm not the police anymore, but when I was the police, we go and arrest you and we put you incarcerated in a jail where you continuously, you potentially get, get worse in incarceration because now you used to steal cars but now you've met someone who's now helping you connect to sell drugs and we make those connections in jail. I spoke to the judges conference before and said incarcerate less and you will have less crime. And we know that's a factual truth, but for whatever reason we don't do it and we keep incarcerating the symptom and we don't even think about the root cause. 

That hopefully is changing. We have Indigenous Court which has started in Edmonton. I think we have one in Calgary. We have the drug court process, we have mental health court. So you're starting to see some slight changes. But the entire system has to change before it all has to change together. 

And that changes in education of trauma to the police. That changes in education and mental health of the police. And we can't expect the police or correctional officers or people in the justice system to be psychologists, but we can expect them to have use that concept of universal precautions for trauma. 

And if you treated everybody with compassion you change the game. And it also shows that if that happens and people see the police as legitimate, they offend less, they reoffend less, there's less need for use of force. And this is all research done by Tom Tyler, Justice Tankebe, Anthony Bottoms, it's not just the crazy musings of me. This is actual research that shows if the police are doing these things and there's even research that shows - done by Larry Sherman, if the police arrest a domestic offender in a compassionate way, it impacts how that individual is less likely to reoffend. 

If they, if they arrest that person and are aggressive, it impacts the fact that that person is more likely to re offend. All of this needs to be taught to, to the justice system. We don't teach it. It's not something we talk about. And when we talk about it, in my opinion, the justice system talks about these things in checkbox fashions. Trauma informed. Yeah, we're all trauma informed. There is not an organization in Canada or North America, not a police organization or a justice organization that is trauma informed. That is a fact. There was research done by the Canadian association of Chiefs of Police that show that there is not one, there's not a, there's not a fully inclusive police service anywhere. So what we need to do is really change the system. And we need to start from the top and the bottom and crush it in the middle. 


Yeah, there's so many system elements. I think so much of the conversation is often about I think entry into the justice system. But would it be fair to say that it's equally, um, traumatic to be released from the justice system, potentially into nothing? Uh, issues of not even having id or not having access to medication or just, you know, that both end, both ends, as you were speaking of. Is that a fair assessment? 


Oh, yeah. The reintegration pieces. We do a terrible job. Our justice system does a terrible job of reintegration. Bruce Western, uh, he's a US professor. He wrote a book called Homeward, and he researched people on the reintegration side and looking where people unfortunately fail, it's not them failing, it's the systems failing. 

But, like, I spent time, uh, after policing, I worked for a while in a, uh, healing center, a federal healing center. And I watched people get released on parole to unbeatable - to homelessness. Like, you're going to get parole and you're going to go to a shelter. So this person has been working, I'm thinking of a specific person, but this is, this one person I can think of, um, that I am thinking of had worked really hard on his addictions, and he was sober and he - he was ready to make changes. And then they sent him to be unhoused. Now, there was, there were some people that were able to intervene and not, and make sure that he didn't go into that shelter system. And he's doing well because that happened. But what do you expect? How do we expect people to succeed when they're, when they're sentenced with no, with nothing? And the other thing that, like, I have a friend who is getting out on parole in the fall, and this individual, she was arrested three years ago. 

She was, uh, on parole for a, uh, homicide from the early nineties. And she breached her parole. She had a couple of drinks, and I'm not saying that that's okay, but she was at an incident where she actually called the police for help, and the police ended up arresting her because she was a lifer on parole, and she ended up, that was three years ago. She's been in jail for three years after that breach for. She called the police and she was drinking. Well, she lost everything. She had an apartment with, with furniture and clothes and all that's gone. So when she gets out on parole again, she has to rebuild from scratch with very little to rebuild from scratch with. 

And I think, you know, and when you talk to certain people, and I, and I know people, and I have people in my life that will say, well, that serves that person right. They committed this crime. Why should they get a handout?  

My answer is, we want an unsafe society. We want people to reoffend. We want to force people back into the reoffending cycle, because we've taken everything from them and we've let them out with nothing, what do we expect? And I can tell you, if I were to go to jail and I were to get out with nothing, and I'm going to need to eat, and I need to feed my kids, and I don't have a job, I'm going to commit crime. 

Um, one of my very good friends always said, and he's on some jail time, and he said, if you can't get a job, you do a job. It's just an unfortunate reality, but what do you expect? And if you are so privileged that you can't think about putting yourself in those shoes, then shame on you. There's just so many other, there's so much more to the story. I used to always tell people that I worked with, whether when I was in policing or when I was in corrections, you're not your offense. And then I would even say, how long? And this throws people off. I'm like, how long did your offense take? And they're like, I don't know, ten minutes. How many minutes have you been alive? So what percentage of you is that offense? And I've watched guys like, I have friends that are lifers that cannot forgive themselves. The families of the victims have forgiven them. They've gone and they've talked to them and said, we want you to live your life, we forgive you, but they won't forgive themselves. And I think one of the things that we don't talk enough about when we talk about being trauma informed is the trauma of offending. Some of the greatest traumas of these individuals lives is what they've done to someone else. 

Because the vast majority of our people out there are not psychopaths or sociopaths. They're people, and they are oftentimes intoxicated and they do something. And that's not any, I'm not making an excuse. What I'm saying is they're human beings who feel, and they feel that offense for the rest of their lives. I have a person who I had so much respect for and was a, I would say a mentor of mine to some degree - Harold Johnson. I don't know if you're familiar with Harold Johnson. He passed away from cancer. Harold Johnson was an Indigenous lawyer. He was one of the coolest people I ever met in my life. He did defense and he did prosecution. But Harold was a trapper and he was working on the rigs. And then people said, if you do this job, you're stupid. So to prove he wasn't stupid, he went to law school. And then they told him, and in his quotes, “They told me they only let me go to law school because I was an Indian. So I really wasn't that smart.” 

So he said, so I went to Harvard and got a Master's in Law. And Harold said I had never prosecuted a single sexual assault case that didn't involve alcohol. And he said, I only involved - I only prosecuted one homicide that didn't involve alcohol. And he says, we don't have a crime problem. We have an alcohol problem. And Harold did some great work. And there's a camp. It's camp - I'm trying to think of the Camp Hope on Montreal - in Montreal Lake in Saskatchewan. And it's land based healing. And it has a 78% success rate for people with addictions, which is incredible, because Alcoholics Anonymous has an 8% success rate. Narcotics Anonymous has a 6% success - success rate. And the, um, treatment centers that the Alberta government is touting and building have a 2% success rate. So when you have someone like Harold Johnson, who was a crown and a defense, and saw this massive issue, and again, I would. If Harold was here, I would not argue with him. 

But I would say, we don't have an alcohol problem. We have a trauma problem. Because the reason that people are drinking isn't because they made a choice to be alcoholics, or they made a choice to drink, or they made a choice to use methamphetamines, cocaine or heroin. It's because people are trying to self medicate. People are trying to make themselves not feel the badness. And I can tell you from my own personal experience, I have done that myself. I've gone to lots of therapy to deal with my own post traumatic stress and all kinds of other issues in my life. And there's been times where I've drank to numb the pain. And I would suggest that, ah, a lot of people were introspective. They would say the same, or at least they could admit that they've done the same thing. And if we can admit that, we can start to see that we're all not that different. We just might have different levels of trauma. We might also have just different levels of, uh, available treatment. Because I know that I have benefits and I get to go to therapy, and I know I don't have to pay anything for it, but, uh, I also know that the people that need it the most probably, oftentimes don't have any of that coverage and can't get any of that. 

Hence the reason that lady committed an armed robbery to go get therapy in a prison. And I think that's the problem. I think we've separated ourselves so much from each other. And, um, there was a quote by a guy named Emmanuel Acho. He said, proximity breeds care and distance breeds fear. 

And I use that often, but I changed it a little bit. I say proximity breeds care and love, and distance breeds fear. And I think for the dominant culture and society, the white people, the white males, we oftentimes aren't proximate to anybody, and we expect people to somehow educate us on their culture, uh, instead of us going and learning about it. 

And we don't go in spaces where, you know, where we're the only white person. And that's - I love that. That's one of my favorite things. Like, I love. I'm very, very fortunate. I have very strong connections with the community. And, uh, one of my personal ways for healing is sweats. I'm not Indigenous. I'm as white as they can be. I even took the test, and I failed it miserably. I'm the whitest possible man you can have. But I found, I find very, very significant healing within the Indigenous culture. And I go to sweats, and there's times where I'm literally the only white person sitting in that sweat lodge. 

And that's an amazing feeling. And the other thing that's done, and my, my adopted daughter's Indigenous, and, uh, but that proximity to the Indigenous culture allows me to love and care for that culture. If I don't, you know, in policing, we teach that everything's a threat. And like I said earlier, if you don't look like me, you're another threat. But if you're proximate, that changes that. That takes away that inherent bias that we all need, because it's what's kept us alive. If something doesn't look like me, it's scary. That's why I don't go up to a grizzly bear and try to pet it, right? Because that's what's kept us alive. 

That being said, we need to be proximate. And if we make ourselves and go and have communications and talk, and it's the same thing with, when you're walking around downtown and you see an unhoused person, and instead of crossing the street not to be near them, say hello. And it's amazing what happens when you say hello to someone who's in a position like that, people will be like, oh, you're putting yourself at risk. 

Am I? Am I really? Maybe. But, uh, am I not just at risk in the same thing, driving down the street in my car or walking my dog across the street? Like, there's risks everywhere. And again, my experiences are, when you say hello, people say hello right back. And they - II've seen people almost elevate their posture because someone finally said hello to them and didn't walk by them or across the street, or at worst, uh, like I've talked to on the house, people who have been spat on by people in suits. And that is just disgusting and dehumanizing. 

And I think it's about, let's, as a society, start to heal, and let's, as a society, get back to just being compassionate with everybody and doing our - and thinking that most people are out there doing their best. And their best may not be up to the level that you think it should be, but it's their best. And let's meet people where they're at, not where we think they should be. 


Yeah. I appreciate you talking about healing and that kind of reckoning with the choices that are made, the accountability for those choices, and then the compassion for others and ourselves, and kind of the love, actually, that's required for those in our community. Um, and just acknowledging each other in all spaces. I know recently we completed a social disorder study, and it relates more to transit and talking with homeless community members and frontline services, including police. And I think there's some, um, definite reflection on that there's actually some very clear ideas about what makes sense. And it's a lot of the things that you're saying in terms of needing to meet people where they're at, and kind of that idea of, why do we have a system where I don't even know if it's a crack anymore, maybe a chasm that people are falling into because of these kind of poor system interactions. And the requirements for navigating these systems can, uh, be so complex that there's some, I think, loss of common sense approach. So I'm just curious, you know, I know we don't have a magic wand, even though one's probably desired to make changes, but what are maybe a couple of those just common sense things that you would want to see today, if you could? 


I'd like to see the accessibility of services to be significantly better. Um, it's something. It's one of the things I used to do with new recruits became in the downtown division when I was the inspector there. And I also now do with students in the justice system. Depending on the course I'm teaching is I give them an assignment where you are either unhoused or you're fresh off reserve or you're a newcomer, and I want you to find, here's your budget. Your school is paid for or here's what your monthly budget is. Go find an apartment, go find community resources that can help you and go find recreational things that you can do. And the vast majority of those come back very, very thin. 

 It's interesting because NorQuest is a really – I love NorQuest. I'm obviously biased because I work here, uh, we are a very inclusive school which has a lot of reduced barriers. We have a very high Indigenous population and newcomer population. And it's funny because we also have a lot of lived, experienced folks here that have gone through things and they do that assignment really, really well because they've had to survive. 

So one of the things is accessibility of services, the decentralization of services in cities. Like we always put all the services in one spot. And when we do that, this is, uh, probably a terrible analogy, but I'm gonna use it anyway. If you go to the desert and there's an oasis, there's a bunch of animals there getting water and sustenance because it's there. 

There's also a bunch of predators there because the predators nowhere to go. So if you decentralize, you reduce the predation. And I think that's something that needs to happen because I was walking my dog, I live on the south side of Edmonton. I'm walking my dog and uh, I run into this guy. 

He's uh, unhoused and he's living in the river valley by my place. And I end up chatting with him. He is like so many. He's working as much as he can. He just can't afford a place to live. He's not an addict at all. He is just a dude who can't, who lost his place because the cost of living has gone up so high. 

And he lives in the river valley on the south side and he finds places to showers and he goes to work pretty much every day. But I was talking to him and he's like, I won't go downtown, but I'm not going to. I'm not going to a shelter. Like, I've tried it and it's violent and it's scary. 

And uh, we also need to. This is the other thing that I think really needs to happen. And again, I'm probably not going to be popular for this. Our shelter systems need to be blown up and redone in a human, compassionate way. Sleeping on a mat 4ft from someone else who is coming off of opioids or meth, and lights are on and religious music is often played because a lot of these are funded by churches. No offense to the church, but there are people that were in residential schools that are in there that, that is super triggering to. And it's inhumane how we do sheltering and the fact that we don't look at that as much. Um, Sarah Schulman wrote an article in The Walrus talking about sleep deprivation of the unhoused population and how you can't heal if you don't sleep. Sleep is one of the most important things that we have in our entire lives for us to be healthy and happy and safe. And if you're not sleeping, you're not healthy and you're not well. And you look at prison, that's the same thing. It's never dark in prison, so you never, ever make your serotonin that you need to make in your brain. 

It just doesn't work that way because you need to be dark. They even, they even say that if you have a digital clock on your nightstand, you should turn that thing around because that much light reduces your ability to replace your serotonin at night. Imagine if you're sleeping in a four foot mat with lights on in a shelter, how much sleep you're actually getting. Or in a jail cell where someone's checking on you every 15 minutes, because there's, they have 15 minutes walkthroughs or every hour, depending on what unit you're on. So what I would like to see is, number one, let's humanize all of the services. Let's be trauma informed in all of the services. 

The police are an easy target because we, the police, are the ones that have to arrest people. And arrests can be ugly. You know, even when Colten Boushie, there was an acquittal in the Colten Boushie trial, people protested the police. And I was actually said to one of the protesters, why are you protesting the police? 

The police laid the charge, it's the justice system that let that, in my opinion, trap, terrible decision happen in court of law. Protest the judges, protest the justice system, don't protest the police. The police agree with you. They laid the charge because they thought it was a good charge to lay. 

And I think, uh, that's one thing I think we need to do is stop pointing fingers at one point of the justice system, which is the police. Let's look at correctional systems, let's look at the judges. Let's look at trauma informed courtrooms. Why is it that defense lawyers are still allowed to perpetuate rape myths and sexual assault trials? 

That's, that should be not, that's almost, to me, that's akin to perjury. That is wrong and it happens. There was a defense lawyer in Edmonton, I can't remember the name, but they put on Twitter that the victim of sexual assault complainant was never going to forget what he did to him that day because he's going to destroy him on the stand because he has to do whatever he, uh, can for his client. 

And he was talking about an eleven year old, like, so that, ah, let's be trauma informed across the board. And then let's start looking at other systems, too. Education. There's a reason why we fund federally, in schools on reserve less than we fund schools off reserve by about 50% because we are still trying to keep Indigenous people in the place where we want them. 

And that's not educated and that's not fighting for land rights and that's not fighting. So we, so let's look at all of these systems. If I, if I did have a magic wand, that's what I would do. I'd be like, let's, let's collapse the colonial structures and let's build up something totally different that we know works because it's evidence based. 


Hm. Yeah. I really appreciate that kind of conversation that we've been having. And I'm, um, curious for a final thought on whether or not you're hopeful that we as a society can create the conditions that make that possible. 


You know what? If you'd asked me that a year or two ago, I probably would have said, I'm not hopeful, but I am now because I'm out of it. And I'll be completely honest, I'm not very popular at times with my former, uh, colleagues, some of my former colleagues. I get some nasty tweets, um, because I'm very, very vocal. And I said this when I was, I've said all the same things I'm saying right now when I was in the institution. So this is not me changing the tune. This is who I've always been. What I've, it's Audre Lorde said, you can't dismantle a master's house with the master's tools. 

Right? So now I'm out here, I'm in, uh, I'm in an educational setting and an academic setting that appreciates me going into the media and talking about these things. And I look at the students that we have, and I look at the desire for change coming from them and their willingness to sit, and our program, I believe our program is very. It's a very critical justice program. It's not, it's not a policing program. It's a justice program where we talk about the system a lot. And then I look at the people that I work with, and I have this one lady I work with, she is, this is her first time working in a môniyâw uh, organization, which means white in Cree. She is off reserve, uh, first time living off reserve. And she's one of the most brilliant people I've ever met, uh, and her desire to create change in the system. I'm watching people have this desire to change.  

And again, this isn't going to make me popular in any room as we watch leadership change from your - because look at our leaders, our vast majority of leaders in most places, whether it's justice, education, healthcare, are older white males. Basically me. When we start to replace me with other people of diversity, as long as we allow them to think diversely, because if we just replace them because they look different but we make them think the same, we will not see change. 

But when we start to allow true diversity and thought and background and ethnicity and all of those things to creep into the leadership, into the C suites of the world, I think we are in the, uh, we are. I think we're on the, on the tipping point of change. 

And I think the crazy part about change is change is scary and change is revolutionary. And we're looking at us, our world right now is kind of topsy turvy with violence and wars and all kinds of different things. But I think when that happens, that's what, that's how change comes about. 

Because people have to start talking about things that they maybe weren't comfortable talking about before. It's, you know, one of the things, uh, one of my favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde is “Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious”. And I think right now we have to not worry about political lines. 

 I don't care if you're NDP, Liberal, UCP, whatever. We have to stop aligning ourselves with, you know, the Republican and Democrat crap that across and to the south of us. And I think we have people that want to align from a human perspective. And I think if we do that, there is hope for change. 


I love that. Yeah, there can be hope for change. I think when we focus in that human centered way. That's awesome. Thank you for this fulsome conversation and for sharing your experience and expertise with us and for the many stories and the people that have informed those stories. Um, really appreciate you sharing all that with us. Um, one last question. I'm just curious about, totally unrelated to the other stuff, but I'm curious if there's something that you're reading right now that you may recommend to our listeners. 


Yes, I am reading right now “Peace and Good Order” by Harold Johnson. It was interesting because I had never read it before. I'd referenced it before, and it was very interesting because my wife didn't really know my relationship with Harold Johnson because it was, you know, work, church estate kind of thing. And my wife and I do this thing for Christmas. You have to get something you can wear, something that you can share, something that makes you think, and something that you can drink. That's our Christmas. And she bought me peace, um, and good order. And instantly, I started crying like a baby. I was like, oh, my God. This is Harold's book. This is the book that I've wanted to read, and I've talked about. I've read snippets from it, and I've heard him talk about it. So I'm reading that, and I've actually, I'm almost finished it, and I'm turning that into the textbook for one of our courses at, uh, NorQuest. And the other thing that I recently read was “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Mate. Uh, and I got to, I was fortunate. I got to actually go to a conference and present at the same conference that Gabor was at, which I got to meet him and listen to him. 

 I don't read fiction unless my wife makes me, because there she made me read “Art of Racing in the Rain” a couple, several years ago. And it was a beautiful book. But. But I do Gabor Mate “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”, and, um, “Peace and Good Order” by Harold Johnson. I would recommend to anyone who's interested in any change in the system at all. 


Excellent. I'll have to check those out. Well, thank you again, Dan. Really appreciate everything. Thank you. 


Thank you so much. 


Thanks for listening to Let's Talk Poverty. Subscribe, check out more episodes on enoughforall.ca and follow us on social at @vibrantcalgary. Thanks for listening.