Police officers meet in Halifax to discuss child soldier issues

The Chronicle Herald: Police officers meet in Halifax to discuss child soldier issues

Original Article Link: http://thechronicleherald.ca/metro/1228113-police-officers-meet-in-halifax-to-discuss-child-soldier-issues

August 8th, 2014

By: Ian Fairclough

RCMP and municipal police officers from Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa are meeting in Halifax to discuss issues related to child soldiers.

The 14 officers are working with the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative at Dalhousie University to come up with the start of a training program that could someday be used to address the issue of children in conflict or engaged in criminal activity.

All of the officers have international experience, “so they understand there are some lessons they have learned in terms of international peacekeeping that can also apply at home,” said Shelly Whitman, the executive director of the Dallaire initiative.

“There are a lot of commonalities and links between child soldier use and recruitment, and at-risk youth (in Canada),” said Toronto police Sgt. Allan Uhrich, who co-ordinates international policing officers for the department.

“Any time you have an opportunity to get together with people and share these things and raise your level of awareness, it’s very beneficial.”

The two-day discussion started Thursday, with talk about training for Canadian police officers who are going overseas as part of international peacekeeping missions.

But Uhrich said there is also a domestic component in that police can use that training to be aware of things going on in specific areas of the cities they patrol, and know what things they can do to identify where there could be problems and minimize it.

“That’s at the heart of community policing.”

Whitman said child soldier issues “are not just issues in a far-off land that we don’t have to deal with because we’re fortunate enough to live in a peaceful, wonderful country,” she said.

“These are issues that affect us and we need to be concerned about what we’re doing to address it and how we can improve that.”

Uhrich said there are people in Canada who come from strife-torn countries, and “we need to take steps to show them what this country has to offer and we need to be aware of what these people have come from in different parts of the world and what they’ve experienced.”

Whitman said those experiences may have victimized new residents of Canada, “and that shapes their realities when they come to this country.”

She said in social programming, schooling and community policing, “we don’t have enough awareness that this just might be an issue this person has experienced, and what that implies in terms of the difficulties they might be facing.”

Uhrich says that makes it important for police to be involved in the community to prevent people coming from that kind of environment from getting involved in gangs or recruited to other criminal organizations.

“It’s just another ingredient we need to be aware of so we can be proactive,” he said.

Whitman said the early discussion Thursday was around breaking the cycle of violence.