Understanding Sudanese culture key to supporting community

Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) co-hosted an event at Calgary City Hall to raise awareness about the unique experiences of Sudanese and South Sudanese Youth within the Canadian justice system.

The conference, Ubuntu: Experiences of Sudanese and South Sudanese Youth and a Reflection of the Canadian Judicial System, held on On June 14, 2019, encouraged participants to look beyond the headlines and learn directly from Sudanese and South Sudanese youth about their interactions and lived experiences in a justice system context.

Although youth violence is on the decline, Alberta has seen an increase of Sudanese and South Sudanese young people in the criminal justice system. A contributing factor to this trend is the lack of understanding within our justice system about working with different cultures. 

“The hope is to create awareness that this is happening in our city and it’s going to continue to happen unless everyone gets on board with culturally appropriate practices,” said Nicole Mizzi, a Justice Navigator for LAA. “Changes need to come from the system and we are hoping to spark that greater change.”

The conference was named after the southern African term, Ubuntu, meaning ‘I am because we are’. The Ubuntu philosophy is influential in the process of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

Front line representatives from criminal justice and the judiciary participated in a multifaceted presentation, starting with various speakers with personal and professional expertise in the criminal and immigration system. Presenters included various lawyers, Calgary Police Service, The Centre for Newcomers and Alberta Health Services. This was followed by the privilege of hearing the individual stories from Sudanese and South Sudanese young people themselves.

LAA Immigration Lawyer Juliette Ukpabi was among the presenters at this conference and she discussed the various immigration consequences for youth after conviction.  “Agencies who work with the youth should be aware of the immigration background of the youths from South- Sudan and bear that in mind when writing reports which might lead to their conviction,” said Ukpabi. “The over conviction of these youth without recognizing their unique background undermines the overall principles of sentencing as a whole.”

Alongside LAA, the event was co-hosted by the Calgary Centre for Newcomers, City of Calgary: Youth Justice and the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate

This conference is the first in a series that LAA is organizing in an effort to pinpoint best practices when working with various cultural groups in Alberta. The goal of this series is to promote inter-agency discussion and collaboration on how we can better support these families so they can be successful in our country.

In the photo, from left to right: Carolee Israel Turner, Associate Director Youth Programs for Centre for Newcomers; Lisa Steenson, Probation Officer with City of Calgary Youth Justice; Nicole Mizzi, Justice Navigator for Legal Aid Alberta; and Melanie McIntosh, Education and Engagement for Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.

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