Swift Current Mayor Jerrod Schafer says he hopes his public apology to the victims of Graham James can "close the door on a dark past" of the city's history and move into a leadership role on abuse.
Schafer wrote an editorial for the Globe and Mail newspaper, published January 4th, expressing sorrow to the victims as well as raising awareness of the upcoming Safe Places and Youth certification strategy his administration has introduced.
"As I was working on something to explain what happened in Swift Current and what we're doing moving forward, it brought back so many memories of growing up here and being in Swift Current and what the Broncos mean to our community and that dark lingering shadow that has always been cast over Swift Current because of what Graham James did here," Schafer shared in the SwiftCurrentOnline studios Tuesday morning.
"He didn't just do it in Swift Current but obviously the team is so important in our community and there's always been this cloud there and I just felt an apology would be a good way to close the door on a dark past and as we're working to take a leadership role in the discussion of abuse and supporting abuse victims an apology would be a good thing to do."
Within the piece, Schafer recalled a memory of attending a "Skate with the Broncos" event when he was nine years old where he was able to take a photo with his hero, Sheldon Kennedy.
The photo was included within the Globe and Mail article. His Worship says Kennedy is still his hero but in a much different light.
"Sheldon the hockey player was a hero of mine growing up but today he's certainly more heroic for me and for a lot of people for the work he does. Simply the fact he was able to.. there was times when Sheldon was close to being dead. From suicide, depression and things like that, from the trauma he experienced and to now be a champion for what he is doing, accept the apology of our community and to be working with us to make us a better and really that is what he is doing for the entire country. He's taking his horrific incidents, the long term mental health challenges he has from that and really being a champion to make our country a safer place our kids. It is really inspiring."
The father of three told SwiftCurrentOnline the piece was written from a dad perspective moreso than as a member of local government.
"I think all of it was written as a dad. Nowadays, all you ever think about is the mental health of your kids and too often we think of the things we can see. A kid suffering from cancer, broken limbs, I know Sheldon has put a stat out there that 80% of mental health issues in adults are because of trauma experiences as a kid. For me, that is something I think about everyday now. The mental health of my kids and hoping they grow up to be adults that are mentally happy and healthy."
The City of Swift Current, in collaboration with Sheldon Kennedy, unveiled a new initiative to add checks and balances for adults working with youth and youth working with youth. Schafer says the initiative mixed with education could make all the difference.
"A big part of our initiative, to be youth certified, you have to have a criminal background check which will weed out previously convicted pedophiles but the unfortunate part of that in any case, no matter the prevention, you'll never catch someone for the first time. The other part is education. We've partnered with a respect group to make the other part of our certification some training that has to be renewed every three years, dealing with abuse, bullying and harassment. Which for me is a good shot between the eyes every three years to being a better role model as an adult and also what to do when you see signs of neglect or abuse. I think it is really good timing, the story of Patrick O'Sullivan and that was physical abuse. How many stood by and thought it was his dad's tough love and making him a stronger hockey player or what not? The reality is that it isn't. It's child abuse, it is physical abuse and when you see stuff like that, we need to take responsibility and intervene and stop it from happening. The education piece is really key in in terms of starting to as a country intervene when we suspect something isn't right."
The feature documentary "Swift Current", which tells the stories of Sheldon Kennedy and other victims of Graham James will be screened in Swift Current on Friday. At this event, Kennedy will deliver a speech, announce the initiative details and lead a panel discussion following the film.
The Mayor, who makes a cameo in the film, recommends all locals watch the movie.
"I had the opportunity to interview for the documentary and I met the filmmaker Josh Rofe and he has really done a fantastic job. I know because of the title and history of our community there is a lot of anger around it and why is it called Swift Current, people are worried if it pinpoints individuals or cast judgement and it really couldn't be further from that. It really identifies the long term impacts of abuse and obviously there's Sheldon's story which is very high profile because of the hockey background, but there's two other cases. A young girl abused by her dad and a young boy abused by a family friend. Those are by far, when it comes to abuse, the far more common cases. It is really eye opening, you'll learn a lot by watching, just about how severe this is and how widespread it is and how we need to do more."
Looking at 2016, Schafer says its going to be a big year for the area.
"We're kicking off the new year in a positive way. We have many opportunities to showcase how wonderful our community is starting with Rogers Hometown Hockey this weekend. I think we're launching a youth initiative that is something other communities are going to be very interested to take a look at and possibly implement. We got World Women's Curling Championships coming here which I know everyone is looking forward to. We got CCA Rodeo finals in the fall. I feel bad because I'm neglecting to talk about all the great things that happen in our community every single day. Broncos, Indians, the Lyric Theatre, there's so many wonderful things going on. We're a vibrant, growing community and certainly hoping economically.. things are a little tougher with the price of oil but agriculture has been strong and hopefully we can continue to weather that and enjoy the good things about living in Swift Current."
This fall will also be an election period for all municipal governments, including Swift Current.
Schafer, currently in his fourth term with the City, says he hasn't made a decision yet on whether he plans to run for a fifth term.
"On other political aspirations, I can say I don't have any actually. I ran for City Council when I did, not because I wanted to use it as a stepping stone to get to another level or an unquenchable thirst for politics. I did it because at that time, people were leaving Saskatchewan or getting involved and I decided to run and make a difference that way. I've never done it as a springboard, I've done it to do the best I can for my community so I have no aspirations to move on from there. On 2016, I know there's a lot of speculation, I get asked a lot and I appreciate the support from people. I haven't fully made my decision as of it, I will be doing that sometime this year. I've had a long run, four terms on City Council and I know when myself and my family are ready to make a decision I'll make it known right away."