The Montreal Council of Social Agencies and its Effect on Youth Crime and Drug Use

Short and Long Term Impacts

Short Term Impact

The Montreal Council of Social Agencies had a profound impact on improving the social welfare of “troubled youth” by the time it officially closed its doors in 1976, a result of unstable financial foundations. The organization was one of the first to identify a need and provide support for troubled youth in attempt to lessen youth crime, drug use, and poverty, while increasing education, support, advocacy, shelter, and opportunities for at-risk youth. Youth drug users distrusted the police as well as traditional treatment services, making the Montreal Council of Social Agencies a more appealing alternative (1).

Association with the McGill School of Social Work
The MCSA worked with McGill Social Work students to increase funding by the government for more social workers to aid troubled youth. The McGill School of Social Work submission to the Standing Committee on Health and Social Welfare regarding Bill 26, the Quebec Social Aid Act, recommended that that welfare services and youth access to social workers, and not just increased financial aid, were imperative to youth drug prevention (2).
They argued that a greater number of agencies providing support in the realms of shelter, drug abuse support, education, community involvement, and independence-building were needed to reduce the number of youth abusing non-medical drugs. They believed that the most effective way to decrease the number of vulnerable youth was to provide early intervention resources and support, preferably in the form of increased numbers of social workers and organizations like the MCSA, so that the youth would have more opportunities for success and be less inclined to turn to drugs and crime (3).

Le Dain Inquiry
The Le Dain Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs was mandated by the federal government in 1969 and held commissions in all provincial capitals with testimony from experts, social workers, doctors, organizations, and members of the community on the effects and use of non-medical drugs for four years until a formal report was released in 1974. (4) The Inquiry called for the decriminalization of all drugs, and analysts described the Commission as “one of the most politically-explosive documents ever put before the government” (5). Some of its less radical recommendations included establishment of a Department of Youth, increased education for health care professionals on acute and long term treatment, re-categorization of marijuana in the Food and Drug Act, and 24-hour drug treatment centers. The commission’s main state was as follows:

“A coordinated multi-discipline team must be assembled to combat the problem of harmful drug use. Recommend the establishment of regional bodies whose function is to marshal information from all concerned disciplines and apply this information towards the problems of non-medical drug use. Such a body would have members from the health and education professions, legal, legislative, judicial, and law enforcement agencies. Community agencies (social workers, clergy, educators, sociologists, and youth) must also play a vital role. Field workers will also be very important” (6).

The hope from the MCSA’s point of view was that this would halt the frequent detention of troubled youth, and instead would allow the government to implement support programs. Unfortunately, Le Dain’s recommendations about drug education and “wise, informed freedom of choice” (7) did not have a substantive legal or political impact. The Montreal Council of Social Agencies participated in the commission, and although the government did not implement the recommendations from the Inquiry, the MCSA still incorporated its findings into their future initiatives. They utilized the findings to display the need for programs that encouraged troubled youth to get on the “right track”; this included curbing drug use and abuse, providing shelter, resources, and educational, and advocating for more social workers.

In the summer of 1968, more than 20 agencies led the central YMCA and the Montreal Council of Social Agencies organized Youth Emergency Services (YES) and received a three-month grant for $25,000 to form a private foundation for a coordinated approach to the problems of young people (8). However, only a small number of committees proved to be financially sustainable after the three-month period. These included:
1. Community Switch Board, which provided “transient housing, food and clothing distribution, a media workshop, a 24-hour telephone referral service, and a communications network for transient youth.”
2. McGill Action Committee, comprised of concerned Social Work students who felt a responsibility and commitment to share their skills with the community at large and established a residential therapy center to fill the expressed and urgent needs of the youth-services system
3. Runaway Counseling Service, which was started by a group of older inner-city youths to help provide food, shelter, and guidance to transient youth (9).

The core workers of these three inner-city youth projects and a number of representatives of other concerned agencies created the Joint Organization of Youth (JOY) in 1970. They aimed to create a lasting youth orientated agency, as many of these types of agencies in the past had erratic services as a result of lack of communication with other services and unstable financial foundations. Most of them quickly became extinct, while the need for them has not. JOY’s Priorities included: housing, food/nutrition, healthcare, information, referral, short term and long term jobs, co-op jobs, runaway counseling, and education (10).

JOY’s Counseling Functions and Objectives
1. Define the needs of youth and youth projects
2. Find money and channels for raising money (YMCA, community programs, churches)
3. Gather and disperse consultants, such as lawyers, psychiatrists, and social workers
3. Provide a protecting umbrella for small and independent youth projects by acting as a large legitimate body able to make liaisons with city officials, financial foundations, established agencies, and law enforcement
5. Positive public relations with: other agencies, general public, communications with other cities (11)

Long Term Impact:
Transformation and Incorporation of the MCSA Under Centraide
The Montreal Council of Social Agencies ceased operation in 1976, but the Federated Appeal of Greater Montreal, known today as Centraide of Greater Montreal , absorbed many of the objectives of the MCSA under its own umbrella of agencies that focused on supporting troubled youth (12). Today, Centraide aims to increase funding to agencies that promote the development of children, youth, and families so they can improve their living conditions and social welfare, and supports agencies that help youth who are at a high risk of poverty and social exclusion.

Programs aimed at supporting at-risk youth:
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Montreal
Offer positive role models, support, and guidance
Bureau de consultation jeaunesse (Le) (BCJ)
Offer legal support and prospects through community action for troubled youth
Canadian Mental Health Association- Montreal Branch
Promote mental health, youth prevention campaign, support for shelter and housing issues, advocacy for youth with mental health issues
Project TRIP
Youth drug abuse support, assistance, information, counseling and prevention
Spectre de rue, programme Travail de Milieu
Prevent troubled youth from ending up on the street, identify signs of distress in street kids, improve their access to community and health services, reduce the risks associated with homelessness, prostitution, and substance abuse
Toujours ensemble
Prevent school dropouts from marginalized youth
Macdam Sud
Provide skills and support to youth who are experiencing difficulties or living on the margins of society, offer alternatives to drugs and alcohol abuse through social programs
In total, there are 51 Youth-oriented agencies and projects under the Centraide umbrella (13).

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Youth Drug Use Review
Montreal is estimated to have at least 4,000 street youth, but this number has decreased somewhat in recent years. An evaluation Montreal street youth found suicide and drug overdose to be so prevalent that they are nearly twelve times more likely to die than their peers. Five hundred homeless youth were revaluated every six months from 1995-1998, and it was discovered that “the death rate was 11.7 per 100,000 compared with 0.86 per 100,000 for non-homeless Quebec youth. Moreover, forty percent of street youth were injection drug users when the study began and 10 percent more began injecting each year; 22% had exchanged sex for food, money or shelter.” (15).  A study of illegal substance use among Quebec youth aged 14-17 found that among the youth who had used an illegal substance “more than five times (representing one third of the sample), 80% of males and 70% of females had attended school drugged or high; 68% of males and 56% of females had used illegal drugs in the morning” (16) , representing highly problematic and risky behaviour. Agencies like Centraide work vigorously to quell youth drug use, as it can be a gateway to further and more dangerous drug abuse, opening these youth up to a myriad of social problems.





1. Greg Marquis, “Constructing an Urban Drug Ecology in 1970s Canada,” Urban History Review, 42, no. 1 (2013): 32-34. Accessed April 4, 2014.

2. McGill School of Social Work Submission to the Standing Committee on Health and Social Welfare: Bill 26, Quebec Social Aid Act. File 1123. Files 1112-1166. Montreal Council of Social Agencies Fonds, McGill University Archives.

3. Ibid.

4. John S. Bennett. “Le Dain Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs tables fourth and final report.” Canadian Medical Association Journal. (1974): 105. Accessed April 2, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1947221/pdf/canmedaj01573-0103.pdf.

5. CBC Digital Archives, “LeDain Report on Drugs Divides Cabinet.” Last modified Decem 06, 2013. Accessed April 2, 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/lifestyle/pastimes/pot-and-politics-canada-and-the-marijuana-debate/explosive-report-on-drugs-divides-cabinet.html.

6. Drug Report: Inquiry Into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. 1969-1974 File 468. Box 20. Montreal Council of Social Agencies Fonds, McGill University Archives.

7. CBC Digital Archives.

8. Youth Services General Info: Joint Organization of Youth. 1970. File 472. Box 20. Montreal Council of Social Agencies Fonds. McGill University Archives.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. “Montreal Council of Social Agencies, 1921-1976.” McGill University Archives. Accessed April 4, 2014. http://www.archives.mcgill.ca/resources/db/about_mcsa.htm.

13. Centraide of Greater Montreal, “Agency and Project Directory .” Last modified 2014. Accessed April 2, 2014. http://www.centraide-mtl.org/en/documents/2650/upload/documents/Repertoire_13_AN_FINAL_WEB.pdf/.

14. “Centraide 20 Years Special Report.” The Journal of Centraide. no. 2 (1995). http://www.centraide-mtl.org/en/documents/3066/upload/documents/Vol_9_no2_eng_April_1995.pdf/ (accessed April 2, 2014).

15. Diane Riley-Smith. Parliament of Canada, “Drugs and Drug Policy in Canada: A Brief Review and Commentary.” Last modified Novem 1998. Accessed April 2, 2014. http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/362/ille/rep/rep-nov98-e.htm.

16. Health Canada, “Preventing Substance Use Problems Among Young People – A Compendium of Best Practices.” Last modified 2001. Accessed April 2, 2014. http://www.safehealthyschools.org/alcohol_drug_reduction/Substance_Use_Young_People.pdf.



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