For Daniel Gallant, a Grade 7 dropout who fell into a life of racism and violence, a university education that was once an impossibility is now reality.
His decision to return to school was not only therapeutic, it was the catalyst for a 180-degree lifestyle reversal that turned him into an anti-racism crusader.
"I went to many counseling and therapy processes and nearly all of those places had resistance to working with me because of the intensity of the violence," said Gallant. "Counselors are not trained therapists and so when you have someone telling you they've stabbed people, shot people, people get a little freaked out and that becomes a barrier for people like me."
Now a masters of social work student at UNBC with a degree in native studies, the 37-year-old Gallant was awarded a $1,000 diversity scholarship from the Overwaitea Food Group on Wednesday. Having secured a $3,500 scholarship from UNBC, he's already begun his thesis research, studying former white supremacists who have gone on to professional writing careers while promoting peace and diversity.
"The university environment at UNBC is open to doing research that goes beyond the norm -- I might not have been able to do this research in another school -- and [the scholarships] show me the community appreciates the work I'm doing," said Gallant. "Seeing that education has been central to my personal recovery, I know many of these other former violent extremists I'll be researching have also utilized education systems. I want to develop a way to incorporate pieces of curriculum specific to violent extremists into the counseling processes."
Gallant's childhood was anything but typical, having attended 11 schools in several cities across Canada by the time he finished Grade 7. He was living in Toronto when he left home at age 12 to come to BC to stay with relatives in Chetwynd, where he committed petty thefts with native youth gangs.
At 14, he moved to East Vancouver, and at 18 began a 10-year involvement with a white supremacist group, where he was active in committing hate crimes and bringing new recruits into the group.
Gallant took part in daily violent attacks on visible minorities, encouraged others to do the same, and was eventually prosecuted for some of his crimes.
His fear of incarceration and two life-changing events -- the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the birth of his son -- convinced Gallant to end his racist activities 10 years ago. When he learned the World Trade Centre attacks were not caused by white supremacists acting against the world's most powerful financial institutes, which he believed were Zionist-controlled, he questioned the legitimacy of the racist movement and its ability to conduct a race war.
His son's birth in August 2002 brought back painful memories of Gallant's own childhood -- which included witnessing the rape of his mother -- and he realized his current lifestyle had to change. He documented his thoughts in his article -- Mirrored Child -- on the website lifeafterhate.org.
"I had been creating a world filled with pain and violence for my children," Gallant wrote. "This boy, the saviour son, was born into my reality. I wanted to protect him from the pain ahead. He was not going to endure a childhood of abuse. His tiny body was a reflection of my being. He was my mirrored child, representative of my rebirth.
"If I did not change my hateful ways and my addiction to drugs, alcohol, and violence, then this boy would surely be led down a similar path. I did not want to be responsible for destroying a little boy, as had been done to me. I did not want to live in an abusive world any longer."
After his son was born, Gallant committed one more violent act, beating an aboriginal man with a hatchet. For the first time he felt guilt over his actions and realized his life of hate had to end.
While receiving addictions treatment in Abbotsford he learned there was no counseling available for people with his racist background and was encouraged to enrol in the social work program at Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek. He then moved to Edmonton to study social work at the University of Alberta and began working with Edmonton Police Services hate crimes unit, informing new police recruits of some of the signs to watch for to counteract the white supremacist/skinhead movements. He got involved with the Edmonton Society Against Mind Abuse working with former cult members, and became a research assistant for Native Counselling Services of Alberta, which led to an opportunity as a guest instructor at the U of A. He's worked as an addictions counselor and group home manager, and has given anti-racism presentations to teens in Prince George schools and at the Native Friendship Centre.
As a Prince George resident for the past four years, Gallant has been involved in several interventions against the Blood and Honours skinhead group. Three Blood and Honour members will go to trial in early 2013, charged with setting fire to a Filipino man in downtown Vancouver on Oct. 10, 2009. The neo-Nazi group was targeting youth in Prince George through its online network, but Gallant said Blood and Honour is no longer active in the city.
"I was prompted to watch for that when I started to see youth here wearing white supremacist T-shirts and tattoos, and there were a couple white supremacist groups that played black metal music here," said Gallant. "One of the guys in the bands was a guy I recruited and that's how I knew it was a white supremacist philosophy behind that band."
Gallant tipped off the RCMP about some of the racist activity going on in the city but was not satisfied with their response and contacted Citizen reporter Frank Peebles to tell of a Saudi Arabian student who had been assaulted at a downtown nightclub. The story on Gallant was published Feb. 2, 2010.
Since then, Gallant has learned an Aryan nations group based in Provost, Alta., has tried to make inroads with recruiting in Prince George and has identified four separate groups in the city who share those Aryan views. He said the university and the diversity it brings has helped promote acceptance of other races and cultures but there's still much work to be done to eliminate the problem.
"There are a lot of bad attitudes towards First Nations communities and that comes from across the board," Gallant said.
Gallant contributes written material to a website antiracistscanada.blogspot.ca that keeps extensive histories on hate crimes, written by anonymous authors. He's now tapped into Google Ideas, a thinktank developed by Google to promote the use of technology to solve global challenges, and is involved in the social network, Against Violent Extremism. Launched in April, the network links former extremists, survivors of hate crimes, academics and activists.
"[Google Idea director] Jared Cohen explained to me it was his idea because he's seen all this racist chatter going on online, so he thought of a way to counter it," said Gallant.
Through that network, Gallant will approach some of the higher-profile people who are former white supremacists now contributing to the Google Ideas site, and plans to make them the subjects of his thesis studies. The goal of his research is to identify processes people go through as they recover and heal from a previous lifestyle generating racial hatred and provide direction to the appropriate social services.