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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Systematic discrimination has made aboriginals 23 percent of prison population in Canada


Government of Canada ducks as native prison population soars


by Samantha Bayard
OTTAWA,  ­ A report tabled today by Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers critiques the government for its treatment of aboriginals in prison and for not dealing with the disproportionate number of incarcerated aboriginals.
"No new significant investments at the community level for federal aboriginal initiatives, no deputy commissioner dedicated solely to and responsible for aboriginal programs, planning, implementation and results," Howard Sapers told a news conference. "And worst of all, no progress in closing the large gaps in correctional outcomes between aboriginal and non-aboriginal inmates."
NDP aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder (Nanaimo-Cowichan) said in the House: "The government is simply failing aboriginal men and women who are in disproportionate and growing numbers behind bars. It has become such a crisis that under the Conservatives, the Correctional Investigator had to resort for only the second time in his history to table a special report directly to Parliament. "
"Why is the Prime Minister not taking this first nations crisis more seriously?," NDP leader Tom Mulcair asked in the House.
Stephen Harper replied dismissively and then moved into predictable tough- on-crime rhetoric. "It is important to note that prisoners are people who have been found guilty of criminal offences by independent courts," he said. "The reality is that, unfortunately, aboriginal people are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than other Canadians. That is why we are taking our responsibility to protect Canadian society seriously, and looking at other measures."
Liberal critic for aborignal affairs Carolyn Bennett followed up, saying there are many reasons for the increase in Canada's aboriginal population in jail. "Instead of housing, education and mental health for first peoples in Canada, Conservatives choose jails."
Later, Mulcair called the government response, "One of the most disappointing things I’ve ever heard from Stephen Harper. It’s as if he’s saying that some people are just born to be in prison, instead of realizing that there’s an endemic problem that requires innovation solutions. No one’s saying that the law doesn’t applythe same to everyone but what we are saying is when you have such a disproportionate number of people from one community in jail, you have to start going to the source of the problem instead of just saying, well, that’s the way it is and we’re not going to do anything about it."
Mulcair says innovative solutions are needed to get the source of the problems of aboriginal people  and the criminal justice system.
The NDP leader critiqued Harper for not acting sooner. "Stephen Harper had his opportunity a year ago. He sat down very formally with First Nations, said he was going to start working towards solutions. The Stephen Harper we had here today, that was the Stephen Harper of the Reform Party. That was the Stephen Harper of the past telling us that this is the way it is and it’s going to continue that way and it’s all right. It’s not all right in a free and democratic society to have that sort of disproportionate number of people from one community in prison. We’ve got to start taking care of the source of that problem. That’s going to require a little bit of understanding and some empathy, something sorely lacking from Stephen Harper’s answers in the House today."
Section 81 and 84 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act were put in place 20 years ago to prevent this sort of trend from occurring, Howard Sapers said, but he pointed to, "Serious gaps between the laws and practice." One missed opportunity, he said, has been healing lodges, where services and programs align more with aboriginal people’s tradition and beliefs. The concept was introduced five years ago but many are under-funded and under-utilitized. Sapers said they can only serve two percent of the aboriginal population in prison.
He called on Correctional Service Canada to implement a long-term strategy to increase opportunities for the care and custody of aboriginal offenders by aboriginal communities, and the immediate hiring of more aboriginal community development officers as first steps to making a significant change.

About Samantha Bayard


Samantha Bayard is a young journalist 

living and working out of 

Ottawa. She has been a contributor to 

various on line  websites since 2009. She is an avid 

cyclist and lover of  animals.
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