Before I begin, I would actually like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land on this unceded territory of the Anishinabe people. It's an honour and privilege for me.
I also want to thank the members of this standing committee for their time and energy in embarking on such important work.
As noted, I am Vicki Chartrand. I am currently associate professor at Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Previous to this, I was the executive director of a women's transition house in the northern interior of British Columbia. I also worked at the national office of the Elizabeth Fry Societies. Prior to that, I worked at Correctional Service Canada in the voluntary sector in the parole office.
You may know that in 2016 Macleans magazine published an article entitled “Canada’s prisons are the 'new residential schools'”. The statement builds on a substantial body of research that explores how Canada's criminal justice system works against indigenous people at every level: police checks and arrests, bail denial and detention, sentencing miscarriages and disparities, and of course, the high rates of imprisonment. These trends are also well documented throughout other settler colonial regions, such as the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
It's clear that the problem is systemic to settler regions like Canada. While the prison is not a residential school per se, we have to keep in mind that it was born of the same modern logics of segregation and reformation of the individual. I don't think it's a coincidence that in the 1950s and 1960s, as we started to see Indian assimilation policies begin to recede, we also started to see the prison and the child welfare systems silently take their place in the lives of indigenous people. In fact, prior to the 1960s, there was only 1% to 2% of indigenous prisoners. Since the 1960s, that number has increased consistently every year after.
As you have likely heard, indigenous women represent 2% of the general population and somewhere between 36% and 39% of the federal prison population. This reality is woven into a backdrop of colonialism, where indigenous women are more often criminalized and then imprisoned for what are referred to as “crimes of survival” that are linked to poverty, lack of educational and employment opportunities, lifestyles of substance abuse, mental health concerns, and histories of sexual abuse, violence, and trauma. In your study, it's important for the committee to consider how the prison system often parallels and reinforces the same realities of repression, abuse, and violence experienced by indigenous women from the onset of colonialism.
I've visited prisons all across Canada, in Australia, and I've even been in a prison in Cambodia. Prisons are characterized by authoritarianism, marked power imbalance, violence, enforced restriction of movement and activities, isolation, lack of freedom of association, and enforcement of arbitrary and trivial demands. This is also very characteristic of colonialism itself.
Indigenous women end up on the deepest end of the system, and continue to be subject to some of the most restrictive levels of penal practices, such as maximum-security classifications, segregation, involuntary transfers, physical restraints, strip searches, lockdowns, use of force, dry cells, institutional charges, lack of medical attention, and also with higher rates of self-harm and suicide. When you end up on the deep end of the system—and I don't mean to be macabre—you often don't come out alive.
Adaptive or coping strategies commonly exhibited by women in prison, such as angry outbursts, substance use, or self-injury, are often cultivated in response to the prison environment and compounded by their histories of abuse, violence, and trauma. Women's resistance to the institutional order, or their inability to adjust or cope, is often interpreted as non-compliance, perceived as a security threat, and met with intensive control, which also results in more time in prison.
For example, there are two cases in the media that I'm sure you're familiar with.
Kinew James, who died of a heart attack after her sentence after her emergency button call in her cell was routinely ignored, was initially serving a six-year sentence for manslaughter but accumulated dozens of charges while in prison, which resulted in a 15-year sentence.
Renee Acoby has also been in the media. She accumulated an additional 21 years of charges in prison, spent more than half her time in segregation, and was eventually given a dangerous offender designation, which, effectively, keeps her in prison for life. This is particularly germane for indigenous women whose resistance to control or violence is a part of their survival in their communities or on reserve, whatever the case may be.
Since 1848, from the Brown commission, we've been looking at the systemic repression and brutality in the prisons.
Since the 1960s we've been looking at remedies to address the rates of incarceration of indigenous people in Canada that have included more penal interventions, and clearly to no avail. It is a mistake for us to continue to make the prisons part of a remedy to the rates of indigenous incarceration when that reality is arguably endemic to its character.
I have solutions that I want to build on that echo the significant work others have been doing in this area already.
First, front-end strategies that are indigenous-led are more long-term. There's a bill on the table, Bill , that outlines the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I want to commend the current government for supporting this bill. It's in line with the TRC recommendations.
We need to make sure that basic rights of indigenous people are being met. There are basic national standards of clean water, electricity, employment and educational opportunities, social service support, health care, and the like.
Second, we have to minimize and mitigate the harmful impacts of the prisons, such as, for example, by abolishing segregation, at the very least, for women. My understanding is that the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies has a pilot project in place that looks at dynamic security measures, rather than more restrictive ones, such as force measures. We can also accomplish this through external, independent oversight and accountability. That can happen by way of judicial review, as outlined in the Arbour report, or through parliamentary oversight in the intermediary, as outlined by Senator Kim Pate.
Finally, we need decarceration strategies and community options. There are existing remedies in the legislation that include, in the CCRA, section 29 agreements in the community for people with mental health concerns, and sections 81 and 84, whereby indigenous and non-indigenous prisoners can serve their sentence and parole in a supported way in the community.
In implementing these remedies, we obviously need the necessary resources. We have to build on the internal strengths and capacities of indigenous communities—I could talk more about that—as well as be creative in our options.
I just want to remind you that prisons don't disappear problems; they only disappear people.
Thank you so much for listening.
My thanks to the committee for inviting my organization, and to Ms. Chartrand for her eloquent speech about the situation.
As some of you may know, Quebec Native Women Inc. is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to defend the interests of aboriginal women and to improve their standard of living throughout Quebec, whether in urban areas or in their own communities. We do so in different ways, specifically through promoting non-violence, through good health considered from a holistic perspective, and through accessible and equitable justice.
Because of that, we are called on to work not only with women from the various nations living in the territory of Quebec, but also with front-line organizations and with larger ones, with federal and provincial public institutions, and with government representatives. Our mission is to speak on behalf of those women to institutions that affect their lives, so that we can give a voice to those women experiencing injustice.
The astounding increase in the numbers of female indigenous inmates is a major issue for us because it affects many indigenous and Inuit women in Quebec, as well as their families and their communities. Their problems are not those of one person only.
First of all, it is important to understand the context in which the prosecution and incarceration of indigenous women has evolved over time. The overrepresentation of indigenous women in the justice system and the correctional system corresponds to an intergenerational cycle of appropriation and institutionalization of indigenous people. For the most part, this runs through a common history marked by trauma and difficulty, which finds its origin in colonial policies and practices.
As an organization, our first recommendation that results from that background is to provide training and awareness activities on indigenous history and issues. This must be provided systematically and automatically, and it must be compulsory for all those in the justice system: first responders, police, lawyers, correctional officers, judges, program coordinators in institutions, probation officers and all those involved in transition houses. It not only includes yesterday's issues, it includes today's issues too.
We believe that this awareness of, and information about, the history and the issues of indigenous people will allow those working in the legal system in which this indigenous population finds itself to improve their practices. They will also play a part in changing the internal policies that affect the lives and experiences of the indigenous women in the prison facilities.
By way of information, a comment on this recommendation was made by the Office of the Correctional Investigator in its 2016-2017 annual report. It stated that the Correctional Service of Canada, CSC, does not provide its staff with guidance or training on how aboriginal social history should be considered in case management decisions.
The goal of the second recommendation is to reduce the marginalization of indigenous women in prisons and especially penitentiaries. Indigenous women are marginalized in part because of their particular social, historical and economic background. This marginalization too often brings with it an increase in risk factors, which are established according to risk assessment principles. They take the form of higher security classifications, such as medium or maximum.
The marginalization of aboriginal women and their realities are considered risks because risk factors are assessed objectively, independent of a person's sociohistorical and socioeconomic background. The realities that affect indigenous women to a greater extent automatically bring with them a higher risk level. Examples are intergenerational trauma, alcoholism, violence, abuse, lower education levels, insecurity or poverty. So indigenous women are more likely to be given a higher security classification, as the statistics available clearly show.
We believe absolutely that those labels are obstacles to healing, to rehabilitation and to the reintegration of these women. A blatant example is that healing lodges for indigenous women inmates, as provided for in section 81, accept only those with a minimum security classification, which is only a very small number.
Indigenous women with higher security classifications and who clearly have more complex or greater needs have no access to programming of that kind. It is counterproductive to isolate those women and not provide them with the support they need. Either access to programming of that kind must be made easier for women with higher security classifications or the risk that those women pose must be assessed in the light of the particular backgrounds and realities of first nations or Inuit women. The resources are available. Their quality may be open for debate, but they must be used to their full potential.
The final recommendation is to provide services and resources that are culturally sensitive and appropriate outside prison facilities. The services and resources must be permanent and regularly available, which is not the case, at least in Quebec.
For those granted conditional releases, transition houses are very poorly equipped to meet the needs of first nations or Inuit women. Those houses actually get very few financial and human resources. It is all very well to hire indigenous workers, for example, but, indigenous or not, those workers also have to be fully trained in indigenous issues.
Moreover, it is important to consider the fact that a number of indigenous women do not—
One of them is that we have to be creative in our solutions. If we just follow the correctional mandate of risk assessments and managing people's risks, we won't come up with an ability to release people into the community. I'll give you an example.
When I worked at the women's transition house, it was a transition house for women who were abused. Oftentimes, they're indigenous women coming from poverty. In fact, a lot of the women were actually coming from prison.
When you're coming from poverty, you can't afford to live in a good place. Often the women would have to stay in an area called the crack shacks and you can imagine what the crack shacks might have entailed. Of course, having worked for parole, you go in to do these community assessments, to see if they're going to be released into an environment that's suitable for their rehabilitation. They can't afford to do that. They can't afford to stay anywhere, other than an environment that's more than likely not going to be suitable for their parole.
A creative idea, for instance, is a transition house. This was on our own backs, in the sense that, we didn't have the resources for it. If we could fund these kinds of resources.... They would stay in these environments, but we would offer them a safety plan, so that if anything ever happened, they would be welcome to stay in our house for the time being—in the interim—so that we could set up something else.
We need to get creative in our solutions. That comes from the communities. It comes from the grassroots work. I'll give you another example.
Right now, I'm doing a project on the missing and murdered indigenous women. You may or may not be familiar with Gladys Radek, but she walked across Canada five times to raise awareness and to bring this issue to light. The communities have been doing this work for years. We're just picking it up.
As there has been so much criminal justice neglect in this area, they have taken on looking for the missing and murdered women themselves. Two summers ago, we went across Canada to talk about all the amazing work that they've been doing. We interviewed people like Bernadette Smith, who started the “Drag the Red” campaign. Are you familiar with this?
Drag the Red, what they did.... The police refused to search the Red River after Tina Fontaine's body was found. The police said it was ineffective and inefficient, so they started dragging the Red. They didn't find very much. I think they found only teeth, but do you know what else they did? Outside of the monofunction of policing, what they also did was they built community. They gave people hope. They brought people together. This is what we call community capacity building. These are exactly the kinds of things that we want to be seeing in indigenous communities. This is led by indigenous people.
I have lots more examples of that and of course, I'm going to be doing research on this and providing those kinds of community capacity examples.
That was a long question and I am not sure I fully understood it.
In terms of putting an end to the cycle of violence, I think it always comes back to resources and support. More and more, we are talking to women in our communities and we are encouraging them to break the silence surrounding the cycle of violence, which was born of a violent past. The first step is to talk about it, and we are doing that more and more. But the lack of resources, either in the communities, outside them, or in urban settings, remains a problem. Many of our women live in Montreal and have access to very few resources. I believe that the basic problem is the lack of available resources and funding. There are a lot of other difficulties, meaning that we put the major problem to one side. It includes a number of things and has to be seen holistically. That is first and foremost what needs to be tackled, in my opinion.
Earlier, we were talking about the communities and the people we could turn to. I think it is important to communicate with the communities. Some of them are quite capable of providing resources and guidance of this kind. Others would be capable, but, for some services, they are lacking human and financial resources. In the cities, the situation is exactly the same. Moreover, as the women there are very isolated, they are in more danger of suffering some forms of violence. Even when those women are victims, the police can treat them with a lot of discrimination. So a certain mistrust develops.
My position is that everything revolves around the services and the resources to which indigenous women have access, whether they are in their communities or in the cities.
I was talking to a friend of mine back in B.C. She is a Carrier Sekani woman. Her sister is in prison for murder right now. I'll walk you through that story.
Their history is that the father was abusive. They lived with a fairly abusive family. The mother drank quite a bit. The mother has cancer now, so they're at risk of losing their mother. Her sister drinks, and her partner was abusive as well. At some point, she had two of her children taken away, which escalated a lot of the drinking. One night, they were out drinking and possibly using drugs, and they got into a fight. What ended up happening.... She had a penknife on her and she—no, her friend was there with her, and the boyfriend got stabbed. She was arrested. She didn't want to talk to a lawyer, because she didn't want to have to think about and relive that night, so there's no chance of her looking at self-defence, provocation, or anything like that. She is going to spend the rest of her life in jail. She will be given a life sentence. It's a very quick trajectory, but this is very common.
Then you can talk about the over-policing that goes on within the indigenous communities, the lack of sensitivity. It's endless. It would almost be worthwhile for you to just spend a day “in the life of”, go into communities or even go into prisons and just talk to people and hear their experiences. That would be so valuable.
I've been refused from prisons, but prisons can't refuse judges and parliamentarians, so I would really encourage you to go to a prison. Go into a maximum-security prison. Go see what it feels like. It's intense.
Thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today. We certainly appreciate it.
I think my questions are for the most part for both of you. I'll direct my first question to Véronique, if I may.
You talked a lot about community resources and the need to make them available to aboriginal women as they come out of the prison system, in order for them to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society and be successful in that reintegration.
Have you seen any examples in which a community bond has been put to use and has worked well? By that I mean a situation in which the government has given money to an organization to implement a program to help serve these women as they come out of the prison system, whereby the programs that are being established—the not-for-profits, often, that are putting these programs together—would be held accountable based on results. In other words, how many of the women they're working with return to being incarcerated, versus how many don't? Maybe there are some other factors that could be measured along the way as well.
Basically, this would be the idea of using a community bond to help these women re-establish their lives in Canadian society. I'm wondering if you've seen this work, if you have examples, or if you could comment on whether you think it is a model that could be pursued.
Thank you. I want to thank the committee for the invitation to be here.
I do work for Aboriginal Legal Services, but I want to mention our Ojibway name. We asked Elder Jackie Lavalley for our name. We gave her tobacco and asked for our name. The name we received was Gaa Kina Gwai Wabaama Debwewin, which will be impossible for the translators to translate. What it translates to is “all those who seek the truth”.
The significance of the name is not that we have the truth, obviously, but that in all forms of our work we try to assist people to try to find the truth. Sometimes it's the individuals we work with, sometimes it's the courts and tribunals we appear before, and I hope that our submissions today and our discussions will help you in your quest.
I have three points that I want to raise. The first point I want to talk about is the role of Parliament in addressing the over-incarceration of indigenous women.
Before we look at what the Parole Board does, before we look at CSC, we have to look at the fact that there are still mandatory minimum sentences that take away from judges the ability to sentence indigenous women the way they would like to be sentenced. There are still provisions that restrict judges from using conditional sentences, which can keep women out of prison.
We are in the midst of a charter challenge in the case of an indigenous woman charged with importing drugs into Canada. She is looking at a minimum sentence of two years. Unfortunately, although the current government has promised changes to the Criminal Code, they have not been implemented. Without our involvement and her counsel's involvement, she would be serving a federal sentence right now. Parliament can act on this now. It's our recommendation that it is past time for that.
It's not just the mandatory minimums. It's also the restrictions on conditional sentences. There is a study done by Ryan Newell, an article called “Making Matters Worse”. It's in the Osgoode Hall Law Journal. I can send information on the specific site.
He refers to research by a scholar who was looking at the way in which courts use the Gladue and Ipeelee decisions to sentence indigenous women. She found 31 cases of indigenous women who received conditional sentences. After the passage of the Safe Streets and Communities Act in 2012, 29 of those women would not have been able to receive a conditional sentence, which means they probably all would have been going to jail.
The first thing we urge the committee to recommend and to try at least to do is to have the current government bring in the legislation they have promised to bring in to restore to judges their discretion to sentence people without the burden of mandatory minimum sentences and the restrictions on conditional sentences.
Our second point relates to programming for indigenous women. I know that you heard from Correctional Service of Canada and that they talked about their Pathways program and the fact that there are elders available to indigenous women who want to access that service.
Those are good initiatives, but the difficulty with CSC's initiatives is that they're only available for indigenous women who want to participate in traditional programming. There are indigenous women who are in prison who are not interested in traditional programming. There are indigenous women who are traditional and don't want to access the programs in their institution because the elders in their institutions don't follow their practices. For those women, it's at though they're not indigenous because there are no services for them.
Programming has to be developed to meet the needs of all indigenous women, not indigenous women who simply fit into CSC's stereotype of who an indigenous woman should be.
We are supporting an initiative in Toronto called “Thunder Woman Healing Lodge”. It's an attempt to get section 81 and section 84 parole beds in a healing lodge for indigenous women in Toronto, because there are no such options available in Ontario. That program will be open to all indigenous women and will be able to address all of their needs. We can't simply say to indigenous women, you get a service because you meet our ideas of what an indigenous woman should be, and others don't.
The third point I want to raise relates to the national Parole Board. I know you've heard from the national Parole Board and they spoke about their elder-assisted parole hearings. It's nice to have an elder-assisted parole hearing in the sense that it's maybe a more culturally appropriate way to conduct a parole hearing, but that doesn't do anything to address the information the parole board has on the indigenous women who are before that parole board. The difficulty that we have now is that for indigenous women who are seeking parole, the information the parole board relies on is only that information that essentially has been collected by CSC and CSC staff about those women, and that's what goes forward.
One of the issues that the Parole Board and CSC have not really adequately grappled with, I think, is how to provide Gladue reports. These are reports certainly that our organization has been providing since 2001. How do we provide that sort of information to the Parole Board so that there's another source of information, another way to look at the circumstances of the indigenous women who are coming before them?
Those are my initial remarks. Thank you.
Good afternoon. I also thank the committee for engaging and having us present here today. I'm going to start off by saying that there should be nothing about us without us. Those are my favourite words because the Métis often get forgotten.
There are several presentations that have been made, and one of my favourites is where the Métis are hiding in plain sight, where you've seen pictures and all sorts of icons of Métis presentations for centuries now, but nobody really wants to talk about us and we get left off of the agenda, without a seat at the table, all the time. I do appreciate the fact that you've reached out to engage with us.
I want to know more about things like what this committee and others are doing to engage indigenous women who are incarcerated. A lot of the discussion needs to happen with them at these discussion tables on the issues that affect and impact them, but I'm only going to speak on the issues of Métis.
You have to understand who we are and where we've come from to know that a lot of the programming and work that's been done within corrections or any of these processes has often excluded us. We want to make sure, when we're doing this kind of work and people are developing processes to move forward with policies and engagement, that Métis are not included as an indigenous characterization. We're all distinct and apart from each other, and Métis need to have their place. As your former speaker indicated, not every glove fits every hand. We need to make sure there are opportunities for Métis women when it comes time to deal with the issue of their incarceration.
One thing I want to talk about is the Gladue reports in relation to the people we have within the court systems. We realize how taxed they are. Many of our people are not getting Gladue reports.
The legal aid system is overburdened with the kinds of clients that people are dealing with. The lawyers find that a Gladue report is another tax on people, and they actually even discourage the people who are going through the court system from getting a Gladue report. They'll talk to them about how that's only going to increase their incarceration within the various remand centres for a longer period of time.
The whole point of a Gladue report is so that people can look at the factors as to how these people actually ended up where they are. It isn't a place to make an excuse for them, but it's a place where we can engage the correctional institutions to find a way out of this mess so that they don't become reoffenders, or if they are reoffenders, that we start looking at places where we can start engaging other solutions to help make sure they don't remain within those systems.
Quite often, many of the people we work with who are part of the correctional institutions are there because there are no supports in the community for mental health issues. They're there because there are addiction issues.
Addictions are a health issue. Corrections will never be a solution for us to fix addictions issues or to fix mental health issues. There is no programming or support in a correctional institution to help with those things, so we need to find a different way to start working with some of our indigenous women who are within those systems.
The Gladue reports are really important if they're truly being done the way Gladue reports were intended. As the Supreme Court had indicated, the Gladue reports are going to have ideas for the judges as to what kind of programming is going to be necessary for the person who's being put within these institutions. They can be a restorative justice program as much as they're a corrective justice program. I think it's important for us as indigenous women and Métis women to start making sure that these factors are in place.
I know that we need to fix the correctional institutions and the court systems in relation to how long it takes for any of these things to go on. We now have case after case in which individuals who are charged are pleading guilty prior to conviction because it's an easier solution to get them back home to their children than for them to deal with trying to leverage a defence for themselves.
Sometimes these women, especially young women, who are in these institutions are being introduced into a system that changes the direction of their lives and generates trauma for them. I really encourage and support that this committee start to address and look at some of the issues that relate to our women.
Mostly for the Métis, I want to say, there hasn't been a lot of research done. Most of the research, work, and information that we were able to gain, even when we were looking at coming to present here, is more of a pan-indigenous approach, which doesn't work for us. It doesn't support who we are. It doesn't support the women we are trying to work with to address the issues concerning what happens with them within those institutions.
We want to know how the programming is evaluated. We read some of the information that was linked to us for this presentation. Some of the programming.... I guess that if I were doing programming, I would want to toot my own horn too, but the question is, who is really looking at this programming? Who addresses the effectiveness of the programs?
As I said, we need to engage indigenous women with this stuff to make sure that it's benefiting them.
Thank you, members of the committee, for this opportunity and for conducting this very important study.
My recommendations are grounded in two main points: the fragility of indigenous programs and services provided in women's corrections and the need for supports and services for indigenous women outside the prison.
CSC's intention to provide appropriate services for our indigenous women is fragile, because the services are created to fit within an existing framework, a framework that reflects western approaches to rehabilitation. While CSC has made many changes to support indigenous women, they already are or are at risk of becoming, as the women have said, whitewashed.
For example, when I was conducting my research in Grand Valley Institution, I witnessed deep relationships and connections between the women and the spiritual adviser. She was referred to as “Grandmother” by the women in the prison. Just before my research was about to end, this spiritual adviser expressed concern because she was asked by CSC to write assessments of the women. At that point in time it was merely a request, not a mandate, but in 2016 this process was further legitimized as an essential aspect of providing effective culturally appropriate interventions for aboriginal peoples.
A grandmother doesn't take notes; a grandmother doesn't report what you say and do to authorities. As women told me, “Grandmother loves and cares for us”, and that is what made a difference for them. I've had a few occasions to meet, since my time there, with some of the women I met at GVI, and they say it's not the same as before. Yes, there are more spiritual advisers now, and yes, there are more programs, but the quality of the relationships is not what it once was. As such, I recommend that CSC consider how they can change or make exceptions to their policies to fit the cultures or ways of life of indigenous people.
For example, I recommend implementing something similar to Gladue principles when assessing a woman for her level of security. Right now many indigenous women are not accessing the supports and services available because they are deemed medium or maximum security. If a woman's history of colonization and trauma are taken into consideration when security labels are applied, more indigenous women would have access to programs and services such as healing lodges.
A second recommendation is to provide equal funding for community-based healing lodges—they currently receive 60¢ to the dollar received by CSC-run healing lodges—and also to create new ones in urban settings. I refer you to the correctional investigator's annual report for the rationale behind this, specifically the segment on section 81.
The third recommendation is to create opportunities for intergenerational healing. The trauma of colonization and the pathway to incarceration for many indigenous women goes back generation upon generation. While there are children allowed in federal prisons—those four years and under can stay there full time, and six and under can stay there part time—I think it makes sense not just for women to heal but the generations before and generations after.
The fourth recommendation is training and education for CSC staff and mainstream, community-based organizations who will play or already play a part in supporting indigenous women. As we already know, the average Canadian doesn't know enough about indigenous cultures and the colonization of indigenous peoples. One starting point could be the blanket exercise offered by Kairos. The RCMP have used it, along with the Montreal police, and they suggest that it's been a good experience thus far.
My final recommendation related to my first point is to partner with indigenous organizations and have them offer programs and services for women. This might get beyond the pan-indigenous approach that has already been highlighted by members of this panel.
This recommendation dovetails with my second point: the need for supports and services for indigenous women outside of prison.
The fact is that while indigenous supports and programs in federal prisons need improvement, they're better than what many indigenous women face in the community. I've heard numerous stories about how women revoke the conditions of their parole or reoffend so that they can go back. “It's good to be back home amongst my family,” they say when referring to their sisters, members of the Native Sisterhood, “just in time for Christmas.”
The point is that some women experience their culture in a positive light for the first time in prison, and once they are released they don't know where to find support so that they can continue this way of life. The gaps in supports and services for women released from prison is a noted issue. For indigenous women, it's even worse.
My recommendations include the creation of halfway houses, or at least units within existing halfway houses, that have culture-specific programming and services for indigenous women. I reiterate that this is done in collaboration with indigenous organizations that already exist. I suggest that programs for indigenous women in prison include a community bridge or link that provides some sort of continuity for women upon their release.
Here I refer you to a program that is hosted by Community Justice Initiatives called “Stride” at Grand Valley Institution. Notably, there's not a strong representation of indigenous women who participate in this program, but this organization is trying to find ways in which they can collaborate and connect with indigenous organizations, or members of the community who will help them reach indigenous women.
This is an ongoing issue with many mainstream organizations. I know the Elizabeth Fry Societies has been trying hard to try to find ways to help and support indigenous women as well. The fact that this committee is conducting this study is a significant step in the right direction because it provides an opening for the possibility of collaboration, and ultimately, a stronger network to support indigenous women.
The overrepresentation of indigenous women is not just the responsibility of CSC but of all of us.
Thank you to all three of the witnesses.
Again, talking about mandatory minimum sentencing, here is a scenario that I've heard about how taking away from judges the ability to use their discretion in sentencing has been a problem, and how disappointing it is that this government hasn't actually repaired that policy of the previous government. Here is the way it's been described to me.
A woman—in this case an indigenous woman—ends up being accidentally the accessory to a crime. Her boyfriend uses her car as a getaway car, her house is the address. It could be something so remote. She doesn't have great access to the justice system, doesn't have the means, and doesn't get good representation. In any case, in the past the judge might have been able to say, “I see you're in a bind here. I will allow you to serve your sentence on weekends in jail, at which point you can ask a grandmother or somebody to look after the kids.” If the hard and fast rule is that you must serve your sentence starting on day one and ending on year three or whatever, then that woman can lose her children, and those kids go into foster care or are split from their family, and then we have the intergenerational trauma that Dr. Yuen described.
Could it be that simple, that small a crime, that then has that collateral damage, when mandatory minimum sentencing is the framework in which women are sentenced?