Thank you very much for this opportunity to appear before this committee. Thank you for initiating this study on indigenous women in the federal justice and correctional systems. I am the executive director of Prisoners' Legal Services, which is the only full legal aid clinic for prisoners in Canada.
We provide legal services to federal and provincial prisoners in British Columbia on issues that affect their liberty rights as well as some health care and human rights Issues. In the past year, we have assisted prisoners with 2,462 legal issues.
In preparing for today, I attended our legal aid clinic at the Fraser Valley Institution for Women with some indigenous women in the maximum and medium security unit. On the day I visited, all the women in maximum security were indigenous. They told me that the design of the units meant there were too few women to interact with. The max unit holds approximately six women on each of two sides, which makes them feel isolated and leads to conflict. One prisoner said that officers looked at them as if they were in a zoo and they weren't treated like human beings.
The max units are behind glass walls with the officers on the other side of the glass. Prisoners commented that the officers do not interact with them except for security purposes. Indigenous women in both maximum and medium security talked about a lack of trust between indigenous prisoners and staff. They felt there was a lot of racism and discrimination against them by officers. One woman said they build relationships with each other and are accused of being in a game when they're not. They separate people who had bonded and supported each other.
They also felt that staff do not really apply aboriginal social history and that Gladue factors are often used against them in their security classification. The women I spoke with thought there were not enough indigenous programs at FVI, especially in the maximum security units. There's only one elder who is stretched too thin. They feel it isn't possible to deal with their trauma and abuse at FVI and the problems just open up wounds and make it more difficult to function in a security-driven environment. That isn't healing, one woman said. Many indigenous women stay in prison until their statutory release dates and feel set up to fail in the community without enough support or healing.
They said they need more one-on-one trauma and abuse counselling with mental health professionals from the outside. One woman said they need more indigenous-run healing lodges. She said the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in Saskatchewan is great. She said that 60% of the staff are aboriginal and they understand what it's like to be on reserve. She said people who work here at FVI aren't sensitive to that and tell us to get over it.
Many of the women I spoke with talked about needing more access to their kids and families and connections with their homes and bands. Many talked about not having enough money to even make a phone call home. They talked about the barriers to having visits with family members if they have criminal records and not being approved for temporary absences home because it's too far. The women also felt they had too few opportunities for job skills training or for education beyond grade 12. I hope this committee will seek the voices of indigenous women prisoners during the course of this study.
The overrepresentation of indigenous prisoners, and most significantly women indigenous prisoners, is in large part a result of the multi-generational trauma Canada inflicted on indigenous people over 100 years of residential schools. With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report, Canada has finally acknowledged the genocide we committed against indigenous people by forcibly taking children away from families to remote locations and subjecting them to programs designed to destroy their pride and self-respect. Canada is also responsible for taking land and resources from first nations and then denying sufficient resources for indigenous communities to be able to provide for themselves.
The overrepresentation of indigenous people in prison is a continuation of the genocidal practice of residential schools. It continues to separate parents from their children, and it fails to create an environment of trust and respect where healing might be possible. Many children of incarcerated indigenous mothers will be placed in foster care. An indigenous woman parolee in the 1990 report “Creating Choices”asked how they can be healed by those who symbolize the worst experiences of their past.
“Creating Choices” also notes that the indigenous people consulted by the task force on federally sentenced women stressed that the concept of punishment is alien to the aboriginal culture. The focus on restoration of harm and finding direction through teachings and spirituality in traditional culture is diametrically different from the punitive models of western culture.
Despite the legal requirement that the Gladue factors or aboriginal social history be considered by sentencing courts, CSC, and the Parole Board, indigenous people and especially indigenous women are imprisoned more at higher rates of security and for longer portions of their sentences than other Canadians.
CSC is required by section 18 of the corrections and conditional release regulations to classify prisoners according to minimum, medium, or maximum security according to three criteria, which are escape risk, risk to public safety, and the degree of supervision and control required within the penitentiary. This third factor is known as the institutional adjustment rating within CSC.
Of course, indigenous women tend to have high institutional adjustment rates, given that their imprisonment by Canada is an extension of the genocidal policies of residential schools. It would be next to impossible to have a low rating for institutional adjustment in a security-driven prison environment that perpetuates violence and does not achieve the foundation of trust and respect that is necessary for healing.
It is significant that all of the women who have been declared dangerous offenders in Canada are indigenous, and their designation is generally based on violent offences that have happened since they were imprisoned, not in the community. It is also significant that very few indigenous women achieve minimum security, which would allow them to access the only aboriginal healing lodge for women in Canada.
Trauma affects mental health and behaviour. Classifying prisoners to higher levels of security based on institutional adjustment problems results in prisoners who have suffered high rates of personal and intergenerational trauma being denied the support that they need to heal. The test for security classification should be amended to ensure that prisoners who have experienced trauma or have high mental health needs have more access to resources that would facilitate healing, such as mental health services and a non-punitive, culturally appropriate environment. In our clients' experiences, aboriginal social history is included in CSC's risk assessments as lip service and appears to have no impact on security classification decisions other than as a factor that increases security risk.
Prisoners' Legal Services calls on government to engage with first nations and indigenous organizations so that they may achieve self-determination in the administration of criminal justice. The federal Government of Canada should ensure that first nations and indigenous organizations have the resources to provide wraparound community services so that indigenous women have the support to heal from trauma and avoid contact with the criminal justice system; to administer indigenous courts based on restorative justice to ensure that there are community alternatives to incarceration at sentencing; and to be able to provide healing lodges by and for indigenous people under section 81 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, regardless of security level, so that no indigenous woman should be required to set foot in a federal prison again.
There should be funding and support to ensure that there are community resources to allow indigenous prisoners to be released to indigenous communities on parole or statutory release under section 84 of the CCRA, and they should be resourced to ensure support is there for indigenous women and men after the end of their sentences.
Canada should never again participate in the separation of indigenous families and communities and in the violence that is inherent in its imprisonment of indigenous women and men in federal prisons.
Madam Chair, honourable members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to participate in this study. Following on Ms. Metcalfe's remarks, my focus today is on a few big-picture considerations that I hope will help frame your approach to the study.
Meaningful systems-level change for indigenous women affected by or engaged with the criminal justice system cannot be achieved through criminal justice or corrections interventions alone. We are well beyond a situation where some tweaks or some reforms at the margins will suffice to turn the tide of the staggering overrepresentation of indigenous women within these systems.
You may have already heard from the Correctional Service of Canada that they are making improvements to how they're documenting aboriginal social history in the offender management system, or about how they're looking to more effective hiring and retention practices for elders and indigenous correctional staff. To be sure, those are good things, and we encourage those efforts, but those types of efforts are not going to be enough. We have to broaden our perspective of the systems and actors involved in indigenous women's criminalization and incarceration.
CSC itself acknowledges that indigenous women are coming into its custody with distinct and different needs due to unique and complex pathways to the criminal justice system; that there are present, prior, and intergenerational experiences of abuse and trauma; and that indigenous women experience far greater economic and social insecurity than members of society at large. We've seen numerous studies, reports, and commissions that have mapped out why this is, why indigenous communities have been historically disadvantaged and remain disadvantaged today. However, I think now we're starting to talk about how we can meet those needs, not only while indigenous women are within the prison system but, more importantly, how we can meet those needs before they get there.
To answer that “how” question, I think we need to think about investing in safe and appropriate housing, stable employment, access to child care, mental health supports, access to justice in terms of legal supports, and community support services. It's going to require the people in this room, and your colleagues and counterparts in the House and the Senate, to work across ministries and across jurisdictions and, most importantly, to work with indigenous women themselves.
I echo Ms. Metcalfe's call that, if you're not planning to already, you try to go out to some of the women's prisons, particularly the Edmonton Institution for Women and the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon, and speak with women while they're incarcerated, and those who have been recently released.
We need to think about how we can ensure stable, sustainable funding for community supports. We can only deal with the outcome or the reaction when individuals are in prison, but we need to be looking at what's happening, the pathways they're taking to get there, and what interventions we can do across the spectrum to address that at the outset.
The connection between indigenous women's imprisonment and child protection comes to mind immediately, and Ms. Metcalfe spoke about this as well. Are we adequately supporting indigenous women to parent? Are we adequately supporting indigenous kinship carers? We're not, frankly. We're not adequately supporting indigenous women and their families and communities.
In B.C., we see this all the time at West Coast LEAF. Child protection services are putting more resources into fostering children outside of those communities rather than within the relationships that exist in family units. I think that happens partly out of a misunderstanding of those kinship bonds, but I think it's also some racist and harmful views about what proper parenting looks like in our society. We can't ignore that reality.
We in this room are all too aware that removing indigenous children from their families and communities and putting them into institutional settings causes intergenerational harms. We've seen that already. We had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We have numerous studies and reports. We know that this is not going to end with that person alone; it's going to have future detrimental effects.
At the very least, I think we also have to do no harm to the indigenous women already engaged in our criminal justice and correctional systems. We're failing at this in ways that have devastating downstream effects not only for those indigenous women, but as I said earlier, for generations to come, for their children, for their families. How do we do no harm? It's easy to say, “Do no harm”, but how do we do that?
Well, I think it really comes from a fundamental and radical shift in how we think about incarcerated indigenous women. We have to stop thinking about them as bundles of risk or as behaviours to manage. We have to think about them as human beings with this complex history that comes with them. They have multi-faceted, individualized needs. We can't try cookie-cutter pan-indigenous approaches to addressing those needs.
How do we understand that indigenous women and their communities are themselves agents of change, that they're the ones with the greatest stake in this outcome? This past summer my organization intervened at the B.C. Supreme Court in a charter challenge to administrative segregation in federal prisons. I don't know how much the committee may have heard about administrative segregation, but we can speak about that later.
Why I raise it now is that I think it's important for you to understand that, even as many of the aboriginal programs that CSC officials might have already described to you or that you might have heard about were in place, the annual segregation placements for indigenous women were still trending upward. It's not because there's a lack of understanding that indigenous women have different needs. It's not because CSC has a lack of caring or concern for their outcomes. I think it's that we have this fundamentally flawed risk-and-security-centric approach to the business of corrections. That impacts all prisoners, but it particularly has a harmful impact for indigenous women and women experiencing mental health concerns.
As in society, in prison, behavioural expectations are gendered and they're culturally situated. This idea of institutional adjustment that Ms. Metcalfe talked about is used as a reference for how someone will get along in the correctional environment. The focus is on how willing and able those prisoners are to adapt and to comply. But indigenous women who are coming into the system with, perhaps, a distrust of authority because of their prior experiences then come to be seen in that environment as unco-operative, unmanageable, risky, challenging. That then exacerbates this cycle, where they're rated at a higher security level and their access to the kinds of programs that they probably desperately need to break that cycle becomes compromised by their security status.
I think I'm probably towards the end of my time.
Sure, and I think that maybe dovetails nicely with what you were asking Ms. Metcalfe about, and I agree with her. I think, when we think of indigenous communities, we sometimes have this idea of this sort of idyllic community that exists in this pristine way that hasn't changed since settlers first came here. That's not the reality for any of the indigenous people who I know or any of the indigenous communities my organization works with. But I think that there are organizations working with bands and with individuals in urban settings that are really looking at ways that some people who want to can reconnect with some of their cultural traditional practices that make sense for them now in this modern age.
I've heard from many indigenous prisoners that their first idea of culture, of their culture being provided to them, was through CSC programming that was, perhaps, not really a great way. Talk about neo-colonialism to say to someone that we're now giving them their culture in this institutional setting.
I do think that grassroots community organizations have a huge role to play, because those are the organizations that have seen some of these people through their best and worst times. They're the organizations that I think are committed to building that trust. Ms. Metcalfe spoke about this, and this is my experience with women in prison as well, that you can say that people are coming to see them every day, someone comes down, walks down the range, and asks them how they're doing, but that's not meaningful social contact. I don't think any one of us thinks that's meaningful social contact, so where is that meaningful social contact happening? For many indigenous women, it's happening in those grassroots community movements and organizations. I think that's where we need to be focused.
Yes, I'm happy to see that's happening. Again, I said that sort of cynical thing, that CSC doesn't often volunteer to change. I think this is another example of media attention to particularly egregious situations like those of Ashley Smith, Eddie Snowshoe, and others really shedding a light on what's happening.
Administrative segregation has been happening for a very long time. We're now talking about it, and I'm happy to see some legislative changes being proposed, and not only changes to the commissioner's directives, because as Ms. Metcalfe said, those are very discretionary instruments. They're not in the legislation, so that makes it very easy for them to change. It makes it very easy...maybe not very easy, but easier for them not to be applied in the sort of spirit that we think they should be applied.
In terms of legislative change around administrative segregation, I think we should also be very cognizant that CSC takes very technical positions. It's administrative segregation; that has a particular term of art for them. There are other ways in which people are confined, secluded, or isolated in their confinement. By focusing on administrative segregation, sometimes what happens is that it just changes what they call something. It may be that it will be taking place under a different guise, but it's not administrative segregation anymore.
I'll be very interested to follow the study of that bill, because I think there are some really important things in there, and I'm cautiously optimistic, as I always am.
I'm not entirely sure about that. During that solitary confinement trial, I was surprised to learn that some of the statistics that corrections are keeping aren't the sorts of things I thought. I thought they would have a sense of the prevalence of mental health issues in people coming in. That's something they've more recently been looking at. They weren't able to provide that type of information for women coming into the prison, at least not at the time of that trial.
I think that's really problematic, because how do we assess whether their interventions are working if we don't have a sense of the experience of people with mental health conditions coming in? How do we tell if they're worsening, getting better, or staying the same if we don't understand and we're not taking a holistic look at the person when they're coming into the prison? Mental health is one area in which I think they haven't been doing such a great job at collecting that data. I may be wrong. That data may be collected now, but it certainly didn't seem to be available at the time of the trial this past summer.
I don't know about the rates of recidivism, and whether they're able to aggregate the data across gender, indigeneity, and mental health. Based on the experience with the trial, I would be surprised if it were coming across in that way. It may be available, but I don't know if they're tracking it like that, to be honest. Ivan Zinger might know.
My name is Stephanie Weasel Child from Siksika Nation. I come to you from Calgary, which is on the traditional Blackfoot territory. It's an honour to be asked to speak before the committee.
I'll give you a bit of background on Siksika Nation. It's the second-largest land-based Indian reservation in Canada. We have a population of just under 8,000; 45% is on reserve and 55% is off. Our fastest growing population is 25 and under.
When I was looking at the topic that was chosen for today, I was thinking of recommendations like having more elders involvement, more female corrections officers, more female first nation judges, access to language and culture, traditional spiritual components within the federal corrections system, for example smudging, learning about your own language and your own culture. But the one thing that kept popping into my head was we should be focusing on ways to keep them out in the first place. When talking to the lawyer in Siksika Nation, she told me that the major cause of having first nations people get in trouble with the law is poverty and addictions. She asks her clients if they would have done this, if they would have committed the crime if they were sober, and nine times out of 10, the answer is no.
Siksika Nation is in a unique position. We have our own courthouse with regularly scheduled criminal and family court. We have our own legal aid office right on reserve. We have a victims' services and a crisis unit. We have probation services. We have two court workers who are Siksika Nation members. One is for criminal and one is for family court. We have a mediation program called Aiskapimohkiiks, which is used mainly for domestic violence and family court. Ninety per cent of the employees with Siksika justice are first nation.
My thinking is we need more programs on reserve to battle the problems of addictions and poverty. Siksika Nation has a Matrix program, which is basically a day treatment program. The limit for that is 20 people per session. I think it's a 12-week program. It's an outpatient treatment program. The only other alternative is to go to a residential treatment program in Calgary or Edmonton, and the wait-list is very long for that.
Another answer would be to look at traditional case management, bringing in elders, following the Aiskapimohkiiks program, which is fully functional in Siksika Nation. It would be bringing in elders, bringing in traditional leaders, traditional knowledge holders, society members, to help with the process with the members who are falling onto the wrong side of the law.
That would be true reconciliation, in my opinion. There is another component where you can educate the guards, the lawyers, the crown prosecutors, the judges, as to why first nations people are where they are. Educate them about the trauma of the residential schools, which caused all the broken families and caused a lot of the problems that first nations are facing today.
We could implement having more first nations judges, female judges. I know of a first nation member who applied. She went through the process and was put on a waiting list, and was told it would be three years before she would hear back for the final decision on whether she would become a judge or not. Three years came and went, so she contacted them again and they told her that the whole process had changed, that she had to go through the application process all over again.
She is a first nations female lawyer who had been working in Siksika Nation for, I would say, about 20 years. She goes out of her way, over and above to help her clients. That's the type of person the provincial government should be looking at to appoint as a judge to work full time in Siksika, because she has made a difference in her work, first as legal aid, as crown prosecutor, as defence, as duty counsel.
There are solutions. Improving their stay while they're in the system is an admirable attempt, but the focus should be on keeping first nations people out in the first place.
Thank you. My name is Lois Frank. I'm from the Blood Tribe, in southern Alberta.
I struggled with this presentation because I was trying to condense everything into seven minutes. That's difficult when you're a lecturer and instructor used to doing four-hour classes. I have a presentation that I've prepared for you, and you'll have copies of it, but I just want to speak from my heart because you've heard a lot of the evidence, the testimony of people who are in the justice system. I just want to share a few things with you.
We have a lot of statistics. We have the data on first nations women in the justice system. We know that women were very influential in traditional societies. We know they had an important role to play. They were the mothers and nurturers. They controlled the economic wealth of first nations sometimes. They had a lot of say in the communities.
I'm here because I teach criminal justice. I teach at the university. I also am involved in Gladue writing. I've been doing that for a number of years for the province. I've come to see the experiences of the people I represent as being very important. I could flood you with statistics and studies and inquiries, but I don't want to do that at this time. As a Gladue writer, under the Supreme Court's dictates, to look at subsection 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code, to look at the circumstances of aboriginal people is really important. Because I live on the Blood reserve, I have grandchildren, and I have students and Gladue clients, I feel as though I'd like to share my personal experiences in the work I do.
I have gained a lot of insight into the lives of aboriginal offenders, including substance abuse, violence, childhood trauma, homelessness, and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. I have heard many stories and I'm very concerned about the direction we're going in, as far as the criminal justice system is concerned.
As I mentioned, women were very important. They had important roles, but after colonization through the Indian Act, women were non-persons. I think we've been feeling the ripple effects of that. We lived in a spontaneous world, a customary spontaneous world, whereas now it's very cold. We're under the dictates of government, and people who find themselves in the criminal justice system find it to be a very cold, structured world where they don't have much of a say.
A lot of our communities are patriarchal now because of the Indian Act. Women had almost no role and were viewed by the European lens as being inferior, people who were.... We had different roles. We were not dainty European women who were unaccustomed to hard work. Women were very central. They were independent, and they had much power in the community. We see that diminished now. I think that's why we see a lot of the problems with first nations women. They are the pillars. They're the roots of the community. When you take that away, we're seeing the problems, like the murdered and missing indigenous women. We don't need another study, another inquiry. We know there are problems.
I think it's important that we, as people who are attempting to reform some of the systems we have in place, like the courts, police, corrections.... Everyone involved in the criminal justice system, as Stephanie mentioned, needs training, but I think it's more important.... I'm here to speak about the women, the people I represent, the students, the people in the community. I am not here to give you more and more information about rehashing all these studies. I'm here to represent people I come into contact with on a daily basis. I get to hear their stories, and I'm here to advocate for them.
Most importantly, women are the strength, the backbone of the community. That has been totally diminished, but there are a lot of positive things that can happen. The charter protects individuals, protects people. I think the criminal justice system can adapt. We can adapt to the spontaneity of our cultures.
Last, I would just like to say that, as a Gladue writer, I think this is one way we can do something for aboriginal women in the system. We need to afford them the training. We need to use the same criteria we use for judges to look for aboriginal court Gladue writers, because it's very significant to this whole process.
Thank you, Chair, and thanks to the witnesses.
I have two things. One is that, on October 28, Correctional Service Canada witnesses said they would table some reports on work they've been doing about administrative segregation and about the amendments they'd been doing to make sure their policies restricted segregation to certain offenders. I just wanted to make sure that hadn't been lost.
The clerk is nodding. Thank you.
The second thing is a request. As we're writing the report on the economic justice study, please, is it possible for us to get the drafts in Word format instead of a PDF so that we can work with them and follow them? Then, for the subsequent drafts, is the analyst able to show tracked changes, which allow us in our committee review to home in a little bit more on what has changed from one version to the next?
A voice: Absolutely.
Ms. Sheila Malcolmson: The clerk is nodding and the analyst is nodding, so thank you very much, Chair.
Excellent. Thank you very much.
As the chair of the committee, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of the support staff throughout the 2017 year, whether it's the translators, the people working on the videos, or everybody, for all your great tasks over here.
I also want to thank the messenger. I found out all that you did today.
To our translators, of course, I'm sorry for speaking so quickly, but that's just who I am.
Of course, I'd really like to thank the three here at the front, our clerk as well as our two analysts, for all the hard work you did.
To all our staff, thank you very much for a great 2017. We as members of Parliament would not be able to do it without you, so thank you very much.
Merry Christmas to everyone.
We're going to adjourn today's meeting.