I call the meeting to order.
Thanks to the witnesses from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada for coming to testify before us once again.
Today, we are studying report 3 of the 2016 Fall Reports of the Auditor General of Canada, entitled: “Preparing indigenous offenders for release—Correctional Service Canada.”
I'm very pleased to welcome Mr. Michael Ferguson, Canada's Auditor General, and Madam Carol McCalla, who is the principal in charge of the audit. From Correctional Service of Canada we have the commissioner, Mr. Don Head, and Madam Anne Kelly, senior deputy commissioner. Welcome to all of you.
You all have statements to make, so, Mr. Ferguson, the floor is yours.
Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to present the results of our report on how Correctional Service of Canada prepares indigenous offenders for release back into the community.
Almost 3,800 indigenous men and women were in federal custody at the time of our audit. Correctional Service of Canada is mandated to provide rehabilitation programs and services to meet the unique needs of indigenous offenders. As well, when making case management decisions, staff are required to consider an indigenous offender's aboriginal social history.
Indigenous peoples represent 3% of Canadian adults, but they make up a growing proportion of the federal offender population. As of March 2016, indigenous offenders represented 26% of all offenders in federal custody.
Although Correctional Service of Canada cannot control the number of indigenous offenders receiving federal sentences, it can provide them with timely access to rehabilitation programs and culturally appropriate services, which can influence how long and how many offenders remain in custody.
We found that as the indigenous offender population grew, Correctional Service of Canada could not provide them with the rehabilitation programs they needed when they needed them. Most indigenous offenders in federal custody were serving short-term sentences, which means they became eligible for release after serving one year of their sentences. However, more than three-quarters of the offenders we examined were unable to complete their rehabilitation programs in that time because they were not given timely access to the programs they needed.
Parole supervision is a highly effective way to support the successful return of an offender to the community. However, we found that two-thirds of released indigenous offenders had never been on parole. Half of these offenders were released directly from medium- or maximum-security institutions back into the community, which means that they had less time to benefit from a gradual and structured release until the end of their sentence. Overall, Correctional Service Canada prepared indigenous offenders for parole hearings less often than non-indigenous offenders, and when they did, it was later in their sentence.
Correctional Service Canada used the custody rating scale to help determine an offender's security level and need for a rehabilitation program. More than three-quarters of indigenous offenders were sent to medium- or maximum-security institutions upon admission, which was at significantly higher levels than for non-indigenous offenders. Once in custody at higher levels of security, few indigenous offenders were assessed for a possible move to a lower level before release, even after they completed their rehabilitation programs.
We found that Correctional Service of Canada's assessment tools did not address the specific needs of indigenous offenders or consider their aboriginal social history, as required. Moreover, these assessment tools could have resulted in higher than necessary referrals to rehabilitation programs. Although Correctional Service of Canada had developed better tools, it had not yet put them into use.
Correctional Service of Canada has provided several culturally specific programs and services for indigenous offenders. However, access to these services was uneven across institutions.
For example, healing lodges were designed to meet the unique needs of indigenous offenders, but they did not exist in all regions. There were none in Ontario, where approximately 500 indigenous offenders were located. We found that offenders who participated in healing lodge programs had very low rates of reoffending upon release, yet Correctional Service of Canada had not examined ways to provide greater access to more indigenous offenders.
Correctional Service Canada also contracts with elders to work with offenders and deliver culturally specific rehabilitation programs. However, we found that staff did not take this work into account when they made recommendations to the Parole Board of Canada. Without this information, the Parole Board would not be able to appropriately consider the offender's potential for successful release.
We are pleased that Correctional Service Canada has agreed with our recommendations and committed to take corrective action to improve results for indigenous offenders.
Madam Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee members may have.
Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the invitation to appear before you today to discuss the Auditor General's performance audit, “Preparing Indigenous Offenders for Release”, and the accompanying recommendations.
The report examined whether the Correctional Service of Canada provides timely correctional interventions to incarcerated indigenous offenders and assessed its performance in assisting with rehabilitation and reintegration efforts. It made eight recommendations to improve indigenous offenders' conditional release opportunities, including ensuring timely access to culturally specific correctional programs and interventions, documenting progress and risk reduction associated with participation in culturally specific interventions and the associated impact on the offender's security level, and ensuring consideration of the aboriginal social history in case management documentation and decisions.
CSC fully accepts the Auditor General's findings and recommendations and is currently implementing measures to address them. CSC is committed to supporting indigenous offenders with a revised approach that will focus our efforts to support their successful and safe rehabilitation and reintegration into the community at rates comparable to those for non-indigenous offenders.
While CSC cannot control the number of indigenous Canadians receiving federal sentences of incarceration, our work and interventions could ultimately impact, to some degree, the length of time these offenders remain in custody, the security level of the institution they are managed in, and the timing of the presentation of their cases to the Parole Board of Canada for conditional release decisions.
Our goal is to reduce the gap in successful community reintegration between indigenous and non-indigenous offenders. CSC is committed to enhancing its capacity to provide effective programs and interventions for indigenous offenders and is working collaboratively with criminal justice partners and community stakeholders to support the rehabilitation and safe reintegration of indigenous offenders into the community.
To accomplish this, I'll be working closely with my senior executive team to achieve the progress and sustainable results that Canadians expect.
I would like to share with you some demographic information about CSC's indigenous offender population.
CSC continues to observe an increase in its total indigenous offender population. At mid-year in the fiscal year 2016-17, indigenous offenders represented 23.1% of the total offender population, accounting for 26.5% of those in custody and 17.4% of those on some form of conditional release in the community. Furthermore, over one-third of incarcerated women are indigenous, representing 36.7% as of January 15, 2017.
The indigenous offender population differs from the non-indigenous offender population in a number of areas. For instance, when we look at global statistics, indigenous offenders tend to be younger, they are more likely to have served previous youth and/or adult sentences, they are incarcerated more often for violent offences, and they are more inclined to have gang affiliations and have higher risk and needs ratings.
It is important to state that CSC's approach to indigenous corrections will continue to be culturally sensitive to and inclusive of indigenous communities in order to provide the most effective correctional outcomes and, in turn, contribute to the best possible public safety results for Canadians.
Providing effective programs for indigenous offenders is a key priority for CSC, and while we have made significant progress in identifying and addressing the specific needs of indigenous offenders, we recognize that more work remains to be done.
CSC's approach to indigenous corrections is based on the aboriginal continuum of care model, which was established in 2003 in close collaboration with elders and members of indigenous communities. This approach begins at intake, is followed by institutional paths of healing, and ultimately supports the reintegration of indigenous offenders into the community. The model provides the flexibility necessary to respect the diversity of first nations, Métis, and Inuit people.
CSC offers, within the aboriginal continuum of care, aboriginal liaison services, aboriginal correctional programs, Pathways initiatives, Inuit elder liaison and programming resources, aboriginal women's programs and services, release planning and reintegration services, and healing lodges for both women and men.
These interventions are integral to CSC's strategic plan for aboriginal corrections and the Anijaarniq Inuit strategy. Additionally, with an offender's consent, release planning is completed in consultation and collaboration with the participation of indigenous communities, as per section 84 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
With input from the national aboriginal advisory committee, CSC continues to develop and provide a number of indigenous-specific programs and services to improve correctional results for indigenous offenders and respond to the disproportionate representation of indigenous individuals incarcerated federally. Further to this, CSC also makes targeted efforts to recruit and retain indigenous employees to assist in the delivery of indigenous interventions and to provide culturally relevant perspectives. As a result, CSC is the largest employer of indigenous peoples in the core public service.
In moving forward with the Auditor General's recommendations, CSC will be innovative in its approach to indigenous corrections in keeping with the spirit and intent of the Gladue principles. We will look for ways to improve and enhance several key areas of our policies and operations by examining how individual offender cases are managed. We will review our assessment procedures to ensure that the security levels of offenders are determined by considering individual aboriginal social history factors and that parole officers are proactively preparing offenders, especially low-risk offenders, for presentation to the Parole Board of Canada for decision by the first eligibility date.
Continuing to increase the availability of and access to culturally relevant programs tailored to the needs of indigenous offenders is a key priority. Working to fully implement the aboriginal integrated correctional program model to ensure that indigenous offenders have access to the right correctional programs at the right time to support their successful release is also a priority. Optimizing the roles of our elders and spiritual advisors and the use of Pathways initiatives and healing lodges to provide strong, structured, and culturally supportive environments for indigenous offenders on the path to rehabilitation and reintegration is another one of our key priorities.
Also, enhancing our collaboration with indigenous communities and partners to help increase their participation in the management of indigenous offenders' sentences and successful reintegration as part of the CCRA section 84 release planning process is also a priority.
I must stress that my organization cannot do this alone. CSC will continue to work closely with our partners in the criminal justice system, indigenous organizations, and community stakeholders to address the needs of indigenous peoples. Together we can work to close the gap in correctional results between indigenous and non-indigenous offenders.
In conclusion, Madam Chair, I would like to reiterate to you what I wrote to Mr. Ferguson in our response to the OAG's report and findings, which is that this report marks a milestone in Canada's correctional history. I sincerely believe it is a catalyst for strengthening our nation-to-nation relationships and Inuit-to-crown relationships with indigenous peoples, and that it offers the opportunity to deliver a coordinated and cohesive strategy for improving reintegration results for indigenous offenders.
With that, Madam Chair, I thank you for the opportunity to meet today. I welcome any questions that you or the committee may have.
Thank you Madam Chair, and thank you, guests, for being here today. We appreciate it.
As full disclosure, I do have some sense of how difficult your job is, Mr. Head. My first cabinet appointment, a very long time ago, was in corrections in Ontario, so I do understand the challenges. That said, this is still a very troubling report.
I'd like to begin by reading a couple of quotes, and it will only take me a moment. This comes out of the decision yesterday of the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, Brown v. Attorney General of Canada. It is with regard to the Sixties Scoop class action. It may have already come across your desk, I'm sure.
That judgment says, in part, and I quote the words of the judge:
||In my view, under the first stage of the analysis, a prima facie duty of care is established. It is beyond dispute that there is a special and long-standing historical and constitutional relationship between Canada and aboriginal peoples that has evolved into a unique and important fiduciary relationship.
He further states:
||And there can be no doubt that the aboriginal peoples’ concern to protect and preserve their aboriginal identity was and remains an interest of the highest importance. As the Divisional Court put it: “It is difficult to see a specific interest that could be of more importance to aboriginal peoples than each person’s connection to their aboriginal heritage.”
Now, as if that kind of legal framework wouldn't be enough, the legislation that you work under, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the law that governs your work, requires that the Correctional Service of Canada provide
||correctional interventions that respond to Indigenous offenders' unique set of needs to support their successful reintegration.
My first question regards the Auditor General's report, page 13, paragraph 3.55, which reads:
||We found that access to correctional interventions varied considerably across institutions and regions. We also found that Correctional Service Canada had not examined whether it provided enough access to culturally specific correctional interventions to meet the needs of the Indigenous offender population.
Given the legal framework, the legal requirement that you have, how can we have an Auditor General report in front of us that says that your department didn't even examine whether you were providing enough culturally specific interventions?
I'd like your comments, please.
I want to stay focused on my question.
I hear what you're saying. You're talking about the load, but I'm talking about the detail of what you did and didn't do. Again, in paragraph 3.62, in the same report, it states:
||In one third of the offender files we examined, we found that Elder reviews had not been documented.
It's a simple matter, but without the documentation, you could argue that it didn't happen in terms of the next person dealing with it.
In the same paragraph it also states:
||We also found that Aboriginal liaison officers had not received guidance or training on how to evaluate the impact of Elder reviews and interventions on an offender's progress toward successful reintegration.
Please stop telling me how wonderful it is and tell me how you're going to correct the findings that are in this report, because this is telling me that you're not doing that great a job with the elders, or at least there is lots of room to do it better.
I have to say that when I read this report, one word came to my mind, and it hasn't been said today, so I do have to say it. That word is “crisis”. This, to me, is a huge crisis.
In looking at the numbers, as has been pointed out, we see that indigenous men and women represent 3% of the adult population in our country, yet they represent 26% of offenders in federal custody. What's worse is that they're not given timely access to rehabilitation programs. There's uneven access, and beyond that, there's inconsistency across the regions.
I've heard about the types of programs you provide. My sense is that it's not that we don't know what to do; it's that we have to actually to do it. I heard you say, Mr. Head, that the work you do can affect the length of time someone is in custody. It can affect the security level of the institution. It can affect the time for case processing.
You made it very clear, as did your colleague Ms. Kelly just now, that Correctional Services cannot control the number of indigenous Canadians receiving federal sentences of incarceration. I find that type of statement very bothersome. I understand from a technical perspective how that might be true, but the mere fact that indigenous offenders tend to be youth and tend to be repeat offenders.... The work you do isn't just about reintegration into the community; it's also about rehabilitation. The things that they could go through in the programs and services that you ought to be providing and that are culturally relevant can have a very significant impact, and, yes, it can control the numbers of indigenous Canadians who are receiving federal sentences. That is my opinion.
You've stated that several times. I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My point of order is to determine whether we have a big issue or not. If you will allow me just a moment's indulgence, I have a question for the Auditor General.
On page 12 of your report in paragraph 6.44, two-thirds of the way through, you say, regarding some information and study you're doing, “The department did not respond to requests to provide evidence of further collaboration” and so on.
My concern, Madam Chair, is the “did not respond to requests”. Entities not responding to requests from the Auditor General when they are in the midst of doing an audit we take very seriously.
Was this a big issue, sir? Was it a matter of “If they don't respond, it's their loss, because they don't get a chance to make their case”, or was this an actual case in which you asked for information and they just bald-facedly ignored you?
Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to present the results of our audit on first nations specific claims. Joining me at the table is Jerome Berthelette, Assistant Auditor General, who was responsible for the audit.
The federal government has long acknowledged that it has not always met its obligations to first nations under historic treaties or properly managed first nations' funds or other assets. In 2007, the government committed to a new process, called Justice at Last, which was aimed at resolving long-standing grievances more quickly, fairly, and transparently—preferably through negotiations. Resolving specific claims would provide justice for first nations and certainty for government, industry, and all Canadians.
Our audit examined whether Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the department primarily responsible for implementing the new process, adequately managed the resolution of first nations specific claims. The audit focused on whether first nations had adequate access to the specific claims process, whether claims were resolved and documented in line with selected aims of Justice at Last, and whether results of the specific claims process were reported publicly and completely.
We interviewed officials in the Department of Justice Canada, the Specific Claims Tribunal, several first nations, and organizations representing first nations to get their perspectives on how well the new process was working. However, we did not audit the performance of these organizations.
Overall, we found that Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada did not adequately manage the resolution of first nations specific claims as envisioned under the new process. For example, more claims were to be resolved than received each year. We found that the department achieved this objective in only two of the eight years since Justice at Last came into force.
Furthermore, the department had stated that every reasonable effort would be made to achieve negotiated settlements and that the vast majority of claims that entered negotiation would likely be resolved by a settlement agreement. However, we found that among the claims entering the negotiation process, more claims were either closed by the department or ended up in litigation than were resolved through negotiation.
We also found that the department's reforms of the specific claims process were not developed in consultation with first nations and that the reforms introduced barriers that hindered first nations' access to the process and impeded the resolution of claims. These barriers included certain practices that did not encourage negotiations— such as “take it or leave it” offers for claims that the department deemed to be valued at under $3 million, significant unilateral cuts in funding to first nations claimants for claims preparation and negotiation, and very limited use of mediation services and information sharing between the department and first nations.
Moreover, the department did not use available information and feedback to improve implementation of the specific claims process. This information included concerns raised by first nations and organizations representing first nations about how the department was implementing the new process. It also included information and feedback from the Specific Claims Tribunal decisions, most of which were in favour of first nations.
With respect to public reporting, we found that the department's public reports were incomplete and did not contain the information needed to understand the actual results of the specific claims process. For example, the department publicly reported that the 2007 reforms were a success. However, we found that most of the settled claims used to support this assertion were already either resolved or almost resolved before Justice at Last was implemented.
According to the 2015-16 public accounts, the government has acknowledged a liability totalling at least $4.5 billion for approximately 500 specific claims where the department has assessed an outstanding lawful obligation for the crown.
We are pleased that the department has agreed with all 10 of our recommendations and is preparing an implementation action plan.
Madam Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate the invitation to appear today.
I'm the senior assistant deputy minister for treaties and aboriginal government. I'm responsible for the specific claims process. With me is Stephen Gagnon, the director general of the branch in my sector responsible for specific claims.
I would like to tell you briefly what specific claims are, and why they are important to first nations and to Canadians more broadly.
Specific claims are grievances of first nations against the federal government arising from the way Canada administered lands and other first nations assets. Specific claims also relate to how some of the provisions of pre-1975 treaties have been implemented.
Canada is committed to resolving these historic wrongs, whenever possible, through negotiated settlement agreements rather than in the courts. Doing so is one of the many ways Canada is building trust and reconciliation between the crown and first nations. The specific claims process is a non-litigious, alternative dispute resolution process in which first nations may choose to participate.
Continuing to participate in a voluntary and transparent process to resolve specific claims is beneficial to all Canadians. It allows for settlements that are mutually agreed upon, provides clarity of land ownership, and is faster and less expensive than litigation. The government is committed to working with first nations to find practical and fair ways to improve the specific claims process. We will continue to work with first nations to find ways to improve the time taken to resolve claims, to reduce the cost associated with the process, and to ensure that first nations have fair and reasonable access to the process. Our objective is to negotiate fair and reasonable settlements.
The audit findings and recommendations have reinforced the need to find ways to improve the process. The Auditor General tabled his findings on first nations specific claims on November 29, 2016. The report found that the process reforms initiated in 2007 unintentionally created barriers to first nations access to the specific claims process, which, in turn, are impeding the resolution of claims.
The 10 recommendations made by the Auditor General focus on better communication with first nations in order to jointly identify ways to improve the specific claims process.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada agrees with the recommendations made by the Auditor General.
In fact, the audit is not the only recent report to identify aspects of the specific claims process that can be improved.
A majority of the findings of the Auditor General were previously raised during the course of INAC's review of the Specific Claims Tribunal Act and are noted in the minister's report tabled in Parliament last November.
Indeed, in June 2016, before the audit was concluded, INAC had started working with the Assembly of First Nations, first nations organizations, and others to identify fair and practical measures to make the specific claims process more responsive and effective. INAC has re-engaged with the Assembly of First Nations, which was provided $400,000 in funding this fiscal year to facilitate discussions on the four key priority issues the AFN identified.
A joint technical working group co-chaired by INAC and the Assembly of First Nations is currently overseeing work being done collaboratively to address four priority issues: funding to support the research and development of specific claims, the process for resolving claims with a value greater than $150 million, better use of mediation in negotiation processes, and clear public reporting. Each of these issues features in the report of the Auditor General, and the recommendations resulting from the collaborative efforts of the joint technical working group will inform the department's reporting on the detailed action plan to implement those recommendations.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has been mandated to renew the relationship between the Crown and first nations people in Canada based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
Addressing the Auditor General's recommendations will be a significant example of how Canada will implement this renewal.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is committed to improving the specific claims process by working with first nations and first nation organizations as an integral part of fulfilling our mandate
I'd be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
There are representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, and the FSIN, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, so there's a group of researchers, a group of practitioners, and a group of people from the political organizations.
From the first nations side, they have counsel. We also have counsel. We are in the process of identifying recommendation and have had a few subcommittee meetings where, in the four areas we're working on, we're meeting in smaller groups to make recommendations to the committee that I sit on with my counterpart at the AFN. I think we've had three meetings at the joint technical working group, the more senior one, and a number of subgroup meetings.
You know, to be fair, at this point we've largely focused on the process going forward, so there hasn't been a lot of forward momentum even on the kinds of things you might have characterized as low-hanging fruit, but we are, we think, making some progress. You alluded to it a little bit in one of your earlier comments. We're working at trying to build some trust. The relationship between ourselves and the first nations assembly wasn't all that great, and currently we're trying to rebuild that.
Thank you very much for your attendance today.
I would like to take a moment, while we have the opportunity of being televised, to revisit something very briefly, Mr. Chair.
By the way, if the Auditor General feels it's important enough to comment on the question I asked earlier, that's fine. I only get one shot at this, so I'm going to get my stuff out and then I hope to leave some time for comment.
I want to refer to the last status report of Auditor General Sheila Fraser before she departed.
The heading is “Conditions on First Nations reserves”, but it speaks to attitude and approach.
She said this:
||Between 2001 and spring 2010, my reports included 16 chapters addressing First Nations and Inuit issues directly. Another 15 chapters dealt with issues of importance to Aboriginal people. I am profoundly disappointed to note in Chapter 4 of this Status Report that despite federal action in response to our recommendations over the years, a disproportionate number of First Nations people still lack the most basic services that other Canadians take for granted....
||On the surface, it may appear that the government simply needs to work harder to make existing programs work better. However, after 10 years in this job, it has become clear to me that if First Nations communities on reserves are going to see meaningful progress in their well-being, a fundamental change is needed....
||In a country as rich as Canada, this disparity is unacceptable.
Mr. Ferguson issued his report, an interim report, halfway through his 10-year term. These are Mr. Ferguson's words to us last fall:
||Another picture that reappears too frequently is the disparity in the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. My predecessor, Sheila Fraser, near the end of her mandate, summed up her impression of 10 years of audits and related recommendations on First Nations issues with the word “unacceptable.” Since my arrival, we have continued to audit these issues and to present at least one report per year on areas that have an impact on First Nations, including emergency management and policing services on reserves, access to health services, and most recently, correctional services for Aboriginal offenders. When you add the results of these audits to those we reported on in the past, I can only describe the situation as it exists now as beyond unacceptable.
||[There] is now...a decade’s worth of audits showing that programs have failed to effectively serve Canada’s Indigenous peoples.... Until a problem-solving mindset is brought to...issues to develop solutions built around people instead of defaulting to litigation, arguments about money, and process roadblocks, this country will continue to squander the potential and lives of much of its Indigenous population.
Now I'll move to the report that's is front of us. I'm just going to read some highlights, because my question to Mr. Wild is going to be about how things have changed.
My specific concern is the attitude. The attitude of some of the decisions that are made here is very troubling. I was very angry by the time I was done with this report. I probably won't get through them all—I'm going on again.
These are snippets of different issues from the report, summaries from the Auditor General. On page 11, it says:
||In 2011, without input from First Nations, the Department developed a separate process to expedite the negotiation of small-value claims. In our view, the following characteristics of this new process introduced barriers to negotiations that were inconsistent with Justice at Last:
That was with no input from first nations.
||We noted annual funding to First Nations for claims research decreased by 40 percent from $7.8 million in the 2013–14 fiscal year to $4.7 million in the 2014–15 fiscal year. According to Department officials, this funding decrease was undertaken as part of the Deficit Reduction Action Plan.
|| ... We found that the absence of methodology resulted in funding cuts that were arbitrary and unevenly distributed.
Here is another one:
||For example, we found that the Department arbitrarily set the maximum amount of a loan that could be provided to a First Nation at $142,500 per year or $427,500 over three years. We found a departmental study that suggested annual funding of $240,000 for a First Nation to negotiate a specific claim.
Here is another issue:
||After 2008, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada no longer shared the report with First Nations before sending it to the Department of Justice Canada. Consequently, after Justice at Last came into effect, First Nations were not made aware of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada’s analysis and interpretation of the claims submission. It is our view that this awareness is necessary to understand the factual basis for a legal opinion and help....
Again, there is that attitude.
I'm on page 18. It says, under “Incomplete reporting”:
||. We found that some results were either not reported publicly or not reported clearly. The Department’s public reporting of results was incomplete and masked actual outcomes. In our view, parliamentarians and Canadians would, therefore, have difficulty understanding the real results of Justice at Last.
There's more and more. I'm running out of time.
Here is another one: “In our view, parliamentarians and Canadians have received an incomplete view of how long it takes for a claim to be processed.”
Help me understand. Every time, we hear “This is the moment there's going to be change”, and there's never change.
Mr. Wild, give me some reason that my colleagues and I on this committee should believe that this time it's going to be different.
Thank you to the panel for being here with us.
When I was reading the report, in the first few pages, by paragraph 6.7 and the description of this Justice at Last program, I had a glimmer of hope. It was something that was on the right track. We know that there are claims across this country. Each one of us in our ridings is affected by claims that have been simmering for decades, if not from the beginning of our Confederation.
The idea that we had a plan that would not only address the backlog of claims and their slow resolution, settle the specific claims, and compensate first nations for past damages associated with Canada's outstanding lawful obligations and then, in paragraph 6.8, in return for this compensation, provide an agreement from first nations to never reopen these claims seemed to be something that would really get us back on track.
What happened? What happened with that plan? What we saw in the Auditor General's report were obstacles that were put up, these “take it or leave it” offers for claims that were done with very little interaction with the first nations. There were significant unilateral cuts in funding to the first nations claimants for claims preparation and negotiation, and then very little use of mediation and negotiation, the very tool that I would think would have gone into the Justice at Last programming. We didn't choose mediation; in fact, we fell back on having to use the justice system, which already was problematic and expensive.
Why did we not use mediation right from the get-go?
I always believe that you can't evaluate what you don't measure. Paragraph 6.56 of the Auditor General's report says:
||We found that Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada had a process to consider the impact of decisions from the Specific Claims Tribunal, but was unable to provide us with evidence that it had a formal process to identify improvements and make required changes. We also found no evidence that the Department improved the specific claims process by using formal feedback from internal and external parties on the specific claims process or information regarding First Nations’ concerns about this process.
If you go to the recommendations, the report clearly lays out what the recommendation is, but it says that the expected final date of completion is “ongoing”.
My concern with that assertion is that this has been ongoing since 1948, and we're still not gathering the appropriate information. If we haven't gathered it in the last three-quarters of a century, what are the odds that we're going to gather it in the next 12 to 15 months? It says that it's a “key interim milestone” of fall 2017.
I love these recommendations in reports. Mr. Christopherson knows that I love my dates. I like firm dates, like October 31 or December 1—definitive times at which we're going to have key measurable objectives that we're going to get to.
I want to know whether you want to reflect on this and what you think the appropriate timeline is to start gathering the information that's needed to move forward.