Good morning, and thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's a real pleasure to be before the committee to talk about correctional issues. I'm extremely pleased that I have my colleague here from the AFN, the regional chief, newly elected and raring to go and working hard for the nation.
This morning I've not really prepared a whole lot of discussion in regard to formal notes, but I just wanted to have an open discussion and hopefully some good questions with regard to the treatment of indigenous offenders in the system in terms of their care and custody and conditional release.
I did want to let the committee know that I was a correctional executive for 10 years and was the primary architect of the national healing lodge strategy, as well as the Pathways strategy within, as well as others, including the national elders advisory committee.
This is an opportunity for me this morning to look back. It's been about 12 years since I left the service, and I'm trying to gauge how well those projects and initiatives worked. At the time, when I was in the service, there were only 1,400 indigenous offenders in the system. The issues they faced were obviously the same issues that they face today in regard to higher recidivism rates, higher classifications within the prison system, primarily being at high risk or medium risk, and not cascading through the system.
As part of the initiative, we certainly felt that under the new legislation at that time, under sections 81 and 84, there were some opportunities to engage the indigenous community—or at that time, the aboriginal community—and get them fully engaged in both the correctional aspect of housing and working with indigenous offenders, as well as doing the correctional release stuff, which was being looked after by the National Parole Board and the elder hearings.
I'm not surprised that the correctional service moved down a road to fully implement specific programs for men and women who find themselves in the correctional system. At that time, 12 or 14 years ago, it was very difficult for offenders to find themselves on a clean path, a well path, a healthy path out of prisons.
We took the initiative; I want to talk about how that initiative seems to have worked, but it seems to have not affected the flow in and out of prisons for indigenous people. The development of the healing lodge concept was really about moving high-risk offenders and cascading them through the system and getting them into community facilities such as Pê Sâkâstêw or Okimaw Ohci or Stan Daniels in Edmonton, and giving the first nations and Métis and Inuit communities the ability to truly deal with the unique issues that were faced by indigenous people and that continue to be faced by indigenous people.
Over the 10-year span when we started the program, we found success, but they were small successes, because in the system we were still having difficulty trying to understand indigenous issues, whether they were in the community or whether they were on the streets of Vancouver. There were the overwhelming issues of mental health, the overwhelming issues of growing up in a system that was foreign to them.
We did a study around 2000 that demonstrated that 95% of all men and women in the correctional system came through foster care. Look at the correlation in their developmental growth that was leading them down that road to what the second major issue is, which is that 75% to 80% of the crime being committed by indigenous people was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It was a continuum of issues leading them into the criminal justice system, then through the courts, and then eventually into the prison system.
Corrections isn't about just corrections—this was our philosophy. Corrections is about what leads you to the road. It leads you down that road and into the prison system, and to a time when you leave that system.
Corrections is supposed to be about rehabilitation. It's supposed to be. I suspect it depends on which side of the coin you're on. It's also about incarceration. There has to be a better balance, a better understanding. I would say that within the context of indigenous issues and the Supreme Court v. Daniels, there are conditions and identifiable issues that could be dealt with in a much larger and much broader perspective. Corrections is only one component of the justice system.
You have to start at the beginning. You have to understand as a lawyer specialized in criminal law that there are conditions that lead people down the road. In today's society, we're now talking about reconciliation, getting healthier communities, engaging communities. You're talking with us about nation to nation and how we can truly address those issues. We've got to continue.
I won't sit here and bash the correctional system. The system is run by people. It's about people like you and me. I thought about something this morning: we're a long way from Millhaven. We're a long way in this room from Pê Sâkâstêw. What brought you to this table, and why is it such a short road for indigenous people to another table behind bars? We've got to think about that. We're got to deal with the best issues.
If this committee is looking at a study of what to do, look at the entire system. Government has to begin to address the issues of what effective indigenous, Métis, Inuit, first nation child care looks like, and maybe they will. I believe Minister Philpott is going to be pulling us all together in the new year to talk about building effective child and family services.
If those aren't there, the jails fill up. I remember writing in 2000, when there were 1,700 offenders, that by this time there would be 4,000, and I'm sad to say that there are 4,000. The systems have to change. It's my hope that this committee will look at what leads them there and what we can do for them, because I think the healing lodge program proved to be very successful for those who were really getting onto that healing path.
For the system within the medium- and high-security facilities, we created a program called Pathways. We tried to segregate indigenous offenders from the general population and get the elders and the programs that specifically target the issues faced by indigenous men and women.
I think there's a whole lot to dialogue about. We should have more that just 10 minutes. Obviously you have an important role to play here. You have to ask important questions. Open your mind to the entire system. I think the government as a whole and Canadians are moving toward a much more open reconciliation dialogue with indigenous people. I think our communities have some, not all, of the solutions. I think we just have to work together and define the path we need to be on. I don't want the road to be that short for our youth.
Terry and I were talking a little earlier about how our youth population is growing. We're the fastest-growing population in the country. I don't know what their future will be. Unfortunately, the reality is the future for some of them is going to be in penitentiaries, and we've got to stop that. We've got to figure out how we stop that, and it's got to be a more holistic view.
I look forward to questions. There's so much to talk about. There are so many things to do. I'll leave it at that and I'll turn it over to my colleague, Terry, the regional chief.
[Witness speaks in an aboriginal language
First of all, I want to acknowledge that we are on unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
My name is Terry Teegee. My hereditary chief name is Maxweeum Tsimghee, Wolf with a White Spot on the Head. I'm the newly elected regional chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations.
I want to acknowledge the committee. [Witness speaks in an aboriginal language]
Thank you for allowing me and my colleague, Dale LeClair, to speak to you today to give you an overview of how the correctional system relates to the indigenous and aboriginal people across this country and of the disproportionate number of first nations people within the correctional system.
I want to provide a brief overview. Considering that we only have 10 minutes, I'll try to be as brief as I can and go through some of the stats that Dale already laid out for you.
The fact remains that we're only 4% of the population in this country, yet we represent about 24% of all inmates in the correctional system in Canada. That's very disproportionate compared to the rest of the population.
Over the years, during Harper's Conservative government, the total prison population increased substantially, and first nations and indigenous people in this country comprised the vast majority. These statistics have all but remained, in spite of the promise of policy and legislative changes and of a nation-to-nation relationship founded upon the rights articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, our constitutionally enshrined indigenous rights, and our recognized inherent title to the lands.
The reason I bring that up is that the dislocation of our people from off our lands really affects our place in society. We've seen that our displacement really affects our health. It affects our ability to be gainfully employed, participate in society as members of Canada, and create a life that is fulfilling. Our people haven't participated in the economy, and that's directly related to how we're affected with regard to the incarceration of many of our people.
The incarceration rate of our women has increased by 112% over the last decade. The increase has been attributed to many criminal laws, well over 30, that increase the punishment for various crimes, especially for small, petty crimes whereby this vicious cycle continues.
Like my counterpart here, Dale, we're seeing this vicious cycle with many of our people within the judicial system. We're here to break that cycle. Part of breaking the cycle is to have restorative justice and to look at alternative justice systems that are more culturally appropriate.
Finding restorative justice also means rehabilitation. Part of the solution, as we've been stating for many years, is that there needs to be more resources for many of our people to have restorative justice and rehabilitation.
In many jurisdictions across the country there is a lack of hard statistics and a lack of looking at what exactly the problem is in some of the jurisdictions. For example, in Saskatchewan there is an inability to share statistics with regard to our indigenous people, and that needs to change.
I think I'll just leave it at that. My counterpart Dale went over some of the issues as to why many of our people are in the judicial system.
Part of the problem, though, is that once they are incarcerated or on probation, indigenous persons must have access to resources to ensure their successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society. It's not only reintegration into general society, but back into the community. I think that's what really is needed here. When many of our people come back to our reserves, they need to be placed in a setting that is culturally appropriate so as to be reintegrated into our communities.
Dozens of conditions are imposed on individuals. In British Columbia today, 40% of criminal court matters are now attributed to the administration of justice, offences that include breaching of conditions of bail and/or probation. In B.C., my jurisdiction, the court system is failing the indigenous people. The court system is lacking the number of judges needed to look at all the cases within the province of B.C. I know this is the case not just in British Columbia but in other jurisdictions across the country. This is another case of a vicious cycle, whereby many of our people continue to return into the judicial system and are brought back to the many jails in this country.
When it comes to restorative justice, there have been many reports, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's. Among the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, if you have one of those books—and perhaps we should provide some of them to you—we have the calls to action from number 30 to number 42, in which there are many recommendations to change the judicial system, to break the cycle, to provide to many of our community members resources for the mental health of our people, as well as to deal with such problems as FASD and with the rehabilitation of our people to integrate them back into society and back into our communities.
I want to leave it with you to look at the many reports. Some are international and relate to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; some relate to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We all know about the 94 calls to action and the effects of the residential school system, as well as about the effects of colonialism and why many of our people are living with the legacy of colonialism and how it relates to the effects upon our people who have been taken off our lands, who aren't participating fully within society and our communities, how it has broken up many of our families, and also, as Dale said, how it has led to many of our children having been taken away.
We've seen the vast majority of our children taken into the family care system. We've never seen these high numbers before, and there's a direct correlation between the foster care system and the judicial system. We have to prevent this from occurring, see the devolution of the child care system into our jurisdictions, and make sure that preventive measures are put in place during the lives of our children to ensure that they stay within the community. I think these form part of the preventive measures. Not only prevention but also rehabilitation is critical to decreasing the numbers of indigenous people in the judicial system and in incarceration.
I just want to leave it at that.
We have to do something. It's quite plain to see that we've seen so many reports, provincial reports and federal reports, about the disproportionate numbers of indigenous people incarcerated into the system, so thank you, committee. I certainly hope to work with you and talk to you once again. As my counterpart said, we could talk about this all day just to scratch the surface, and 10 minutes doesn't give justice to our people, so I look forward to working with you some more and making changes for the betterment of our indigenous people.
If you take a look at the family dynamics of coming from a community where you're charged, obviously you go back to the city by which you were charged and sentenced. In many regards, for many years, and I think still, the system tries to connect men and women who are in prison with their families and connect them back to their communities. I think the problem with going back to reserves or the Métis communities in the north is that it's a little more difficult because of the disconnection the individual has in their home community. That's always been one of the major issues. Somebody will identify themself as coming from Whitefish Lake First Nation, but they haven't been there since they were a kid, because they were taken out.
In prison, the correctional system tries to reconnect them to who they are and with their spirituality. We have the elders, and they do wonderful work. We have programs that are oriented for and from first nations instructors, Métis instructors, and so on. There is a real desire for men to connect back.
The problem is that most times they're rejected. Whitefish doesn't.... They know the name, but they don't know anything else. I think some work within the community is needed in understanding and providing resources in the community to understand the correctional system better and provide some capacity, whether it's through justice workers, community parole, or community case management officers. A lot more work has to be done.
Section 84—I think it's 84—of the act allows for this community reintegration, parole services, and case management in the community, but I don't think the Correctional Service of Canada has the financial ability to make those connections.
There's a disconnection between the services work and the work that's done by the parole board, even if it's done within what they refer to as “elder hearings”. There has to be a better connection between that, the offender, the national Parole Board, and the community.
Urban issues create a much greater issue. Again, I know places like.... You're going to speak with Al Benson today, I think just right after us. He provides a service that's urban, the Stan Daniels centre, and he's done a remarkable job of integrating. I think they need more dollars and cents for reintegration programs, connecting with work, connecting with health services, and so on, and having the ability to bring family there and connect with family again.
I'll finish with this. When we built Ochichakkosipi in Manitoba, a healing lodge, one of the main concepts that sort of got lost as we got in, but was fundamental to the program, was bringing family members to the facility. We had family homes, and they were to integrate with the offender as they were transitioning out, so they'd learn together. The regional chief talks about being on conditional release. Sometimes if an offender has a no-alcohol condition and he goes around even a sniff of alcohol, there's an opportunity to bring him back. You're now healing the offender, but now you've got to go back in the community and heal the community as well.
I think resources like that need to be reinforced and provided to communities, both urban and in community.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, gentlemen, for being here today. We appreciate it.
One of the themes for me as we've gone through this particular study is that there is no disputing the numbers, the disproportionate numbers of indigenous peoples in our systems. My question has always been, “Why?” We know that there are the restorative justice and alternative justice programs that have, depending on the individual, varying degrees of success.
I believe that generally the system is working toward improving the care of indigenous peoples who are in custody and then helping them to integrate into the community. I know there are such points there, but my question keeps going back to the issue of the numbers that keep increasing, and it's not always reoffenders. There are so many new ones coming in.
Therefore, my first question to you, Chief Teegee, in your new role, is where do you want to go with making the difference on the front end with your youth and your communities so that those who might find themselves in conflict with the law work toward improving so that they aren't going to be one of those stats coming forward?
Mr. LeClair, I'll ask you the same question. I'm always intrigued to hear your perspectives on what should be done. Sir, you are in a position to do something about that, and I'd really be interested to see how we play that forward.
I think the solution here, or the opportunity for me to make change, really comes back to the community. It comes back to our indigenous communities, where many of the systems are broken. To really make change here, there are going to have to be cross-jurisdictional changes within the system. If you look at our communities, there is a substantial amount of poverty. As soon as you have poverty, there is a direct relation to incarceration and laws being broken.
Really, you have to look at the root of the problem where, as I said before, there is colonialism, the legacy of the residential school system. We have to intervene somewhere. My purview involves the economic development of many of our communities, where we're fully involved with the resources and the development of many of our economies in our communities, which provides more resources to prevent many of these issues from happening, and it provides more resources so we can bring many of our children back to their communities.
Right now, the children in the foster child care system outnumber the residential school system number at its highest point. We have to get those children back to their communities to prevent many of these issues from happening.
Part of the solution, too, is education. There needs to be culturally appropriate education for our children, not only in the public school system but back in our communities. If we see graduation rates as low as 40%, compared to 80% to 90% for the general population, there is a problem. If we see children are not graduating or are not fulfilling their obligations as learners within the public school system, perhaps the public school system is the problem.
Really, as soon as you open this box, you see that there are many problems with this whole system. As you look at this Pandora's box and start scraping the surface, you can see what the problems are within the system of not only provincial jurisdiction, but also federal jurisdiction.
What I would say is to make changes. Look at all those issues related to economic development, education, and the ability for our children to participate in alternative places, such as being involved in sports, which is a big deterrent to having our children or our young teenagers incarcerated.
If you look at the North American Indigenous Games, which took place recently in Toronto—and I just found this out yesterday from Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, who is one of the writers of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—you will see that six months before the games and six months after the games there was a definite decrease in the number of offences in some of our communities. I think that's really telling in regard to our children having the opportunities to participate. That's one of the success stories of the North American Indigenous Games and other things we need to do.
In the next three years, that's what I would like to see.
That's a great question and observation. When we talk about the corrections issue, as you may or may not know, at one time there wasn't an assistant commissioner for women. Certainly after the Arbour report and growing further with the service developing Okimaw Ohci, which is an indigenous female healing lodge in Saskatchewan, I think the focus is necessary. While I was there, I did put pen to paper into a national aboriginal hiring program. We were successful in Saskatchewan in growing the numbers, but not successful in relation to the rate of incarceration, certainly.
I've always used the adage, in speaking with thousands of offenders, that it's easy to blame the system in that a white person arrested you, a white person put you in jail, and now you have a white jailer, so you're just mad at the system. You develop these negative tendencies toward white people. I'm putting it bluntly.
When we developed the healing lodge concept and the program, these were facilities that were run by indigenous people. Pê Sâkâstêw has 60% to 70% indigenous employees. We took that reasoning and that blame away from them. I would say the same thing.
As a senior correctional official I also spend time working within the system, solving employee-on-employee racial disputes. I can be totally honest with the committee: when I started the healing lodge program, I was told by wardens and regional deputy commissioners that they would never build a healing lodge in their region. They just didn't think it was the right way to go. However, slowly and ever more slowly, I guess, eventually the healing lodge concept, the Pathways concept grew, and as we saw more and more indigenous men and women coming to the system, I think we did see incremental success. I would say to your question, yes, there has to be another concerted effort.
I haven't been around for 10 or 12 years in the correctional system, and both the deputy minister now, Gina Wilson, and I worked very hard, along with our team, to push these things forward. I think there's time for another review and another task force to look at these issues, because corrections is about a human system. It's not about bars and concrete. It's about a human system and those people working in those systems. We need to go out there and identify people who understand indigenous people, and those can be indigenous people or non-indigenous people. The more we fill our systems with indigenous people who want to help and understand the system, the better.
I would say you need to go out there and reinforce. The only problem is that most people don't think the first place they want to work is in a prison, because you get inundated—
Thank you very much, honourable member.
It's extremely important that we begin to look at the.... I'll use our relationship with the Métis Nation. We have our ASETS program, which is now referred to as ISETS. It's about training and about....
We have and will continue to utilize that, and hopefully, as we grow, we will start to target a larger relationship with the government under the permanent bilateral mechanism. There is going to be some more investment in those areas, and they are going to have a great impact on our families' abilities to stay healthy and keep themselves out.
We often refer to the Métis as “the working poor”. We pay taxes, we work hard, but we're just not getting there for a number of reasons.
Whether it's in our communities in the north or in the cities, we are targeting, and there are areas. I don't think there's any one specific area, Madam, but there is a real need to begin to integrate that with other aspects.
We are now, as Métis people, just starting to integrate more fully within the governmental system and beginning to identify areas. Economic development is a big one. We were meeting last night and talking about how we could impact our communities in developing those areas.
It's imperative that we begin to tie systems together and become much more effective as Métis people—
First of all, thank you for the opportunity.
My name is Allen Benson. I'm a member of the Beaver Lake First Nations on Treaty 6 territory. I want to acknowledge the traditional territory that I'm on, the Algonquin nation.
I am here representing Native Counselling Services of Alberta. I am also past chair of the National Associations Active in Criminal Justice and present chair of the Family Violence Death Review Committee in Alberta.
Our non-profit organization goes back to 1970. The agency was created to address aboriginal overrepresentation in the criminal court system at that time.
Since that time, we've grown to an agency that has addressed services in all court levels except civil and we have expanded our services to providing services in the correctional services industry, corrections centres where we provided elders and liaisons to begin with, and then expanded to run a joint federal-provincial institution in Edmonton called the Grierson Centre. That centre was then transferred to what's known as a section 81 healing lodge.
That section 81 healing lodge is called the Stan Daniels Healing Centre. We will speak more to those facilities shortly.
We would like to address a little of our experience in the quality and type of service provided, and then address some of the issues.
For 47 years we have been addressing the issues around indigenous families and individuals in Alberta, and for 30 years we've had a partnership with Correctional Service of Canada. We think we've gained a lot of knowledge and wisdom over the years in addressing the issues of men and women and their reintegration journey. It has taken us as an agency that long to gain the experience and knowledge needed to address the needs of the offenders, and through that knowledge we have been able to better address crime prevention and the needs of the individuals and families to prevent them from incarceration.
Our approach to providing correctional services is informed by two decades of research on the effects of colonization on indigenous individuals, families, and community, and on the Cree teachings of Wahkohtowin, which is a doctrine of relationships as taught to us by our elders in our territory.
These research findings were used to create an evidence-based indigenous model for building resilience in 2009. The model has been expanded and deepened by an ongoing research and action and reflection process by the board and the management of the agency, which makes certain our programs and services address the issues of our clients' presence and reflect a profound understanding of the healing process.
Four critical beliefs and assumptions guide our work.
One is that indigenous criminal behaviour is connected to historic trauma and being victimized as children. It's the legacy of colonial law and policies, such as residential school systems, a legacy that has been passed intergenerationally in indigenous families and communities.
The second is the four dimensions of historic trauma, which include isolation from healthy family and community support networks, colonized identity, hopelessness and powerlessness, and being disconnected from legal tradition.
Therefore, addressing these issues should be the focus of our healing interventions.
The third is reconciliation of these damaged relationships. It's critical that indigenous offenders be supported to reconcile relationships they have been damaged through criminal and unhealthy behaviour. Therefore, we believe in accountability.
Fourth, healing is a self-directed journey. Indigenous offenders need to be responsible for their healing and reconciliation process, and they require trauma-informed support in this process.
These are the four pillars that guide everything we do, not just in the correctional services, but throughout the agency.
My name is Claire Carefoot. I'm the director of correctional services for Native Counselling Services of Alberta and a past member of the National Parole Board.
In 1988, Native Counselling Services of Alberta began operating the Grierson Community Correctional Centre, which then became the Stan Daniels Healing Centre. It was designated as a section 81 facility in 1999.
Stan Daniels Healing Centre is a 72-bed facility that houses either conditionally released offenders on day parole or full parole, offenders on statutory release with residency, or residents with inmate status in minimum security. The effective operation of this centre relies on the belief that indigenous offenders require culturally specific programs and support to address their social, emotional, educational, physical, and spiritual needs.
The centre combines support programs and services with diligent community supervision to promote both public safety and the successful reintegration of indigenous men. Residents of the centre are expected to take responsibility for their healing journey by actively participating in the establishment of release plans and goals. They also are expected to have the opportunity to learn from, mentor under, and receive spiritual guidance from our elders.
Native Counselling Services of Alberta has been a leader in program innovation of successful reintegration programs for indigenous offenders since 1995. We developed the first historical trauma healing program—the “in search of your warrior” program—which we piloted at Stan Daniels Healing Centre. Since that time we have also developed the “spirit of a warrior” program for indigenous women and the “tapwe warrior” program for youth.
Based upon the NCSA resilience model, the warrior program has three primary goals: to assist indigenous people to better understand their personal, intergenerational cycle of historic trauma-informed behaviour; to build knowledge and skills that will reduce and eventually eliminate trauma-informed behaviour in program participants; and to facilitate the participants' connection and commitment to their lifelong journey.
The warrior programs are nationally and internationally recognized, and for over a decade CSC has worked in partnership with NCSA to offer these programs to their inmates. In our last grad ceremony at the Stan Daniels Healing Centre, we had one of the judges from Alberta attend. They were wondering how they could put our program into their release plans for their offenders when they see them in court.
In 2010 NCSA opened the first section 81 facility for indigenous women in the country.
I have two minutes? Okay, I'll get going.
Currently, the Buffalo Sage Wellness House is a 16-bed facility. Actually, we've now added 12 beds to our facility. It's for federally sentenced minimum security women and conditionally released women on day parole, on statutory release with residency, or on full parole. We have 28 beds now.
We all know the overrepresentation of indigenous women and men in the correctional system. We need to address the historical trauma, the generational trauma, the pain, and the anger; then these people can become whole. They can take back their kids and families and get back into their communities in a safe way.
I keep telling the women at Buffalo Sage that this is the generation of women who are going to say, “Enough. We have had enough. We're going to put a stop to the violence, we're going to put a stop to the drug and alcohol abuse, we're going to take back our kids, and we're going to take back our lives.” In order to do that, we need more funding, of course. We need funding for programs, facilitators, career development officers, and escorts for the community.
We have many successes. We have a woman who was nationally known for her violence. Everyone in this room would know her name if I were to tell you. Several years ago she spent six years at Buffalo Sage Wellness House. She's in university right now and is going to be a lawyer. We have a woman who's a manager of a Tim Horton's. That maybe doesn't sound like a wonderful career for some people in this room, but believe me, for her it's a major step.
We just need the funds and the help. These women and men need the help to do what they can.
Am I over my two minutes?
I would like to talk about the work that I do. I have a presentation here, but I'll go through it quickly.
My name is Lois Frank. I'm from the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta. I'm a person who has been working with justice. I also teach at the University of Lethbridge. At the college, my area is criminal justice. I teach classes on aboriginal people in the justice system. I also served on the policy commission. I was their chair, and I created programs such as peacemaking.
The work that I've been doing lately has been in the area of Gladue writing. Over the years, I've interviewed a lot of people who are in the system, who are incarcerated or facing sentencing, and I've learned a lot. These people have given me a real education, and I've come to see a lot of things that maybe need to be improved upon or changed in the system.
I'll just go through this, and then you may have questions.
I've seen the hopelessness of some of these people, but I also see their hope. A lot of the people who are in the system have faced a lot of trauma due to childhood abuse, foster care, parental neglect, and things like that, which has made a transition into the jails because of the institutionalization. Many of these are young offenders who were the product of the residential school era through their parents and their grandparents, as mandated under the Indian Act.
Many times, by the time I see them, a lot of them have already been sentenced. They're found guilty or they plead guilty. A lot of the people in the system are subjected to a lot of the abuses in the system, and they don't know their rights. This is where I come in, and I write the reports. I get an opportunity to hear their stories, to listen to their backgrounds, and to give some recommendations to judges on what needs to happen with some of these people.
It's like a cookie cutter. A lot of them have parents who went to residential schools. They were in foster care. They've gone through a lot of abuses, but still there's hope. I see a lot of hope in a lot of these individuals.
Once they're incarcerated, though, nothing happens. They're left in systems where they're forced to choose between belonging by being part of a gang, fitting in. That is their family once they go into these institutions, whether federal or provincial, but in the provincial institutions they are remanded. A lot of times they have no access to programs. Many of them are in solitary confinement for whatever reasons, spending 23 hours a day in solitary. I see women, men, the youth.
I had this all prepared, but because of the time limit.... I really believe that we need to look at this whole system. As a Gladue writer, I'm restricted. I'm not here representing the Alberta justice department, although I do reports for them. I'm an educator, a mother, a grandmother, and I have come to see things in a totally different light.
I've taught Native American studies, justice, and many different disciplines. One of the things that I've found in doing a lot of the research is that native people across the Americas had their own justice. They had their own philosophies. They had their own justice systems. Justice was swift, and it was based on a spiritual model. Your actions had consequences. Some would say it was something like karma. They believed that what you did came back to you.
Justice was internalized. They didn't have jails. They banished people who committed violations; they didn't call them crimes. They were deviations that needed healing in communities, but it was very swift, and it was done by the elders.
The grandmothers were really important. They were the ones who kept things in line. I've made recommendations to some of my clients that they be monitored by their grandmothers. Some of them are under house arrest with their grandmothers, and that's a real sentence for some of them, because they're scared of their grandmothers.
I think we need to return to some of those concepts, because once they get in jail, there's no rehabilitation in many cases. In tribal societies, if you look at the history, you see there were no jails. In Native American studies, I've researched tribes across the Americas, and there were no jails. People would be banished. They would be shamed. There were ways to deal with people who committed these deviations. Mostly there were ceremonies that people had to endure to deal with their actions.
Women were really respected. I'm surprised in doing the work that I've done that there isn't a real emphasis on bringing back the grandmothers, the women, into healing some of these problems. I speak from experience, because I am a mom. I'm a grandmother, and most recently I've become a great-grandmother. I have kids coming in and out of my house, and some live there for a while. I don't need to say more. I set the rules. I give them direction. I do it with love and compassion, but when they see that look, and they've done something wrong, they know that they need to listen to their parents and their grandparents.
There has been so much trauma in some of our communities because of the policies and the Indian Act requiring all people of that generation to attend residential school. Sometimes seven generations of people were colonized. They were put into the schools. It's the children and the people in the community who are paying for it now. A lot of these young people didn't go to residential schools, but maybe they have parents who have lost parental skills or who are maybe not intact. However, we still have the connection with the elders, the grandparents, and I think that's something we need to look at.
I'm humbled by the experiences of a lot of these people who have endured neglect, physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, and I see the anger building in a lot of these people. Without doing anything about it, I think we're going to see these problems increase. It's not up to the justice system to fix the problems, but I think there are ways in which we can do things, such as bringing in some programming. A lot of my clients who request counselling or spiritual advice or anything like that are maybe given a pamphlet.
One of the abuses concerns people who have legal aid lawyers. I'm not criticizing lawyers, but a lot of times they plead them out, and there are not adjudicated facts. Under the Criminal Code, the sentence has to match the crime, and in a lot of cases that isn't happening.
With the Gladue reports, sometimes I get on the nerves of some of these lawyers because I present the client's version. Many times it has not been investigated, and they're pleading out because they're afraid. They don't know their rights. I feel fortunate to be able to advocate for some of these people, and to instruct judges as well. I've been called upon many times by judges. Gladue reports are supposed to be impersonal and unbiased, and I try to follow that, but I also will go to court with some of these people, and judges have asked me to speak in many cases.
I see the limitations of the Gladue system, the Gladue report writing, and people can do something. I would like to see some changes there. I have recommendations here.
A lot of them are sentenced. They go to prison. Prisons are places of hope and places where there can be a lot of rehabilitation, but bringing the traditions back is really important. I don't mean just a sweat lodge or a pipe ceremony; bringing the wisdom of some of the grandmothers and some of the people back into the community is really important.
I have all of these recommendations.
I think it's more difficult for places like.... I live on a reserve, so I have first-hand knowledge of what's happening in the communities. A lot of these young people don't learn their culture in prison, because many times they don't have access to programs. The only one they have is beadwork, and I disagree with that, because there needs to be programming for life skills and for getting them help in aftercare or getting them involved in planning their own job skills and things like that.
I have a lot of clients, and I know we'd like to believe that prisons are rehabilitating people, but they are not. A lot of these young people are joining gangs for protection. They sometimes see the prison as a home, because they've been in foster care. The last guy I saw, on Wednesday, has been in 15 foster homes. Also, the drug problem is becoming very significant.
We can't just look to the elders. There's a problem I have with that, because I think that sometimes our elders are also products of the residential school system. They were mandated to attend. If we're going to use elders, we have to train them too. My area is curriculum development. I train elders to do peacemaking. I had to school them on the Criminal Code and all of these things.
It's such an easy thing for judges to say, “Send them to a treatment centre.” Well, it's temporary. Sending them to an elder or sending them to a sweat lodge is not going to do it. They have to learn their culture and identity all over again. I think those things can be done by native people who are professionals and are in touch with their knowledge base about traditions, but to just send them to a sweat lodge as a quick fix—
The risk assessment tool has been a question for a lot of years. The late Dr. Joe Couture, who was a psychologist, a former brother with the Catholic Church, and an aboriginal elder, and who worked in corrections for a lot of years, argued that we missed the boat when it came to addressing the risk assessment tool that's used.
It's constantly being defended. The risk assessment tool has never properly addressed the needs of an indigenous offender. Because of that, the risk factors are addressed and used to determine the level of incarceration—so medium, maximum, or minimum—and that's why we see an overrepresentation of offenders in maximum security. It's rare that you see someone moving from maximum to medium quickly, and certainly not from medium to minimum. That's one of the challenging issues we have.
The other part that fits with that is the programming. The philosophy around accessing programs at a maximum level is really unrealistic. Maximum should be for those offenders who are at risk to other offenders and who represent a high risk to society. Medium is where we should be pointing most of our offenders for treatment and rehabilitation. From that we can then provide the right tools for assessment into minimum security and then release into the community.
We're spending too much energy and effort on maximum security. We see the result when we have so many statutory release offenders, and now statutory release with residency, which is a challenge for our whole society. We should be seriously concerned about that.
If I could address that statutory release issue, the national Parole Board uses statutory release with residency. Sometimes the offender isn't notified until just days before they're released that they have a residency clause, so when they're released they're very angry and they're very unhappy. They go into a halfway house or a healing lodge and usually will commit UAL—be unlawfully at large—within a day or two, because they don't feel they have an obligation to serve more time and they think that they've served their time.
That whole issue of statutory release is more a risk to society than it is a safety issue.
I appreciate your last comments. I'd love to explore that aspect. We've had those conversations before, and I agree. I've had many people from my constituency, your reserve, tell me they don't need a dollar more to do what they need to do to make things better on the reserve; they need the transparency act back. They need their chief and council to be responsible for the funds they have and to look after their own people, because your own people are damaging your own people. Those are quotes I've heard from your own people, and I agree with you. Thank you.
I love your approach that we have to get back to the more traditional aspect of grandmothers, which is about the value of family on reserve. We do know that in times past, the grandmothers, the matriarchs, set rules and dictated how things happened. In Ontario, for example, many grandmothers have been very outspoken over the years about having contraband cigarettes and tobacco on the reserves, saying that contraband tobacco brings guns, gangs, and drugs. They didn't want them. The chief and council ignored those things, and we have those issues.
How do we fix the disconnect that I have seen and witnessed on the Blood? There is a disconnect between what the elders and so many of the people want, when the chief and council seem to be, as you said, distracted with other issues that don't actually add value to their people. It's the reason that you and many others from all three communities around the reserve are involved in trying to change that—with me, and I appreciate that. It's fantastic. I'm looking forward to the excitement of it. How do we fix that disconnect, the fact that chief and council are not engaged in this process?