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Aboriginal People need solutions, not more jail time

Posted by Carolyn Bennett on October 2, 2012 | No Comments

“The current state of over-representation of Aboriginal women in federal corrections is nothing short of a crisis.” This rebuke is not from a politician or civil society group, but directly from a report commissioned by the Department of Public Safety itself. Entitled, “Marginalized,” it underscores the abject failure of the Conservative government’s simplistic and outdated “tough on crime” approach, warning that it, “will only serve to further increase the numbers and worsen the already staggering injustice experienced by Aboriginal peoples as a whole.”

Canadians need to understand the intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools and the deleterious effects it has had on mental health, addictions, parenting and therefore the resulting interaction of Aboriginal people with the justice system.

While only four per cent of the Canadian population, Aboriginal people make up 20 per cent of the prison population. Even more shocking, one in three women in federal penitentiaries is Aboriginal, a number that has increased by nearly 90 per cent over the last 10 years. Despite only representing six per cent of the female youth population in Canada, almost half (44 per cent) of the female youth in custody are Indigenous.

Canada needs policies and programs that ensure that youth who make a mistake don’t end up in and out of the prison system, sentenced to a life of crime. So many young aboriginal offenders tell the same story: “The first time that they ever felt they belonged was when they joined a gang” or that “The first time they’d ever been told they were good at something was shoplifting.”

Appallingly, the Conservatives have slashed $35.6 million (20 per cent) of federal funding for youth justice programs to supervise and rehabilitate young offenders. And despite the success of the Aboriginal Justice Strategy (AJS), created specifically to respond to the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in our justice system, both as offenders and as victims, this government slashed its funding in half from $20.8 million in 2011 to $10.3 million in 2012.

In addition, the Correctional Investigator has told us that a modest estimate of female offenders suffering from mental health issues is 50 per cent. The reality is that the level of mental illness inside the system is growing and prison is not an appropriate mental health strategy. With an annual cost of keeping a single inmate in federal prison of $117,000, it is not only ineffective, but much too expensive.

Unfortunately, the Conservative response has been the opposite of what common sense and evidence tells us is needed. They continue to pursue sentencing changes that will dramatically increase prison populations, and disproportionately affect aboriginal people.

Aboriginal peoples are a tremendous resource and potential source of future prosperity for all Canadians. But the systemic barriers they face created by the historic injustices of the Indian Act and residential schools have meant unacceptable gaps in outcomes for health, education, housing, and access to basic rights, including adequate food and safe, clean, drinkable water. Addressing these deep-seeded problems is the key to economic opportunity – but also to staying out of jail. This isn’t an Aboriginal problem, it’s a Canadian problem. All Canadians must realize that it is in our interests — in terms of public safety, human rights, cost and untapped human potential — to heed the call of this report and take “aggressive action” to deal with this national disgrace.

Carolyn Bennett

MP, St. Paul’s
Liberal Critic for Aboriginal Affairs

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  1. Profile photo of Andy Walters Andy Walters said on

    A while ago I was in Browning, Montana, an indian town inside a reservation. I was surprised that so many indians were working so I asked one of them why they work here and not in Canada. He immediately started a diatribe about how the Canadian indians have been spoiled by the Canadian govt giving them too much, to the point that they can no longer look after themselves.

    This was a US indian talking about Canadian indians.

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  2. Profile photo of iris wigle-cutforth iris wigle-cutforth said on

    One of the problems with the aboriginal situation is it, that not all claiming to be aboriginals are actually aboriginals. DNA tests around Vancouver and Alberta in the late sixties showed that some of the so-called aboriginals had exclusively Italian blood. One well known Canadian/Hollywood actor was told that he did not have aboriginal but was Italian. His answer was that he had been placed in a Canadian orphanage as a baby and later sent to a reserve to be adopted. He looks…oh so aboriginal or what we have thought an aboriginal should look like. My grandmother, Roxanne (nee Hoffman) Wigle, from Kingsville had been adopted as a babe right after the massacre of Wounded Knee and was adopted by a Jewish/German family in Kingsville and married her said first cousin, Lambert Joseph Wigle (with long American/Canadian blood lines back to the 1700’s. He said that the aborignals from Wounded Knee were not aboriginals but mostly Portuguese, Spanish, Jews and not Cannanites as explained by the press as wild Indians. The aboriginals in the Pine reserve in California were Spanish/Italian/Jews which is what I am suppose to be as dna showed me in the sixties was that of Commanchero, Commache. What IF? that Columbus ship that had been shipwrecked had not actually been shipwrecked at all? That would be the 1400’s the same year as the early French explorers. The moving of these people from reserves were NOT reserves. These were farmers that had farmed the land before relestate people took over with the help of their own armies in a bid for land that had no trees. Aborignals were raised to believe that they had no rights and have suffered extreme emotional distress. Look at Montreal..in the seventies and eighties. Here again aborignals went missing and white people took over their tax free cards…right? Not that long ago, there were families from Pakistan that tried to take over a reserve as they thought it was reserved for “Indians” and not as compensation to certain families. One thousand Pakistans were on that reserve that had to be removed and they didn’t even have Canadian citzenship!!! Plus, they had exclusive Chinese would be Indians. It is time to redo the dna thing. How can one repair psycologically damaged people when they did not even go thru the massacres? Truth is a start. Let’s start to tell the truth. I had purchased properties in Balsam Creek Ontario with monies made from acting in child roles and was told by the police to move off and my lands were no longer my lands even though I had paid cash and land registry for the said lands and the land tax twice up to a hundred years to both Temiskaming, Quebec and North Bay, Ontario. Let’s start educating the police and the courts what they can and can not do to land holdings belonging legally to the so called aboriginals. True aboriginals need to become self sufficient by making their own fish farms, building their own communities with their own volunteers.

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