Aboriginal Inmate Report

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Aboriginal Inmate Report

The Aboriginal Inmate Report by the Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers, was tabled in the House of Commons yesterday. This is just the second special report written by the Correctional Investigator in the 40 year history of the office. Highlights include: 

"The number of aboriginal people in Canada's federal prisons has jumped by more than 50 per cent over the past decade, Canada's correctional investigator has found. ...

The report also finds that in Canada's federal prisons, aboriginal people account for:

  • 25 per cent of male inmates.
  • More than a third of female inmates.
  • More than 65 per cent of prisoners in some Western Canada facilities.

Additionally, aboriginal inmates are sentenced to longer terms, and spend more time in segregation and maximum security. They are less likely to be granted parole and are more likely to have parole revoked for minor problems."


Sean in Ottawa

Thanks Jerry.

What a horrible human toll. What a sad distortion of so called justice.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Good discussion of this on P&P tonight. The Conservative MP - I forget her name, another mindless ConBot - said more money is not the answer, totally blind to the reality that First Nations do without adequate funding  for virtually everything, and especially education.

A FN chief from the west came on and just totally tore her argument apart, pointing out the Cons have done virtually nothing in their seven years in office to make conditions better for First Nations in Canada.

And there's definitely total discrimination in the denial of parole and early release to incarcerated FN prisoners.

The Conservatives - ConBots all -  need to be thrown out of office and replaced by people with beating hearts.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Later in the program, P&P had a panel discussion on the subject, and Stockwell Day said the problem is that aboriginals need to take "personal responsibility" for themselves. Gerry Caplan shot down that bullshit right off the mark.

Stockwell Day is a disgrace.


I left out another key finding:

"Aboriginals now 4% of Canadian population but 23% of inmates"

This fact alone tells you how political prison sentences are for minorities and the poor. We need a report on how miniscule the percentage of banksters and white collar middle class criminals in prison is.

Sean in Ottawa

Could the divide be any worse?

The Harper government has been able to replace the idea of two solitudes with more than two. Dividing, separating creating a multitude of solitudes. With relentless propaganda and victim blaming this government is expanding historical injustices into chasms so great that it will take generations to overcome. Racism against Aboriginals a decade ago was individual and where systemic not as overt. The suffering and injustices were there but without the systemic gloating and gleeful punishment that the Harper government has introduced. It used to be a non-specific concept with a multitude of targets but today when I see the words bigotry and racism I think first of the plight of Aboriginal Canadians, aided and abetted by an increasingly intolerant and shrill media and the nastiest Canadian government in memory. I can only hope that there will be enough Canadians to notice, stand up, and do something about it but I fear the propaganda and misinformation is working. At one time I might have appealed to people based on some kind of national pride but I won't bother. Canada seems to have no more pride and no more shame when it comes to values.

Many people have spoken about relativism. Arguments have long been made that racism/sexism in historical figures to some degree should be judged in the context of the time. What can be said about Canada now? There were times when Canadians in history leaned a little more progressive than the global context had them even when by today's standards we would judge them more harshly. If you accept that argument, as it seems most who want to look back with any pride on history must, then you must also accept the other side of that coin. Today we know better. Canada is more regressive than many countries. It is more regressive than it has been for many years. in many areas. Our current intolerance, bigotry and injustice must be seen also in a modern and very aware context. With this it is unavoidable but to acknowledge that the treatment of Canada's Aboriginal peoples must be viewed far more harshly in this context than much of the worst from the past can be seen in previous contexts.


The Aboriginal Inmate Report notes that the number of Aboriginal prisoners has increased by more than 50% in the last decade - a decade in which the Harper government has mostly been in power with its harsh long sentences agenda, even for minor offences. Therefore, Harper policies have directly contributed to the rapidly increasing Aboriginal prisoner population in part because, as a high proportion of Aboriginals are poor, they cannot afford good legal help in seeking reduced sentences or discharges.

I expect that if the Cons are reelected that they will vastly increase privatization of the prison system in Canada. This would result in a private sector prison lobby similar to that in the US that strenuously lobbies for ever more long sentences to ensure themselves ever greater profits. This approach would further increase the Aboriginal and poor prison population here in the same way that such lobbying has led to prison terms for 1/4 of the male African American population, the decimation of their families, and to the creation of a fertile training ground for future crime. It has also led to more money being spent on prisons in some states than on education. However, even conservative states, such as Texas, are relenting on this prison agenda as they find the costs have sprialled out of control, leaving them with the dilemma of increases taxes or sending ever more people to prison. Of course, our Cons (maybe I should say Convicts in view of their election shenanigans) are totally ignoring this.


As expected, the Conservative government has dismissed Aboriginal Inmate Report of Howard Sapers, the prison system ombudsman. 

Sapers "says the willingness of corrections officials to brush off his urgent call to address the swelling number of aboriginals behind bars suggests they are blind to the issue. The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) posted an online reply Friday to a report this week by Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator, which indicated that the agency has little interest in taking the steps urged by Mr. Sapers to curb the disproportional and growing number of first nations, Inuit and Metis prisoners. ...

Mr. Sapers said in a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail: 'When I saw their response, the first thing that came to mind was that they were defending the status quo, that it just does not at all address the substance or the urgency of the matters that were raised in the report that was tabled (Friday).In fact, much of their response I have read before. It looked sadly familiar and just indicates to me that the Correctional Service of Canada does not believe that they’ve got a problem.' ...

Sapers emphasized 'Of course I am going to have to work through this response with the Correctional Services and probably raise it as well with the Minister of Public Safety. The response does not move on the concerns at all and doing more of the same is simply not going to address the issues that were raised.' "


Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

More fuel for Idle No More.


Two other provincial reports in the last month confirm much of what was said in the federal report. In Ontario Frank Iacobucci released a report at the end of February that examined the relationship between the Ontario justice system and First Nations. In BC, a new report by the provincial officer of health, Dr. Perry Kendall, also sounded the alarm about our judicial system. 

In Ontario, Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci described the province's treatment of Aboriginals as being a "crisis" because they are extremely "overrepresented in prisons yet cut out of participating in juries" ... 

He found that "he could not ignore “systemic racism” in the courts, prison and jury process including mistreatment of First Nations inmates in penitentiaries, general disrespect by police and “discriminatory public reaction to First Nations complaints.”

Iacobucci urged the Ontario government to implement 17 recommendations to fix the courts, prison and jury process, saying the problem 'warrants urgent response.' ...

Already, Attorney General John Gerretsen has promised to get working on the first two recommendations: setting up an advisory committee to deal with the probe’s findings and establishing a body concerning aboriginal justice issues that will report directly to him.

As for the other 15, Gerretsen said he wants to study the report. Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park, Gerretsen seemed to question Iacobucci’s use of the word 'crisis.' ...

The probe was launched after the inquest into high school student Reggie Bushie’s drowning death in 2007 came to a halt two years ago due to the lack of representation of First Nations people on the jury. The issues surrounding his death and six other students who had left their remote northern reserves to go to high school in Thunder Bay, was the subject of a Toronto Star investigation. ...

Native leaders called Iacobucci’s report a “wake-up call” to the rest of society. “Justice Iacobucci has told the truth,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. Iacobucci has not “pulled any punches” when dealing with hard realities concerning natives in the justice system who face racism, poor quality legal representation, an overrepresentation in prisons and a lack of police services, Fiddler added. Julian Falconer, lawyer for Nishnawbe Aski Nation, praised Iacobucci’s report for shining another light on the absence of basic civic rights other Canadians enjoy.“The rule of law does not operate in the north,” Falconer said.

Chronic underfunding of First Nations policing was brought into focus earlier this month after the death of Lena Anderson, a 23-year-old woman who died of a suspected suicide in the back of a police cruiser. She was in the cruiser because the police detachment where she was being held at the Kasabonika Lake First Nation had no heat."


Of course Attorney General Gerretson is right. How could there be inadequate funding and systemic discrimination if a prisoner dies in February in Northern Ontario in the back of a police cruiser where she was being kept because the First Nation police detachment had no heat?




Dr. Perry Kendall, BC's provincial officer of health, has just released a report, Health, Crime, and Doing Time: Potential Impacts of the Safe Streets and Communities Act on the Health and Well Being of Aboriginal People, that criticizes the Con government's tough on crime approach, thereby making the already crisis situation for Aboriginals worse.

“ 'The inherent ideological shift from prevention to punishment will adversely affect vulnerable populations in B.C., including aboriginal peoples,' said deputy provincial health officer Evan Adams, a native physician. ...

In B.C., aboriginal women account for 26.4 per cent of the women in custody, according to Kendall. Native girls account for 56 per cent of juvenile females in custody. Native youth make up only about eight per cent of the provincial juvenile cohort, he added, but 142 of the 325 juveniles in custody are aboriginal. Three out of four of those aboriginal kids have been in government care — most have a serious mental illness or an intensive behaviour problem." ...

The federal correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, found in his report “ 'no new significant investments at the community level for federal aboriginal initiatives. No deputy commissioner dedicated solely to and responsible for aboriginal programs, planning, implementation and results. And worst of all, no progress in closing the large gaps in correctional outcomes between aboriginal and non-aboriginal inmates.'

Indigenous peoples are sentenced to longer terms, spend more time in segregation or maximum security, are less likely to be granted parole and are more often busted for minor breaches of release conditions. In only the second special report written by the investigator since the office’s creation 40 years ago, Sapers said the marginalization of a minority through government policy “defines systemic discrimination.” During the last 10 years the aboriginal prison population has jumped 40 per cent.

'This is racist and it is unacceptable,' said Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The situation is appalling.

“We are paying the price every which way for a couple of hundred, three-, four-, five-hundred years, depending on how you want to count it up — oppression of First Nations,” said Leonard Krog, justice spokesman for the provincial New Democrats.

“When the South African government was setting up the apartheid system, that’s what they did, was send agents to Canada to look at the reserve system, (they) took it back home to South Africa and figured out how to set up apartheid.”




We will reap the harvest of bitternes that this will engender in many First Nations people even if we act now because so many of their lives have been ruined. If these policies are not soon reversed the damage will be exponentially worse for them and for society.


The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has commented on Howard Saper's report.

"The Report Spirit Matters: Aboriginal People and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, primarily looked at the implementation of Sections 81 and 84 provisions of the CCRA. Section 81 allows for the transfer of care and custody of an Aboriginal offender who would otherwise be held in a federal penitentiary to an Aboriginal community facility. Section 84 provides for Aboriginal communities to be involved in the release of an Aboriginal offender returning to their community.

The focus of this report was also to examine Aboriginal initiatives by Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and the Conditional Release Act. As in past findings, this Report identifies rising statistics of Aboriginal representation (both men and women), decrease in funding for programs, and a significant lack of services for Aboriginal groups. The finding of this Report warrant immediate action, and reaffirms the claims put forth by organizations such as NWAC and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies that grave systemic changes are needed.

Despite a near 40 per cent increase in the Aboriginal incarcerated population between 2001-11, no new Section 81 facilities have been added since 2001. Aboriginal Peoples in Canada represent approximately 4% of the population, and Aboriginal women are even more overrepresented than Aboriginal men in the criminal justice system, representing 30 percent of women in federal prisons. The Native Women’s Association of Canada agrees with many of the Report’s findings, particularly those that identify a lack of understanding of Aboriginal people, culture and approaches to healing within federal corrections, and the disregard of theGladue Principles which take into account the social context in correctional decision-making.

NWAC would also like to highlight that preventative initiatives that keep Aboriginal Peoples from being incarcerated should be a priority. Poverty and high rates of crime leading to incarceration are linked. By providing Aboriginal women with access to more education, training. employment, child care, we can further support their socio-economic security and equality.

NWAC’s President, Michèle Audette stated that, “The Canadian Government must follow up on the Investigator’s recommendations, namely: Appoint a Deputy Commissioner for Aboriginal Corrections to ensure adequate focus and accountability; negotiate permanent, realistic and at-parity funding levels for existing and future Healing Lodges and significantly increase the number of bed spaces where the need exists; expand CSC staff training initiatives about Aboriginal people, history, culture and spirituality to include training in the application of Gladue principles; resolve workload, payment and standard of services issues faced by Elders to ensure that they are equal partners in the delivery of programs and services within CSC; and reduce the amount of red tape and accelerate the process for Section 84 releases.

Aboriginal women and girls must be provided with key education, training, health supports as they are the fastest growing population in Canada before they become another statistic in a cycle of incarceration."




David Langtry, Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and David Milward, a U of M law professor, have also commented the extreme overrepresentation of Aboriginal inmates in our prison system, how the system has failed in this regard and what can be done about it.

David Langtry said “We are still seeing a disproportionate number of Aboriginal women in solitary confinement, which creates barriers to access to rehabilitation programs. As a result, Aboriginal women in corrections do not get paroled early, if at all. Not only are they overrepresented, they are serving more time. These facts were confirmed by the correctional investigator today.” ...

The report also noted that in 2000, money had been accredited towards building more healing lodges for Aboriginal offenders, but that only one lodge was built as a result. According to a Correctional Service of Canada document, “in the healing lodge, the needs of Aboriginal offenders serving federal sentences are addressed through Aboriginal teachings and ceremonies, contact with Elders and children, and interaction with nature.” It states further that “a holistic philosophy governs the approach, whereby individualized programming is delivered within a context of community interaction, with a focus on preparing for release.”

Saper (the writer of the Aboriginal Inmate Report) commented that more are needed for Aboriginal offenders because a healing lodge is “culturally appropriate, [and] deals with healing and with aboriginal spirituality, which involves aboriginal ceremony.”

According to David Milward, a U of M law professor, the combined factors of poverty and the legacy of the residential schools are the reasons for the overrepresentation of Aboriginal individuals in Canadian prisons.

“The residential schools set intergenerational trauma into motion when Aboriginal children were abused in the schools themselves. Many of the students then went on to become physical and sexual abusers of others in their communities, and it spreads from generation to generation,” said Milward to the Manitoban.

When asked whether racialized policing practices could explain this disproportion, Milward said that it is possible but hard to provide evidence to substantiate that claim – there is often proof that a crime was in fact committed.

“Many Aboriginal people have no doubt that they are subjected to racial profiling, but racial profiling is difficult to prove. For one thing, you’re relying on the police themselves to provide the proof. And secondly, it’s hard to call it racial profiling when there ends up being enough evidence to support conviction.”

Milward stated that to solve the problem of Aboriginal overrepresentation, different ways of responding to Aboriginal criminality are required.

“You need consistently supported social and preventative programming that will mould healthier Aboriginal communities and minimize the need for ‘after the fact’ prosecutions. In particular, there’s a need for programs that further healthy Aboriginal parenting skills.”

In addition to that, he claimed that these instances require less emphasis on imprisonment and more emphasis on rehabilitative justice that accounts for Aboriginal culture.  

“There also needs to be more restorative justice programs that incorporate Aboriginal cultures and spirituality. You need programs like a Circle of Courage where Aboriginal youth receive positive mentorship from role models and are taught life skills that will help them later on.”  




 A 2012 report, Marginalized: Aboriginal Women's Experience in Federal Corrections which was prepared by the Wesley Group, reiterated many of the issues mentioned by Sayers federal report and the two provincial 2013 reports with a focus on Aboriginal women. 

"The Conservative government's "tough on crime agenda" will only send the numbers spiralling higher, adds the report, which paints a bleak picture of native, Inuit and Métis women's experience with the federal correctional system. ...

The current state of over-representation of aboriginal women in federal corrections is nothing short of a crisis.

The report tries to pinpoint the root causes, tracing the history of colonization and the often-damaging effects of the residential school system to the present-day challenges that native women face as a result of "oppressive government policies and laws," exploitation, violence and racism. Winding up in prison does nothing to break the cycle, despite the opportunity to help women build better lives through correctional programming, the report found.

Aboriginal women tend to have lower levels of education and employment, as well as a more extensive criminal history and a higher need for programming to deal with issues such as drug abuse, anger management and finding employment, the author notes. Upon entering prison, offenders are assessed with the aim of determining whether they should be given a security designation of minimum, medium or maximum. Aboriginal women are generally over-classified, leading to long-term negative consequences, says the report. "A higher classification level means limited or no access to core programs which impacts parole eligibility and success for re-entry into the community."

The report recommends "an alternative means of assessment" for aboriginal women.

The correctional service has made some progress in providing appropriate help for aboriginal women behind bars, says the report, pointing to specially tailored programming introduced in 2009 that is delivered with assistance of a native elder.

However, "much work" needs to be done. Healing lodges still in planning stages For instance, healing lodges for women — one in Alberta, the other in Quebec — were still at the planning stages despite the fact legislation had allowed for their creation for many years, says the report."




jerrym, on March 30, 2013 wrote:

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has commented on Howard Saper's report.


The Native Women’s Association of Canada agrees with many of the Report’s findings, particularly those that identify a lack of understanding of Aboriginal people, culture and approaches to healing within federal corrections, and the disregard of the Gladue Principles which take into account the social context in correctional decision-making.


The colonizers are going backwards in this regard:

[url=http://aptn.ca/news/2015/04/22/senate-passes-victims-bill-rights-will-di... passes Victims Bill of Rights that will ‘dilute’ Gladue principles[/url]