Despite a long history of marginalization within Canada, Indigenous women continue to be pillars of their communities, acting as leaders, decision makers, role models and mentors.
Nevertheless, some Indigenous women’s lives have been harmed by their experiences within the federal justice and correctional systems. Indigenous women are over-represented as offenders in the federal justice and correctional systems. Despite representing approximately 5% of Canada’s total female population, Indigenous women make up 38% of the federally incarcerated female population in Canada; in Correctional Service Canada’s Pacific and Prairie regions, Indigenous women make up more than 50% of the federally incarcerated female population. Driven by this knowledge, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women (the Committee) agreed on 20 June 2017 to conduct a study on Indigenous Women in the Federal Justice and Correctional Systems.
The Committee received testimony from 36 witnesses – 13 of whom appeared as individuals, with the remainder representing 18 organizations. As well, the Committee was briefed by officials from 6 government departments and agencies, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, and the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada. The testimony was received during nine meetings held from 28 November 2017 to 13 February 2018. As well, the Committee received 11 written briefs from organizations and individuals. In addition to the evidence gathered over the course of its study, the Committee also considered testimony from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security’s study on Indigenous People in the Correctional System (fall 2017).
The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women’s report provides:
· an overview of Indigenous women’s experiences in the federal justice and correctional systems;
· suggestions of policy changes to prevent Indigenous women’s interactions with the criminal justice system and incarceration;
· an examination of Indigenous women’s access to and treatment in the federal justice system;
· an examination of Indigenous women in the federal correctional system; and 2
· 96 recommendations to the Government of Canada on how it can help improve Indigenous women’s access to and treatment in the federal justice system as well as their treatment in the federal correctional system.
Factors contributing to Indigenous women’s interactions with the criminal justice system are numerous and include intergenerational trauma; physical, psychological and sexual violence; substance abuse and mental health problems and illnesses; poverty; and disconnection from their own cultures and languages. Witnesses told the Committee that actions such as resolving the foster care crisis; the federal government collaborating with Indigenous communities; conducting community safety planning; implementing crime prevention strategies; and researching innovative approaches, such as social impact bonds, could help prevent Indigenous women’s interactions with the criminal justice system and incarceration.
The Committee also heard that systemic problems in the federal justice system have a negative impact on Indigenous women’s access to and treatment within that system. For instance, the Committee was informed that there is a longstanding distrust of many police forces across the country by Indigenous communities. As well, Indigenous women face various barriers in accessing the justice system, such as difficulties accessing legal aid and culturally appropriate services. Furthermore, the Committee heard that Indigenous women may not receive fair treatment during sentencing in the criminal justice system. Witnesses spoke of the lack of availability and the misuse of Gladue reports during sentencing, as well as the negative effects of minimum mandatory sentences on Indigenous women.
Finally, the report examines Indigenous women’s experiences in the federal correctional system. The Committee heard that a number of measures would improve Indigenous women’s treatment in this system, in particular measures regarding Correctional Service Canada’s role; segregation and solitary confinement; access to programming, including culturally appropriate programming, training and education; health services, including mental health services; and parole, community reintegration and healing. Both Committee members and witnesses acknowledged that the current situation with regards to Indigenous women in the federal justice and correctional systems is problematic and untenable. The Committee believes that the implementation of the 96 recommendations presented in this report by the Government of Canada will help to improve Indigenous women’s access to and treatment in the federal justice system and their treatment in the correctional system.
Darlene Shackelly, Executive Director of the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of B.C. gave a presentation to this committee. To read the full report, click the link below:
A CALL TO ACTION: RECONCILIATION WITH INDIGENOUS WOMEN IN THE FEDERAL JUSTICE AND CORRECTIONAL SYSTEMS