Grand council chief agrees federal prison system discriminatory

NIPISSING—Patrick Madahbee, the Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation, is not at all surprised that an aboriginal corrections report finds ‘systemic discrimination.’

“ Not at all, I am not surprised,” stated Mr. Madahbee in an interview with the Recorder last week. “Take, for example, the jails in Sudbury, they are full of First Nations people. It’s tragic.”

“Our federal and provincial governments are hell bent on selling resources that have not been dealt with in terms of treaty rights and our people,” said Mr. Madahbee. “We have a lot of cases where First Nation people have been charged by the Child Care Society, when our kids are taken away from their family and our communities unjustly.”

“And a lot of First Nations people don’t have the money to pay for lawyers when they are charged in these type of cases so they can’t afford the court costs, and in a lot of cases they don’t understand the charges that have been laid against them.”

“And there are very few First Nation people on juries,” said Mr. Madahbee. “Part of the reason so many of our people are in jail is that they have to go through the court system, when in many cases they should not be put in jail. The issues could be dealt with through sentencing circles, made to do community work or restitution to the person(s) that have been affected by their actions.”

“I’m very cynical of the court process, all the money being made by lawyers and legal aid, everyone is making big bucks in the court system,” continued Mr. Madahbee. “And a child care case can take 15 months to resolve, this shouldn’t be the case.”

Aboriginal people are so vastly overrepresented in Canada’s federal prison system that current policies are clearly failing them, according to a new report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator and reported by CBC News on March 7.

The report found “no new significant investment at the community level for federal aboriginal initiatives. There isn’t a deputy commissioner dedicated solely to and responsible for aboriginal programs, planning, implementation and results,” said Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator for Canada, during a news conference in Ottawa. “And worst of all, no progress in closing the large gaps in correctional outcomes between aboriginal and non-aboriginal inmates.”

The report tabled in the House of Commons last week is only the second special report ever written by the investigator since the office’s creation 40 years ago.

Mr. Sapers pointed out there are just over 3,400 aboriginal men and women making up 23 percent of Canada’s federal prison inmate population. He said while aboriginal people in Canada only make up four percent of the population, in federal prisons nearly one in four is made up of Metis, Inuit or First Nations persons. He found an almost 40 percent increase in the number of aboriginal people incarcerated between 2001-2002 and 2010-2011.

As well, the report indicates aboriginal inmates are sentenced to longer terms and spend more time in segregation and maximum security, are not granted parole as much as others, and are more likely to have parole revoked for minor problems.

The correctional manager called on CSC to implement a number of actions. Those include appointing a deputy commissioner for aboriginal corrections, development of a long term strategy to increase opportunities for the care and custody of aboriginal offenders by aboriginal communities and the reallocation of adequate funds for these purposes.

Mr. Sapers is also calling for the creation of more community-based healing lodges and permanent funding for them, equal to CSC facilities. Ongoing training of CSC staff to ensure adequate understanding of aboriginal people, culture and traditions; new and enhanced measures to ensure aboriginal leadership and elders are equal partners in the delivery of community release and re-integration program and services, the immediate hiring of more aboriginal community development officers and improving and streamlining the process around accepting and monitoring released offenders into aboriginal communities.

 Tom Sasvari