Canada’s prisons are the ‘new residential schools’

A months-long investigation reveals that at every step, Canada’s justice system is set against Indigenous people


Canada’s crime rate just hit a 45-year low. It’s been dropping for years—down by half since peaking in 1991. Bizarrely, the country recently cleared another benchmark, when the number of people incarcerated hit an all-time high. Dig a little further into the data, and an even more disquieting picture emerges.

While admissions of white adults to Canadian prisons declined through the last decade, Indigenous incarceration rates were surging: Up 112 per cent for women. Already, 36 per cent of the women and 25 per cent of men sentenced to provincial and territorial custody in Canada are Indigenous—a group that makes up just four per cent of the national population. Add in federal prisons, and Indigenous inmates account for 22.8 per cent of the total incarcerated population.

In the U.S., the go-to example for the asymmetric jailing of minority populations, black men are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white men. In Canada, the Indigenous incarceration rate is 10 times higher than the non-Indigenous population—higher even than South Africa at the height of apartheid. In Saskatchewan, if you’re Indigenous, you’re 33 times more likely to be incarcerated, according to a 1999 report, the most recent available.

This helps explain why prison guard is among the fastest-growing public sector occupations on the Prairies. And why criminologists have begun quietly referring to Canada’s prisons and jails as the country’s “new residential schools.”

Related: Indigenous women share their stories of resilience

In some Prairie courtrooms, Indigenous defendants now make up 85 per cent of criminal caseloads, defence lawyers say. At Manitoba’s Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley, as many as nine in 10 women were Indigenous, according to one recent count. At nearby Stony Mountain Institution, Indigenous men make up 65 per cent of the inmate population. Often, they’re there because they failed to comply with a curfew or condition of bail. Or they’re a low-level drug offender, caught up in Canada’s harsh new mandatory-minimum sentences.

That’s one reason for the upsurge. In the past decade, Stephen Harper’s government passed more than 30 new crime laws, hiking punishment for a wide range of crimes, limiting parole opportunities and also broadening the grounds used to send young offenders to jail.

But the problem isn’t just new laws. Although police “carding” in Toronto has put street checks, which disproportionately target minority populations, under the microscope, neither is racial profiling alone to blame. At every step, discriminatory practices and a biased system work against an Indigenous accused, from the moment a person is first identified by police, to their appearance before a judge, to their hearing before a parole board. The evidence is unambiguous: If you happen to be Indigenous, justice in Canada is not blind.


Chapter 1 – The street check

On Dec. 10, 2014, Simon Ash-Moccasin, a Regina teacher, actor and playwright, was walking to a holiday party for Briarpatch magazine, where he sits as a board member. He says officers began tailing him as he approached Casino Regina in the city’s downtown core. Ash-Moccasin “fit a description,” he was told after asking why he was being stopped. “I know which one that is,” the Cree-Saulteaux 41-year-old later told Maclean’s. “There’s only one.”

Ash-Moccasin has a good understanding of arrest protocol thanks to an acting gig with the Saskatchewan Police College, teaching trainee officers how not to collar a suspect. He plays the bad guy.

In real life, Ash-Moccasin initially refused to give his name. An officer threw him against a wall, he says. One attempted to cuff him without reading him his rights. He says he was shoved, headfirst, into the backseat. He was briefly detained until his record check came back clean. Before being released, officers told Ash-Moccasin, who was wearing a distinctive green camouflage jacket, that they were looking for an Indigenous man dressed all in black, with no front teeth, trying to hawk a TV.

Ash-Moccasin is among several Indigenous men and women in Prairie cities who allege they are being unfairly, and illegally, singled out. In June 2015, Maclean’s (working with Vancouver’s Discourse Media) attempted to figure out whether their experiences are indicative of a larger issue. Eight Freedom of Information (FOI) requests were filed with major Western Canadian police agencies, looking for race-specific data on discretionary police stops for jaywalking and arrests for drug possession. In the end, they didn’t supply any data. The Edmonton Police Service estimated that producing one set of data—for instance, race-specific data on arrests for drug possession—would cost Maclean’s $7,693. In Saskatchewan, municipal police are exempted from Freedom of Information laws, and the Regina Police Service instructed their legal counsel to refuse the request.

Related from Discourse Media: Survey indicates Indigenous people targeted by police in the Prairie provinces

To approach the issue from a different perspective, Maclean’s and Discourse Media (with the support of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression) surveyed more than 850 post-secondary students in Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, to see whether there was any difference in the likelihood of being stopped for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Survey results show the odds of an Indigenous student from the sampled population being stopped by police were 1.6 times higher than a non-Indigenous student, holding all other explanatory variables (like gender and age) fixed. Indigenous students will be stopped more frequently, the study indicates; whether or not they were engaged in or close to an illegal activity when stopped by police had little influence in explaining the results. This suggests staying out of trouble does not shield Indigenous student from unwanted police attention.

The survey produced other unsettling data. Indigenous students were more likely to “disagree” or “strongly disagree” that their racial group is viewed positively by police. An Indigenous student had a 69 to 84 per cent chance of “disagreeing” or “strongly disagreeing,” depending on their age; a non-Indigenous student had a 10 to 21 per cent chance of responding the same way. Students were also asked to share three words that they feel describe police officers. The most common words non-Indigenous students associate with police—“helpful,” “authority”—differed dramatically from those chosen by Indigenous students: “racist,” “scary.”

In September, three reporters from Maclean’s and Discourse Media spent two days in downtown and North Central Regina—at the Cornwall Centre mall, at Victoria Park, in churches, and in residents’ homes—speaking with dozens of Indigenous residents about police interactions. Half spoke of unwanted contact with police. Of them, a majority felt they were stopped because of the colour of their skin. Two people alleged they were detained when it was determined they had unpaid fines relating to animal bylaw infractions. Others said they were found to be in breach of a condition of bail or a release program during a random stop.

Criminals, meanwhile, have learned to exploit biases. In Saskatchewan, non-Indigenous men and women are recruited to carry drugs and weapons for Indigenous gangs, says Robert Henry, a Saskatoon academic whose Ph.D. research focused on Indigenous street gangs. “They use their whiteness to move around police stop checks.”

With frustration rising, some Indigenous citizens have begun filming what they believe are incidents of racial profiling. In a video recently uploaded to Facebook, Andre Bear, a clean-cut, 20-year-old aspiring teacher, is stopped by police in Saskatoon while returning from baseball practice with his 18-year-old friend. When Bear asks why they were pulled over, an officer tells him: “Shut up, passenger.” “We have a reason,” another says: “Licence and registration.” Eventually, they’re allowed to go. No reason is given for the stop.

Police say complaints of racial profiling are without substance. The Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission, which investigates complaints against municipal police, says not a single allegation of racism by a civilian against an officer with any municipal police force in the province has ever been substantiated. Police say random street checks are necessary, acting as deterrents, helping solve crime and keeping the public safe.

One Indigenous officer in Western Canada, who spoke on condition that his name not be used, told Maclean’s he was stopped “again and again” growing up; but he argued that proactive policing, focusing on hot spots, helped bring down violent crime across the West—by fully 61 per cent in Winnipeg in the last five years. Indigenous people, who are three times more likely to be victimized, are primary beneficiaries, he added.

There are signs tactics may be changing. The Winnipeg Police Service, under Chief Devon Clunis, who was raised in the city’s troubled North End, is testing a new approach to policing in that neighbourhood. Dubbed the “Block-by-Block” program, it zeroes attention on a 21-block area, and brings families concentrated help from social service and health agencies, community groups and schools to try to tackle problems—like substance abuse or domestic violence—before police need to be called. “From day one, I said, ‘We are going to dramatically change the way we police in this city,’ ” Clunis told Maclean’s. He calls it “crime prevention through social development.” Results are due in spring.

But for those repeatedly targeted by police attention, the impact can be profound. “It makes you feel like you’re less human, like your life is worth less,” says Bear, who was nine the first time he was first stopped, walking home from school in downtown Saskatoon. He’s stopped every few months, he says: “When I was younger it made me ashamed—of having brown skin, of growing up where I did.”

Peter Daniels, a soft-spoken Cree father of two from Regina, began crying when voicing fears his young sons might soon become targets of police attention, the way he once was. Like him, both boys wear their long, brown hair in braids. His eldest, now 10, was relentlessly teased in school last year because of it, and told his father he’d thought of harming himself. “You wish that police, that people, could look beyond the stereotype, and see you for who you are.”

In Regina last month, the SPCC conceded that video and audio recordings did not “contradict” Simon Ash-Moccasin’s account of his unlawful detention; and the ministry of justice determined there was “no lawful justification for the use of force.” But the SPCC refused to say Ash-Moccasin was racially profiled. He was “by unfortunate coincidence,” the “only person observed in the immediate vicinity,” SPCC chair Brent Cotter found. No police will be disciplined.

Andre Couillonneur poses for a portrait near the Education Building on the University of Saskatchewan Campus in Saskatoon, SK on January 23rd, 2016.

Andre Couillonneur poses for a portrait near the Education Building on the University of Saskatchewan Campus in Saskatoon, SK on January 23rd, 2016.

Chapter 2 – Bail denied

On a recent day, some 70 per cent of defendants who parade past a judge via video link from the Winnipeg Remand Centre are Indigenous, many dressed in jail-issue, baggy, grey sweatsuits. It is a grim cattle call: The Indigenous 18-year-old female accused of stealing meat from a Superstore, the 19-year-old man from Shamattawa, Man., given 25 days for missing a parole check-in. He’s been homeless since aging out of foster care, where he was abused and repeatedly left out in the cold. When they pleaded out, their cases often wrapped up in under five minutes, sentencing included. This is bail court, and it is here, at this early stage ahead of trial—with its rigorous standards of due process and proof—that a criminal defendant is most vulnerable. For a majority of Indigenous accused, their case ends here, multiple front-line lawyers told Maclean’s.

Maclean’s spent two days observing the scene. Duty counsel lawyers in Toronto and Winnipeg admit they rarely spend more than 10 minutes with a defendant. Sometimes, it’s as little as five. In Winnipeg, some met them in court: In hushed, hurried phone calls—their hands over their mouths to muffle their words—these lawyers rushed through the deal on offer from the Crown. It was unclear whether some of the accused, with intellectual disabilities and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder were equipped to understand proceedings. Repeated interruptions hammered home the point: “Miss, when can I go home?” a 53-year-old Cree man, who pleaded guilty to public intoxication, asked the judge immediately after his sentence was read out.

No province except P.E.I. denies bail more frequently than Manitoba: Just three of 10 inmates in the province’s overcrowded jails have been sentenced to a crime; the rest are in remand custody, awaiting trial.

Though Canada’s bail laws were reformed four decades ago, grounded in the notion that someone accused of a crime should be released on bail to await trial unless they are a threat, spooked judges are making it increasingly hard to obtain bail, especially for Indigenous defendants, criminal lawyers say. The number of Indigenous people denied bail jumped 92 per cent in the 15 years leading up to 2009, according to federal data.

In Winnipeg, many were appearing at bail court because they’d missed a court appearance or curfew. Some were homeless, and told the court they’d missed a summons as a result. Some had trouble remembering the many conditions of their release, which can now number as many as 34.

Charges for violating conditions like these are soaring. In B.C., fully 40 per cent of criminal court matters are now “administration of justice” offences, which include breaching conditions of bail or probation, according to a recent study. Alberta found that 52 per cent of Indigenous prisoners had been incarcerated for a breach, almost twice the rate for non-Indigenous prisoners, according to a 2011 report by the province’s justice branch.

Two years ago, 19-year-old Jonathan Champagne (his name was changed because he was a minor at the time of his arrest) was granted bail after an arrest on a charge of sexual assault. He claims it never happened. A few months later, while walking down Portage Avenue in a favourite red T-shirt, police stopped him on suspicion he was wearing gang colours. Champagne has never been in a gang. He doesn’t use drugs. Police searched him, finding a paring knife in his shorts pocket. He was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. This time, the judge refused to let him out on bail. The 17-year-old, who was shuttled between 10 homes in four cities growing up, was devastated: A few months earlier, he’d been placed in a tough, but loving home with a corrections officer. He’s come to trust the family, a first. But the nine-month wait to trial meant losing that placement.

His lawyer, Billy Marks, appealed the judge’s decision. His foster parents were so convinced of Champagne’s innocence they agreed to foot the $500 monthly cost of an ankle monitoring system to strengthen his case. But the judge refused to budge.

Behind bars, Champagne was vilified and targeted. After admitting to wanting to end his life, he was placed in segregation. He spent 23 hours a day in a tiny cell, fed through the door and released to “the cage,” a tiny, enclosed exercise yard for an hour. He’d walk in circles until his time was up. “It got to the point where I didn’t want to be alive anymore,” he says.

These were his options: Spend nine months in jail and fight the charges, or plead out. The Crown had approached Marks to say they would agree to jointly recommend time served if his client pleaded guilty to sexual assault. The guilty plea broke Marks’s heart. “But at the same time, I could see what was happening to him.”

He is hardly alone. Many plead out, even when they’re innocent, because they can’t make bail, putting them at risk of losing jobs, housing, and custody of their children, defence lawyers told Maclean’s. The simple act of having an Indigenous lawyer, meanwhile, can almost double the number of “not guilty” pleas at first appearance to 49 per cent, according to one federal study.

Eddy Cobiness, a 49-year-old member of the Buffalo Point First Nation in Manitoba, told Maclean’s he pleads guilty every time he’s charged, even when he didn’t commit the crime he is accused of: “I just say: ‘Okay, yeah’—just to get out. Every day away from your kids is another day of making memories you lose.”

Denied bail and faced with the prospect of a lengthy stay in an overcrowded jail, more and more are pushed into perverse choices in this era of mandatory minimums. “What would you do?” says Winnipeg criminal lawyer Greg Brodsky. “Do you want to lose your kids? Your job? Or do you [take the plea, and] just go home?” Increasingly, he says, justice resembles a “rush to resolve cases by the best bargain you can make.”

Kinew and Kim. (No Credit)

Kinew and Kim. (No Credit)

Chapter 3 – Sentencing

Two years ago, Jim Scott, a soft-spoken Saskatoon defence lawyer, grew so troubled by the harsh sentences he was seeing handed out to Indigenous offenders that he set out to study all publicly available, online criminal decisions in Saskatchewan, starting in 1996; there, 81 per cent of adults sentenced to provincial custody are Indigenous, more than anywhere else in the country. 1996 was the year the Criminal Code was amended to push judges to consider conditional and restorative sentences, particularly when sentencing Indigenous offenders. Three years later, in R. v. Gladue, the Supreme Court was even more explicit: Sentencing judges must recognize an Indigenous offender’s history of dislocation, disadvantage, addiction and abuse.

Still, Scott felt that judges in the province mostly “tuned out” whenever he presented a Gladue submission. This wasn’t just frustrating; the resulting sentences were “unlawful” in his mind: “The Supreme Court wasn’t making a suggestion, the law requires it.”

So he analyzed sentences for all crimes in Saskatchewan; Gladue reforms, his data showed, have failed miserably. Indigenous offenders were sentenced to more than twice as much jail time as those where there was no indication the offender was Indigenous. It was three times higher for hazardous driving and 10 times higher for assault with a weapon. The problem is, on the Prairies, where Gladue is most “desperately needed,” it’s been “virtually ignored,” says Jonathan Rudin, with Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto.

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal (SKCA) has been called out by legal scholars, including the University of Toronto’s Kent Roach, who in 2010 wrote that the SKCA has made clear “in a number of cases,” that Gladue will “make little, if any, difference in the sentencing of Aboriginal offenders in serious cases.” In 2012, the Supreme Court was forced to reiterate its stance in R. v. Ipeelee, calling out lower courts by noting that Gladue applies in all contexts, and that failing to apply the principle is sufficient grounds on its own for appeal.

Like Scott, retired B.C. judge Cunliffe Barnett was perturbed by rulings he saw emerging from the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. Two years ago, he reviewed all the court’s publicly available criminal cases involving Indigenous offenders in Saskatchewan, from 1999 on. His data showed an eight per cent application rate for Gladue in cases with an Indigenous defendant. In some cases, Barnett felt the Conservative-appointed appeals court was “actively avoiding stating the person was Indigenous at all.”

“Too many judges will say: ‘I understand Aboriginal people,’ but they don’t have a clue,” says Barnett, who sat on the bench for 38 years, first in B.C.’s Interior, then in the territorial courts in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. “They’ve made judgments on Aboriginal people for years. But they’ve never set foot on a reserve. They’ve never talked with ordinary, Indigenous people.”

Scorching judicial criticism like this is almost unprecedented. The SKCA, bound by principles of judicial restraint, could not issue a response; but one came via retired SKCA Justice W.J. Vancise, who vigorously disputed Barnett’s findings. The SKCA has “written extensively on this subject,” he wrote in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

One of the most troubling examples of disparity in the courts—and a reason for the sentencing imbalances Scott found in Saskatchewan—is the country’s increasing use of the dangerous offender designation. It was designed for irredeemable monsters like serial rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo. More than 80 per cent have convictions for sex offences. Some call it Canada’s death penalty. Just 3.7 per cent of “DOs” ever leave prison, according to the latest corrections’ data.

But a growing number of Indigenous offenders are being jailed for life this way. The number of annual dangerous-offender designations has doubled in the last decade, to an average of 40 per year. The proportion of Indigenous designations recently hit 29 per cent, up from 23 per cent in 2007. In Saskatchewan, which has the highest number of dangerous offenders per capita in the country, 80 per cent are Indigenous, according to Scott’s data. Some are there for “really ludicrous offences,” says a doctor who acts across Canada as a witness in such cases. “There is a good reason they call Saskatchewan ‘Alabama north,’ ” the doctor adds. Scott’s data shows the provincial Crown’s office logging a 98 per cent success rate in these cases. Only two of the 98 dangerous and long-term offender applications Scott reviewed were dismissed.

In one 2014 dismissal, a judge ruled against the Crown’s application for a mentally ill Indigenous woman who had spent the previous five years tied to a bed and could no longer stand or walk.

In 2005, Andy Peekeekoot, a 25-year-old man from central Saskatchewan’s Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, was charged for his role in a bar fight with two Caucasian men in Shell Lake, Sask. No one was seriously hurt; one of the men involved ordered another beer when the 90-second fight ended. But Peekeekoot waved a knife with a four-inch blade he said he’d found at a nearby lake. That incident would lead to his dangerous-offender designation, even though he’d never even served serious time—a penitentiary term of two years or more.

The multinational catering company just hired by the Saskatchewan government to provide meals at eight provincial correctional centres has been the subject of serious complaints about food quality and other issues elsewhere. (Don Healy/Regina Leader-Post)

The multinational catering company just hired by the Saskatchewan government to provide meals at eight provincial correctional centres has been the subject of serious complaints about food quality and other issues elsewhere. (Don Healy/Regina Leader-Post)

As a young man, Peekeekoot racked up a list of offences, many for fighting or spitting at guards in jail; on all but one occasion, lawyers pleaded him out. He was, undeniably, violent. His most serious conviction was for stomping a man in a brawl when he was 22, causing the victim brain damage.

In court, Peekeekoot didn’t help himself. During his dangerous-offender hearing, he fired one lawyer; another quit at the most critical phase for the defence, concluding his client had lost confidence in him. The judge ordered Peekeekoot, with a Grade 6 education, to continue. He was barred from making copies of court documents, barred from bringing court documents to his cell to study. In any event, he couldn’t “make heads or tails of [them],” as he told Judge Lloyd Deshaye.

He’d been forced to appear in a heavy, anti-suicide smock, after an undisclosed incident, and was naked underneath. His hands were cuffed. He was being held in segregation.

At one point, a concerned Indigenous court worker stood: “Do you know about his childhood?” Eric Ahenakew asked the court. He urged the judge to consider the systems that had failed to protect Peekeekoot as a boy, to consider why he was lashing out, to “get a view of this man as an Aboriginal person.” He “wasn’t born to be violent,” Ahenakew told the court.

Before he turned two, Peekeekoot was made a ward of the state, after being found starving and neglected. Both parents were violent alcoholics and drug users, among many who serially abused him throughout his youth. When he was nine, his mom, who once attempted to stab him, convinced a group of male friends to beat him so badly he was hospitalized. By 10 he was drinking. He was 12 the first time he attempted suicide, after being sexually abused. When he was 13, his father made him watch as he raped a child. He was 14 when he did his first stint in juvenile detention. From then on, he was in and out of jail.

“I can’t do this by myself,” Peekeekoot kept telling Judge Deshaye. “I’ve not the means nor the education to do so. There’s no way I can continue.” The judge concluded Peekeekoot would not be calling any evidence in his defence: “If people cannot or will not work with you I don’t have a magic wand that can cure that situation,” the judge said.

Barnett, who served 38 years on the bench, believes the judge was “flat-out wrong”: He could have appointed counsel. A Gladue report to be used in sentencing could have been ordered. “A judge has a duty to make very certain the information Peekeekoot wanted before the court gets there. It is unconscionable that a court in Canada can think it acceptable that a person be declared a dangerous offender and locked up—almost certainly for the rest of his life—when he has not been heard, and his story has not been told,” Barnett says. Peekeekoot understood so little that on Jan. 15, 2010, the day Deshaye was delivering his ruling, he thought court had convened so he could begin the process of finding a new lawyer.

He appealed, but Saskatchewan’s high court ruled that it was “not clear the sentencing judge failed to consider so-called Gladue factors.” The judge “didn’t even describe Andy as Aboriginal,” says Bob Hrycan, Peekeekoot’s lawyer on appeal. “There was no meaningful analysis of background factors. And in the end, he had no lawyer. That was enough?”

For Peekeekoot, it was also the end of the line. Last May, the Supreme Court declined his application for leave to appeal (the high court approves roughly five per cent of applications, Barnett notes). Hrycan believes Peekeekoot is a changed man. He’s 36 now, married, and hasn’t had a charge for violence in nine years. Peekeekoot, who is currently housed in a federal prison in Alberta, says he’s been clean of drugs and alcohol for 11 years. As a young man he was almost mute. These days, he’ll spend hours on the phone, opening up about the darkest chapters of his life, or the tiny fox he watches out in the prison yard. He’s come to see that in the warped environment of youth, the men around him earned respect through anger and hostility. In response, he always tried to be “twice as tough.”

None of this, Hrycan says, will do him any good: “He’ll never get out. We’ve put someone in jail for the rest of his life for waving a four-inch knife.”

Prisoner Andy Peekeekoot, pictured Grande Cache Institution in Grande Cashe Alberta, February 16, 2016. In 2007, Peekeekoot was convicted on two counts of assault while threatening to use a weapon in 2005. Peekeekoot was declared a dangerous offender in 2010. The dangerous offender label means he can be kept behind bars indefinitely. (Photograph by Jason Franson)

Prisoner Andy Peekeekoot, pictured at Grande Cache Institution in Grande Cashe Alberta, February 16, 2016. In 2007, Peekeekoot was convicted on two counts of assault while threatening to use a weapon in 2005. Peekeekoot was declared a dangerous offender in 2010. The dangerous offender label means he can be kept behind bars indefinitely. (Photograph by Jason Franson)

Chapter 4 – Segregation

In prison, Indigenous offenders serve much harder time than anyone else. Indigenous inmates are placed in minimum-security institutions at just half the rate of their non-Indigenous counterparts. They are more likely to be placed in segregation, accounting for 31 per cent of cases; and, once in isolation, they’ll spend 16 per cent more time there. They account for 45 per cent of all self-harm incidents. Nine in 10 are held to the expiry of their sentence, versus two-thirds of the non-Indigenous inmate population. They are more likely to be restrained in prison, to be involved in use-of-force incidents, to receive institutional charges, to die there.

Many of these disparities are known because Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator of Canada, made a point of tracking race-specific corrections data. Two years ago, troubled by the surging growth of the Indigenous inmate population, he issued a special report on it in Parliament, blaming systemic racism and cultural bias. It was one of only two the office has ever issued, to “signal this was a very important matter requiring urgent action.” It received “anything but,” Sapers says now, bitterly. Last year, the federal government announced he was being replaced (a process interrupted by the election, which left him on the job).

An Indigenous offender’s problems begin with intake, Sapers says, where their risk level is often consistently over-classified by the Custody Rating Scale; it determines whether they belong in minimum, medium or maximum security (and almost everything else about their time behind bars). For years, the federal government has been ignoring repeated demands to reform these and other assessment tools used on the Indigenous inmate population. The latest, in September, came in a blistering Federal Court ruling. Justice Michael Phelan ordered Correctional Service Canada (CSC) to stop using them on Indigenous offenders, arguing they are “susceptible to cultural bias,” and can produce “junk” data.

“This is not an issue the CSC missed inadvertently,” Justice Phelan wrote, noting the U.K., Australia and the U.S. have all studied such assessments to ensure they are reliable for cultural minorities. “It has been a live issue since 2000, on the CSC’s ‘radar screen,’ and the subject of past court decisions. It is time for the matter to be resolved.” CSC immediately appealed.

Part of the problem is that the marginalization experienced by some Indigenous peoples gets turned into “risk”: intergenerational trauma, alcoholism, a history of abuse, a lack of education, employment, a bank account or even hobbies make it more likely an inmate will be housed in maximum, and classed “high risk.”

Cruelties are built into the system. The main reason Indigenous women—who account for 78 per cent of all self-harm incidents in prison—are moved to higher security levels is due to self-harm, including suicide attempts, according to a 2008 report by the Ontario Women’s Justice Network.

Kinew James, who died months before the end of a 15-year sentence while incarcerated in Saskatchewan, is frequently compared to Ashley Smith, who strangled herself to death at Grand Valley Institution for Women in 2007 as guards watched. Both were incarcerated as teens. They struggled with mental illness and self-harm, were frequently moved, and spent long stretches in segregation in a system that didn’t know how to deal with them. But James had a resilient streak. She believed she was stronger: “I’m not Ashley Smith,” she said at a Kitchener court appearance in 2011, when a judge noted the likeness. “I have a lot more strength. I got my Grade 12. I want out of jail,” she told him. “I know I will get out.”

She never did. The 35-year-old Anishinaabe Native, a member of the Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba, died Jan. 20, 2013, while incarcerated at Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre. All day, she’d been complaining of being unwell. By night, she was moaning and crying, pressing the distress button in her cell. According to one media report, corrections officers responded by muting or shutting it off. Other inmates reportedly began calling for help. When it did come, just before midnight, James was unresponsive.

James was then transferred to hospital where she was declared dead, apparently from heart failure.

She was then a few months shy of being released. She’d been incarcerated at 18, initially sentenced to six years, for manslaughter; but inside, her mental health spiralled downward, she lashed out, and her sentence doubled. She was known to take blame for others, and had been charged with assaulting guards, sometimes when they tried to stop her from harming herself. She cut herself, and self-strangled. Her Ojibwe name, Keshebawnodinnuke Kinew, means “eagle in the whirlwind.”

The data on Indigenous female offenders are grim: 91 per cent admit to having been sexually or physically abused; and nine in 10 report using drugs or alcohol the day they offended, according to the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. Many enter the prison system with a host of mental health needs requiring services and programming. Some instead end up in segregation.

Despite a host of severe mental health diagnoses, including borderline personality disorder, paranoid schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, manic type, fully six of James’s 15 years in prison were spent in isolation. Sometimes she was held in barren cells so small she could touch opposite walls at once. She was there 23 hours a day, “let out for a half-hour in the yard,” says her sister, Cheryl Smith, of Winnipeg. At one point she spent almost two years straight in segregation. She was then under “management protocol,” a super maximum designation allowing inmates to be held indefinitely in segregation; when it was quietly ended in 2011, 100 per cent of inmates so designated were Indigenous. James was sometimes so starved for human contact she would lie against her cell floor, her face pressed against the crack beneath the door, to hear voices.

After prolonged stays in segregation James would sometimes “see things, hear things,” and get lost in fantasies, says Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, who knew James well. In 2013, Colorado barred inmates with serious mental health issues from being held in segregation. “There is ample evidence Kinew’s death was preventable,” says Pate. “It screams out the need for oversight and accountability for corrections.”

James was told she’d never reach Grade 4, but managed to earn her high school equivalency certificate behind bars. She was fully shackled and carrying a body chain at her graduation. No one was permitted to attend. These were among privileges James had to earn, to work her way out of segregation and management protocol, says Pate. At times, she was barred from keeping photos of her family, from having crayons. An overheard swear word was evidence of non-conforming behaviour, a higher standard than anything demanded of male inmates, says Pate.

Before she died, she’d begun post-secondary coursework for Athabasca University. She wrote poetry. “Six months later, she would have been home,” says Cecil, her brother, a band counsellor at Roseau River. Her death will be the subject of a public inquiry in Saskatchewan in April. Last week, a judge denied a request to seal a report into her death.

“There is a group in Canada that keeps mysteriously dying,’” says University of Toronto sociology professor Sherene Razack. “We have convinced ourselves that we are improving. The reality is systems are in place to keep reproducing this.”

Since no data on the race of those dying in prison in Canada exists, Razack undertook a study of in-custody deaths in Saskatchewan; her study found that Indigenous men account for roughly 50 per cent of all male deaths, many from suicide, head-injury or fatal encounters with police. Many of these deaths occur because officials “will not touch, examine, or closely monitor Indigenous people in their care,” Razack says. “This indifference kills.”

Andy Peekeekoot and his wife. (No Credit)

Andy Peekeekoot and his wife. (No Credit)

Chapter 5 — A new start

“Courtroom’s open,” Judge Marion Buller-Bennett says with a wide smile, ushering everyone waiting in the corridor into the second-floor courtroom at the New Westminster Provincial Courthouse. As the gallery fills, Buller-Bennett, a member of the Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan, leaves the judge’s dais, pulls up a plastic chair, and asks everyone to introduce themselves. Several she greets with a few words in their language, thus opening B.C.’s First Nations Courts, which operates unlike any other courtroom in the country.

Legal jargon is barred. Formalities are not observed. There is no prisoner’s dock, no microphones. Babies, noisy kids, coffee, laughter—all are welcome. Elsewhere, a judge might threaten sanction after an interruption or outburst. Buller-Bennett encourages them.

During a hearing for a 28-year-old Cree man who pleaded guilty to a drug offence, a recovering crystal meth addict stood up to commend his progress. Someone else suggested he consider Warriors Against Violence, an anger management program geared to Indigenous men. Another piped up with the number of a bus that will take him directly to it. Before he left, the Sandy Lake First Nation man, choking back tears, thanked the judge for acknowledging him—a “first,” he said. As he was leaving, someone grabbed him in a bear hug. “You’re doing great man,” he said. “Stick with it.”

Indigenous offenders can only appear before B.C.’s First Nations Court if they are entering guilty pleas (and their charges must be minor, and without a mandatory minimum sentence). They then work with the judge and two courtroom elders to come up with a “healing plan,” a 12-month suspended sentence, which generally includes a stay in a residential treatment facility, anger management and parenting classes, addictions and cultural programming.

Most appearing before Buller-Bennett on that day were intergenerational survivors of residential schools. Their stories rarely deviated from a grim narrative: harrowing childhood, substance abuse, incarceration—almost always for crimes fuelled by or to feed their addictions.

“Rather than apply another Band-Aid,” Buller-Bennett explained to the court, the point is to “help deal with what’s causing the problem, often addiction.” To monitor progress, the offender is required to return every two months. A missed appearance triggers a bench warrant, as in regular court.

At the completion of sentences, Buller-Bennett holds “graduation ceremonies.” Two elders blanket graduates in red and black fleece, among the highest honours in Coastal First Nations culture. Not one got through it dry-eyed.

Buller-Bennett has said recidivism rates in the eight-year-old court, based on Cree teachings, beliefs and values, are low. Similar courts in Australia have more than halved recidivism rates. As in the Australian courts, elders tend to say things a judge might not. “It’s like being publicly scolded by your grandma,” Rose Falla, an Indigenous magistrate who helped establish Koori Courts in Australia’s Victoria state told Maclean’s.

But Jonathan Rudin sums up the problem: Where these innovations are most needed—Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta—is exactly where you see the “most intransigence, the fewest innovations.”

These same critiques could also be levelled at Ottawa, which, for a decade, has been ignoring calls to reform biased correctional admissions tests, bail and other laws disproportionately impacting Indigenous offenders. Instead, it appears to be incarcerating as many Indigenous people as possible, for as long as legally possible, with far-reaching consequences for Indigenous families. “[Indigenous people] are not there because of a crime spree,” says Sapers. “They’re there because of the impact of social factors, government policy and mandatory minimum sentences.”

This situation does not help increase public safety: incarceration has almost no effect on bringing down crime, and it increases the likelihood of reoffending, as any criminologist will argue. Indigenous communities complain offenders are being returned more hardened, hopeless, violent and angry.

“What we are doing is using our criminal justice system to defend ourselves from the consequence of our own racism,” says Toronto criminal lawyer John Struthers, who cut his legal teeth as a Crown attorney in remote, northern communities. “Rather than treat alcoholism, addiction, trauma, we keep the doors closed.”

“Once you’re in the system, you never get out,” says Dwight Monkman. Three of his four brothers have been incarcerated. The 26-year-old Winnipegger, a member of the Lake Manitoba First Nation, spoke to Maclean’s late last summer from the Headingley Correctional Institution, where he was incarcerated for a weapons charge and breaching a condition of his release. Since turning 18, the longest stretch Monkman says he’s spent on the outside was 15 months. “I’m actually scared to get out,” he says, clutching the battered, black phone under his chin. “Because I know I’ll end up right back here.”


Canada’s prisons are the ‘new residential schools’

    • Did you read the article? Clearly, “One law for them…” is what we already have. And it’s doing far more harm than good.

      Are you really advocating the clear and omnipresent racism in our justice system that this article highlights? Oh, right; “FRMEDM”…

  1. Nancy, in your first article you never even mentioned Gladue rights. Now you are going on about police being racist…okay….but judges? You are saying that judges that would not agree to buckle down under Harper and go along with his minimum sentencing requirements are refusing to consider the Gladue rights of First Nations people and try to set them on a road to rehabilitation and reconciliation rather than imprisonment? I am finding this a little hard to swallow. We are talking about Canada here where murderers sometimes get less than 10 years. How many offenses have these people had and been given Gladue rights before being denied same? Your story just is not ringing true. The band leaders work together with the judges and the duty counsel to keep these people out of prison. You are not telling us the whole story here. In order for the Gladue to work, the band has to agree to take them home and believe they can be rehabilitated and reconciliation can occur.

    • I don’t think you understand. There is no such thing as Gladue “rights”. There is such a thing as Gladue “factors”. This has nothing to do with the band agreeing to take offenders home.

      And no one gets less than 10 years for murder unless the offender is a youth. First and second degree murder carry a mandatory life sentence. In the case of second the minimum time before an offender can apply for parole is 10 years (and this can be made higher by the sentencing judge). Applying for parole does not mean you get it.

      • Gee Gayle, you obviously never heard of the case of Dr. Cooper who murdered Dr. Douglas Snyder in Fairview, Alberta and then disposed of the body. Dr. Cooper was sentenced to 8 years at Bowden for murder. Look it up.
        Further, don’t deny that the Gladue factors, rights, reports whatever you want to call them, come into play for First Nations individuals and that they involve duty counsel and bands and are presented to judges. To pretend that the judges whom we have heard time and again refused to abide by Harper’s minimum sentencing, all colluded to give First Nations people much harsher sentences doesn’t ring true at all. Lets have some honesty here. Why aren’t the first Nations offenders getting legal aid counsel?

        • Cooper was convicted of manslaughter, not murder.

          I never suggested at all that Gladue factors come into play in sentencing (though not nearly enough, as this article points out). However, they are not “rights”.

          • Pardon my ignorance. They found Cooper guilty of manslaughter because they could not find the body although they found 6 litres of Snyder’s blood in the wheel well’s of his car, all over his clothes and his office. Truly, Canada is a good place to commit murder because people can serve less than 10 years in jail if they pick up a jerry can of gasoline on the way of out of town (which of course they store in the front seat because the trunk is full and rip the carpet out of the trunk of he car.) We really are forgiving of people of all ethnic groups who make death threats and then carry them out.

          • You said murder gets less than 10 years, and you were wrong.

          • That’s a good one Gayle. Doug Snyder was murdered. He was invited by Cooper to Cooper’s office to negotiate an end to a civil lawsuit. Cooper had a confession signed by Snyder admitting he was in the wrong in the lawsuit. Snyder’s blood was everywhere. The judge said the lack of a body and the fact that Cooper returned from his trip to a medical conference in the US earned him his reduced sentence. At his probation hearing, Cooper said he was going to get even with everyone who help convict him. He didn’t get out early. Semantics Gayle…..the judge made a bad call. He did 8 years for a brutal murder.

  2. Could it just be that indigenous people just get into trouble more? Drinking? Assault? Prostitution? Theft? Narcotics? . And as for the so-called highway of tears from Prince George to Prince Rupert, is anything ever “researched’ into the gangs of native men cruising the rest stops in pick-up trucks? Some years back my wife and I were almost accosted but our dog warned the three Indian thugs away.

    Now I know someone will say that they do all those bad things because they are the subject of racism or that their spirit has been stolen by the whites treatment of them. I think that’s as much bosh as that every rock or tree that anyone wants to move to develop the province is “sacred” until they are cut in on the profits. . But I think also that some of them know that playing the the racist card works in dollar terms. I lived near a reserve in BC where the native residents regularly torched their houses when they were no longer livable – and the white man didn’t make them unlivable. Even the band chief was drunk most days.
    Now unlike those that cry in their beer, I have also spoken to Indians who felt they benefited from their education in residential schools. So I think there is more than one side to this whole story.

    Finally, there is the excellent example at Osoyoos BC of ban which has developed a resort, winery, boat launch etc which is so successful that it uses employees from other bands. Rule one is NO DRINKING. Rule 2 is get to work on time, so I’ve heard.

    Colour me skeptical.

    • It is beyond ridiculous that you dismiss years and years of documented entrenched discrimination, abuse, loss of culture and identity and then make the absolutely false claim that “every rock or tree that anyone wants to move to develop the province is “sacred” until they are cut in on the profits”.

      And I LOVE your evidence that gangs of native men are cruising rest stops in pickup trucks. Something happened to you and your wife once so that means it is epidemic?

      If you want to criticize an article that is based on research, actual numbers and statistics, maybe try doing your own research rather than claim some anecdote about something you say happened once actually means something.

      • Give me a break, in jail you do not find the cream of society and justifying their reason for being there character does not all of a sudden create people who are known for their cooperative behaviour nor change their treatment of their fellow men.

      • I have had the same experience as BLACKTOP but at Manitoba rest stops rather than BC. The system is truly broken. When you have several billion $ each year poured into reserves where there is very little opportunity for employment and next to no accountability for the use of that money, you will have issues with drugs and alcohol, violent crime and other felonies. I’ve toured the north and it made me angry to see most front yards with several skidoos in various states of disarray. When the current one broke down, they just bought another one!! It’s time to shut down the high unemployment reserves and move the reservists to somewhere where jobs are available. These people no longer live off the land, they live off of you and me.

        • Really? Some white guy assaulted me once. Following your logic that must mean all white guys are violent towards women.


          • I am not talking about ONCE. I lived right next to a reserve for 15 years and I hesitate to estimate how many houses were torched or just burned through carelessness, how many drunken Indians beat up on their spouses an children, how many older children bullied their younger sisters and brothers. And I know at least four other persons who commented on the gangs of native thugs along the so-called highway of tears.
            More to the point how do you account for the success of bands that get their act together such as the Osoyoos band mentioned above. .And hear them squawk when the government demands some accountability.

          • Well according to your posts, you were once accosted by a Native gang at a rest stop, so I stand by my post.

            Also, I guess in your vast world experience you are able to conclude that only FN men assault their spouses, only FN children bully other children, and only FN people commit arson.

            Seriously, how can I argue with THAT logic.


          • Gayle are you pretending that the gang violence was not so bad at the reserve formerly known as Hobbema that youth could not play outside after 4 pm and that a child was shot through in their home through the outside wall? Are you pretending that the RCMP could not do anything to stop it because everyone on the reserve was so afraid of retribution from the gang members? Come off it. From your comments, it appears you work as a lawyer, tell us about the Gladue factors and how often they work to keep First Nations out of prison. Are you seriously going to tell us that judges in Edmonton? where you reside are racist against First Nations individuals and hand down more harsh sentences to them?

          • I never said otherwise.

          • Gayle noted:

            “Some white guy assaulted me once”

            Well, Gayle, if you were trying to steal my wallet..i’d probably slap your hand away too.

        • I recommend reading about the recent win of the First Nations Caring Society against Canada. That effectively proved Canada is discrimatory in the way it funds children who live off reserve then those who live on reserve. It was proven in court that Canada is slowly starving out on reserve children that are placed in care. That’s just one aspect, because it now opens up how Canada has underfunded it’s First Nations communities. Canada has an obligation and a fiduciary relationship to serve the best interests of First Nations that they are not living up to.

          BLACKTOP – please don’t use the derogatory word “indian” in this day and age it’s politically correct to say First nation, Inuit, Metis, Aboriginal or Indigenous. Which shows how racist you are. It’s like calling a black person the N word.

          • This comment has been removed.

          • It is racist when you ascribe those actions to an entire race.

            Kind of like thinking all white men are outrageously stupid based on your remarks.

          • Perhaps this might be true in some poor provinces but do really believe it is happening in rich provinces like Alberta? Do you know that there are reserves that are so rich they paid ex NHL hockey players to play on their hockey teams? Do you think their children were ‘starved out?’ At the same time, were their children doing much better in terms of levels of care and education? No. Money is not the answer. Look up an article done by Colby Cosh who used to be a contributor to this magazine and who asked the question why Alberta First Nations people weren’t thriving if it was all about the money. The problems are complex. Money doesn’t solve many of them.

          • Reserves with oil revenues have money. Most reserves in Alberta do not have oil revenues.

            Reserves are under federal jurisdiction so people who live there do not receive services from provincial governments.

          • Jannana Noted:

            “Canada has underfunded it’s First Nations communities. Canada has an obligation and a fiduciary relationship to serve the best interests of First Nations that they are not living up to. ”

            Hey Bruce….I’ve found your problem. Please read the comments above by Jannana; who based upon the picture provided is a First nations woman herself.

            Please note her comment about “Canada” failing in their duties, responsibilities, and obligations when it comes to first Nations children.

            Funny…..I thought that these duties and responsibilities for kids was supposed to be those folks called “Parents”

            There’s your problem right there.

            Maybe we should focus less on educating first nations children, and focus more on educating First nations adults. If the parents are this messed up…..the kids have no hope.

      • Gayle, are the reserves with oil money in Alberta in better socioeconomic shape (less addiction; less violence; more post secondary education; less impoverished homes) than the ones without oil money throughout Canada? Is Colby Cost right? Is it about money? Is Horse Lake nation is better shape than the reserves that don’t have oil riches or is has their chief spent money building a nice house for her daughter in Grande Prairie and a great hockey team that Theo Fleury played for and the reserve is still mired in all sorts of socio economic problems?

        • Why do you ask? What does this have to do with the point of the article?

      • Tell you what Gayle,

        If you want to see the truth, just walk down one of the streets in Winnipeg during the summer evenings. it will be an eye opener.

    • The idea that indigenous people simply commit more crimes, or drink more, or do more drugs is discussed and refuted in the opening minutes of the current Macleans on the Hill episode.

      • Because it is in Macleans doesn’t mean anything. Many of its articles are skewed to get attention and Nancy MacDonald is a prime example.

    • Could it be that your mind is closed tightly, you are unwilling to consider any information which doesn’t fit with your (ill-informed) opinion?

  3. Like most Winnipeggers, Nancy Macdonald lost her credibility and objectivity with me in her Maclean’s article about racism in Winnipeg, which were filled with examples that turned out to be something other than what she claimed they were. Don’t take her examples seriously unless you fact-check them first.

  4. The comments here reflect the common approach to FN issues: blame the FN and ignore Canada’s history of racism. It really points out how distant is the hope of reconciliation. Truth telling needs to come first and no one seems ready for that.

    • Bruce,

      You say truth telling needs to come first, and I agree. Let’s start.

      Truth # 1 – it is not MY fault if a native man drinks himself silly and passes out on the street in a puddle of his own piss. It is HIS fault. He lifted the bottle to his lips…..it wasn’t me, or anyone at a residential school.

      Truth # 2 – it is not MY fault if an aborigianl woman has 5 kids before he is 25, by 5 different aboriginal men. it is not MY fault she can’t feed her kids, and nor is it my responsibility to see them fed.

      Truth # 3 – It is Not MY fault aboriginal men like to beat, murder, or “make disappear” aboriginal women so often that we have to have an inquiry. We don’t need an inquiry. the truth is, we need to teach aboriginal men that it is WRONG to beat up women, or kill them, or make them disappear. AGain, this is not the fault of residential schools or priests.

      In fact Bruce Weaver…if you want to know the truth, you need to open your eyes. Most of the problems faced by the aboriginal community are of their own making. I don’t get the sense that thy are interested in “healing” insomuch as they are interested in blaming whitey, blaming society, blaming the catholic church, blaming the residential school system..etc….etc..

      If aborigianls want o “heal” then they need to stop hurting themselves first. And they need to stop the excuses.

      They blame us, because acually doing something takes work; and many of them don’t seem to be willing.

      It has nothing to do with race…it is culture. They need to reclaim theirs.

      • Your response indicates the need for education: Have you read the TRC summary? Are you aware of generational impact research? How does one reclaim a culture that was brutally suppressed up to the 1960’s? As someone engaged in sharing circles, I would invite you to talk to us, FN and not remain guessing but come and finds out what we are doing and what your role as a treaty partner might be.

        • He is not interested in education. He has been spouting this racist nonsense for years. He will not read the report because it will demonstrate how wrong he is about everything.

          But I admire you for attempting to engage him in a respectful conversation. I fear you will be disappointed. (Obviously I have given up on him on that front).

          • Thank you for your good words. I like to remind people that all Canadians and FN are treaty people and so we must learn our rights and our responsibilities as part of the truth telling that precedes reconciliation. Tomorrow another sharing circle to help in this education.

          • Gayle,

            To you a racist is anyone who has ever bested you in an argument. Frankly, I”m sure that as far as you are concerned, YOU are the only person you have ever met who isn’t one.

        • Thanks for the invite Bruce, but I’ll take a pass.

          People don’t need to “reclaim” their culture, hey need to stop living the culture of substance abuse and blame.

          both of my sisters are married to aboriginal men, and the most important thing they did in their lives was get the hell off the reserves, and refuse to ever take welfare.

          That makes a big difference.

  5. For over 50-60 years we have journalistic investigators such as Nancy Macdonald pointing out the problems in Indigenous Society that are somehow translated into racist policy.
    Never do we seem to get proposals from these journalists on solutions…only finger pointing and racial slurs at our police and white people in general.
    What; may I ask are the police and courts to do when crimes are being committed…by people who are Indigenous or not. Arrest them or look the other way. The law applies to all.
    No great Gandi, M L King or other Canadian Human Rights person has appeared to solve these problems.
    The problem to me is The Indian Act and Reserve System–abolish these and over time our Indigenous population will meld into the Canadian Mosaic as equal partners.
    Good luck on that happening as the Indigenous People would never agree…so in 50 years from now changes will not happen because the existing and continuing infrastructure of FN Society is broken.
    So we can blame all the police forces and white folks again and again over the coming decades.
    At least journalists like Nancy Macdonald can earn a living pointing fingers at the problems but offering `no solutions`.

    • There have been many efforts to make change: RCAP had good suggestions. TRC does as well. Indian Act is an act of parliament so don’t blame FN for not removing or revising it; ask your MP why it still exists.

      • The indian act, and the reserve system are the biggest problems for first naions. Both of my sisters are married to productive aboriginal men, and they say the best thing you can do if you’re native is to get off the reserve and refuse to EVER take welfare.

        Being dependent on a reserve is like having your soul sucked out.

        • The reserve system is also a product of the ACT. So it requires action from parliament to make changes. There is no option for FN to opt out of the Act. Welfare on reserves is directly attributable to the desire of the feds to locate reserves on land that was of little interest to settlers.

          • Too many non FN in this country ignore the fact that while we are not directly responsible for the reserve system, cultural genocide, residential schools etc, that all these initiatives were taken to deprive FN of their lawful rights and to steal their land to benefit the settlers, which is something that all non FN people continue to benefit from.

            So therefore it IS our responsibility to make changes. Amending or repealing the Indian Act, which is one the most racist piece of legislation in the world, is a start. Political will is needed, but those of us who are non FN have to accept that we have a responsibility to FN people to help fix this.

          • Yep, the bad whites passed the Indian Act out of a racist desire to look after a bunch of hunter gatherers who couldn’t look after themselves, particularly after the buffalo were gone in the case of the prairies. They also had the “mistaken” thought that if they educated the aboriginals they might be able to compete better in the modern world. I find it interesting is that most abject Indians I have seen in my travels across, the Arctic and sub-Arctic flying tubercular natives to hospital is that the worst cases are IN THE NORTH where they are presumably living the hunter-gatherer life they desire. What is needed is that more natives, like those at Osoyoos, get off their but, do a days work, stop drinking and figure out how they can make a living other than by blaming the whites.

          • Bruce writes:

            “Welfare on reserves is directly attributable to the desire of the feds to locate reserves on land that was of little interest to settlers.”

            Then get the hell off the reserve Bruce. It is not a LAW that says you have to stay there. As for the welfare, I agree. I think Governments of the past have used reserves and welfare to keep aboriginals away from “Polite” society.

            It’s an atrocious system.

          • Gayle (in her effort sound as morally superior as she feels herself to be) wrote:

            “deprive FN of their lawful rights and to steal their land to benefit the settlers, which is something that all non FN people continue to benefit from.”

            Actually, Gayle, the majority of land settled by non-aboriginals was ceded via treaty. Granted, our ancestors got a much better deal that the FN’s folks, but the FN’s folks never really considered land as something you could own. Not sure if that’s because the land lasts longer than its inhabitants, or if it was due to the fact that the territory upon which they lived was only theirs until another indian band took it.

            In fact, no one stole the land at all. I’d say we gave various indian bands a better deal than they had amongst themselves.

  6. I wonder what the likelihood is that Nancy moved to a neighborhood as far from non-asian minorities as possible?

    Living in Vancouver as well, the last time I experienced a First Nations person it was a man wearing a “Compton” t-shirt verbally abusing his wife in front of his child. Is it so far-fetched to consider that First Nations people commit crime and act more violently which causes them to end up in jail more?

    Having spent time growing up around First Nations people as a teenager, their adoption of black hip-hop culture and the associated gangster-attitudes certainly doesn’t help their relationship with police.

    White man’s burden. Evil white man, evil!

    • Your response indicates the need for education: Have you read the TRC summary? Are you aware of generational impact research? As someone engaged in sharing circles, I would invite you to talk to us, FN and not remain guessing but come and finds out what we are doing and what your role as a treaty partner might be

      • Hmm……

        Nice Bruce. I see that you have a standard speaking point you use when the situation presents itself.

    • Seriously? That last time you “experienced” a FN person?

      If you saw a white guy verbally abusing his wife in front of his child (it does happen you know), would you assume that all white guys must be like that?

    • And while I am at it, do you actually think that white kids don’t “adopt” hip-hop culture and associated gangster attitudes? Pull your head out of the sand.

      • Why is Gayle and Weaver apologists for what they call “First Nations”. First of all they weren’t first and by no stretch have they ever been nations but vaguely this side of stone age hunters and gatherers. Early governments tried to bring them into the 19th and 20th centuries by education. It didn’t work because the Canadian government sloughed off their responsibility and got religious bodies to run the schools where warped religiosity and improperly vetted employees cast a poor example. A few were sexually abused many were undoubtedly punished physically which was also the norm for schools for white children of the day. I remember the strap was used in elementary school when I was a kid.

        I think the various studies are bleeding heart politically correct efforts to do a mea culpa and the Indians are only too canny to encourage that.

        • I am not an apologist. I do prefer that people at least get some factual information before making false comments: From your remarks, I would guess that you did not read nay portion of the TRC summary. Your comments about our not being nations is nonsensical. Treaties are by definition between nations. If you knew something of the history of the Haudenosaunee, you would know that the U.S. constitution is in part modelled on their constitution.

  7. I have long believed there are two kinds of bigots. There are those who are well aware of their bigotry, and cling to it as a means to maintain their place of privilege in this world. Those types of bigots think it is better to jail FN people than it is to take responsibility for them.

    The other kind of bigot is the one who is just too profoundly stupid to recognize his bigotry. This is the kind of bigot who will fight anyone who dares to challenge their personal perspective of the world, who will do no research or study or investigation of their own, but who will call down all the studies and research that challenges their position as “bleeding heart politically correct efforts”. When you do that you do not have to read them or acknowledge the fact that there is not one single piece of objective evidence to contradict the conclusions of these studies. This is also the kind of person who compares the cultural genocide and vast sexual abuse rampant in the residential school system as to getting the strap in elementary school (of course this kind of bigot was never forcibly removed from his family, sent to a school where the “teachers” abused him and forced him to speak a different language and to lose the support of a loving family – no, this kind of bigot came home from school every lunch hour and at the end of the school day to get a hug from his mom while he got to tell his parents what he learned that day).

    The first kind of bigot is motivated by selfishness. The second by stupidity. You can cure selfishness, but you cannot cure stupidity.

    • Gayle, how long are we going to blame the residential school system for every violent act;; for every failure to take care of one’s children; for every failure to rise up and act responsibly. We had a whole generation of young men who fought in world war II and undoubtedly had severe PTSD yet we did not accept that as an excuse for every time they did something illegal or failed to care for their families or failed to try to deal with their addictions. The strange this is, most of the them rose up and were productive citizens. They didn’t ask for special treatment. The past is not going away. We can offer counselling but throwing money at it really isn’t too successful because we have done that in Alberta and the the First Nations people here are in no better social condition than anywhere else.

      • I will blame people like you who continue to spout off this nonsense without bothering to learn even the basic fundamental issues.

        Children were taken from loving families and raised in violent institutions. They were told their culture, their language, their families were wrong. They were violated in every possible way, and many of them died before ever seeing their families again.

        Hey – did you know when our brains, our morals, our understanding of how families function, and our ability to function in society develops? I will help you – when we are children and adolescents. So when you completely deny people those experiences, and instead expose them to isolation, violence and unbearable cruelty, and then send them home when they are adults, there is no magic wand to erase those experiences and replace them with the kind of childhoods that people who are raised by their families get. You don’t just “know” how to raise children. You learn it from being raised yourself. When sexual abuse and violence is what you learn, it is what you do. When you are a victim of childhood sexual abuse, chances are you going to become a substance abuser, so let’s throw that into the mix too.

        We learn to parent from being parented. These children were not parented.

        Comparing that experience with adults who went to war for a few years is illogical. These men already had the fundamental building blocks to survive and overcome the trauma. Their brains were developed, their moral code established, and their sense of family intact.

        Now that was a very basic, extremely dumbed down explanation of the reason why the residential school experience had a multi-generational impact. If you want to take yourself out of the second group of bigots I describe above, I suggest you try to learn something rather than spout your nonsense. Start with the report from the TRC.

        PS – I am not at all sure why you think Alberta has spent money to assist the FN population. Care to back that up with some evidence or facts or something?

        • The TRC is just another “indian industry” document. We already know what he gist of it will be. It will be the exact same as every other document produced on the subject.

          Residentail schools….colonialism, racism…bigotry…blah blah…..

          Give us more money!!!

          That should cover it.

          • If that’s all you get out of the TRC then your reading comprehesion skills need some major work.

        • The same things happened to boys at Mount Cashel in Newfoundland and in other institutions all run by the Catholic Church. We have no idea how many were victimized. Yet we aren’t being told stories of how disproportionately they fill prisons.
          As for your doubts about the riches of Alberta bands, I learned it all in articles here in Macleans. Feel free to look them up. Also, There several casino’s…maybe you have heard of Grey Eagles and the money that band negotiated with from the City of Calgary.
          There was one fascinating story in Macleans about a band that had a lot of money near Fort McMurray but was tied up in legal battle with itself over how to spend it. I thought you were Albertan. Do you not realize that some people (oldtimers) own the oil rights to their property. My father owns the rights to his father’s original farm. If oil is found, then they get money. It isn’t a hand out from the government but a cut of the pie.

    • I agree with everything you said with the exception of “stupidity”. I don’t believe it’s stupidity, but rather willful blindness.

  8. This racial profiling occurs in Winnipeg, but the complaints go unanswered and the media does not report them. Especially if it involves something prominent like True North and the MTS Centre. This has occurred to me and my complaints were responded to with blaming me and marginalizing the complaint. Until the media in this country begin the process of reporting these types of incidents then we as Canadians will never be able to correct them.

  9. “This cultural awareness…is cited as the primary reason for Saskatchewan’s ability to easily integrate Gladue principles into sentencing. [According to a] representative from Legal Aid Saskatchewan, the consistent application of Gladue principles in Saskatchewan was associated with…the thorough cultural awareness training of criminal justice system representatives” (Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, position paper on Gladue 2012).

    This doesn’t seem quite consistent with what we’re reading here. Among other things in what you might call the “litany genre” of multiculturalist writing. For instance, women have always represented a small fraction of the incarcerated, a fact that should temper interpretation of the stated 112% increase in their numbers. Is it a gendered impact of colonization, or is it that gender equality has now reached applicability to criminal behavior as well? Is a person who has stomped someone else’s head rendered less dangerous to others even if we determine that abusive parents were causal? The notion that people voluntarily choose, hence stand responsible for, their actions itself may or may not have a precise conceptual analog in the Indigenous cultures. Imposing Western criminal law on Indians was therefore inherently unfair because this system is alien to their traditions, yet introducing culpability standards variable by race contradicts equality before the law and dilutes the effect of justice, which is why Gladue envisions it only in relatively minor matters. To have separate laws and courts on Indigenous lands is also reasonable but hardly definitive. Unfortunate history carries consequences that cannot be undone.

    I’m not denying that racism is extant today. Still, I see activists bringing interminable grievance lists absent much suggestion regarding what we should do about the problems they deem intractable. In the USA, the postwar civil rights movements made considerable gains at first. Since then, they’ve become addicted to Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 working paper commentary on white privilege, a form of guilt in a document she never claimed was more than personal reflection, and race relations progress has stopped. Most of the politically possible allocations by race have already passed into law.

  10. As a First Nation person who has had many family members suffer for their whole lives as a result of the residential school experience, I find it quite offensive that you and Macleans would trivialize their experiences by stating that prisons are “the new residential school”. To say this shows a basic ignorance of how 5 and 6 year old children were stolen from their families and placed in those horrid institutions. Prisons are overcrowded with our people is a fact. That poverty and social issues also plays a huge factor I don’t disagree. But to call them the new residential schools is riding on the wave of the TRC’s release. Shame on you.

    • Speaking as a non-FN, indeed, the residential school system is a shame that Canada must wear for its history.

      I find MP Robert Falcon-Ouellette’s response to this article encouraging, given the complicated portrait painted by a reporter dogged by the staggering statistics, whether in prison population numbers or in perception of the police, that are flashing the warning that this may be a shame that Canada may find itself to be wearing, if not now, then further down the road.

      The issues are difficult because they may very well come down to some systemic root causes that are the same ones that gave rise to the residential school system. And those causes may very well have nothing to do with any form of inherent racism.

  11. Racism is endemic in our society. This article and a number of the more positive comments here can only help to continue to tackle this. We must openly discuss and learn the truth from the indigenous people in our land.

    • One of the really problematic issues is that every time we try to speak the truth it becomes decried as racism. If we are really interested in why we have some cultures over represented in our prison system we might have to start looking at the whys of how they get there and stop yelling racism every time someone points out statistics about addiction, fetal alcohol syndrome and the reservation system. If we are going to just accept that it all the white man’s fault because some one years ago made crappy treaties and others lousy residential schools, then so be it but I believe we can do better if we start as we mean to go on and look at what has been tried, how it has worked and what we can try in order to get better outcomes. These are a proud people. I believe they each have the right to try to be as successful as those who have become leaders in their society. I don’t think blaming the past is going to get them there. We need somebody with radical forward thinking.

      • I don’t think someone who has completely ignored every piece of evidence that counters his point of view should claim he is speaking the truth.

        • Right back at ya Gayle. Next you are going to deny that we have aboriginal liasons and psychiatric evaluations in the Alberta justice system.

      • One group who have not been asked for their ideas on reform are FNMI of Canada. perhaps it is time to ask us rather than having non natives continue to tell us what is bets for us without attempting to understands our values, culture, language or spirituality.

  12. As we all know, a cop’s wages are based on performance. Aboriginal people are easily identified and count when, performance measures are met, so the cops arrest, detain and otherwise look for the easy way to justify their time. pretty simple really and since we have such a system, of pay for performance the cops will always take the path of least resistance, before they finish their shift and got out to dinner. It’s not that this is entirely bad, it just reflects the reality of government employees.

  13. The Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission, which investigates complaints against municipal police, says not a single allegation of racism by a civilian against an officer with any municipal police force in the province has ever been substantiated.

    Sounds like the SPCC is part of the problem…

  14. THIS JUST IN: There’s nothing new in this report which only highlights statistics regarding First Nations; uses terms like ‘race’ which only serve to reinforce race discourse, never really exposes, explains or gives any reasons why the statistics are the way they are? No mention of the historic relationship between First Nations, the government and authorities, no word of the systemic and institutional racism. Canada’s prisions arent the ‘new residential schools’, not by a long shot and articles like this are redundant. Who do i contact for a month long investigative report that will answer the reason “why” ?

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