Cover preview: In Canada, justice is not blind

A Maclean’s investigation that spanned nine months has uncovered a system designed to put Indigenous Canadians in jail—and keep them there


maccov02_29_16In an investigation that spanned nine months into how Canada’s justice system treats Indigenous peoples, Maclean’s travelled across the country, visiting prisons, jails, bail courts and First Nations courts, and speaking with lawyers, judges, inmates and hundreds of Indigenous people about their treatment by police, legal, judicial and penal authorities. It uncovered a system that appears to put as many Indigenous people in prison as legally possible and appears designed to keep them there.

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.

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

Also from Nancy Macdonald: Indigenous women share their stories of resilience

In the past decade, the federal 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. At the same time, it 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.

From 2015: Winnipeg, a microcosm of Canada’s race problem

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.

“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 trauma, addictions, he says, “we keep the doors closed.”

Read the full story, and much more, in the latest issue of Maclean’s. Available now for tablet and mobile readers on our new Maclean’s app on Apple Newsstand and Google Play, on Texture by Next Issue, and soon on newsstands everywhere.


Cover preview: In Canada, justice is not blind

  1. Isn’t it just possible that aboriginal people commit a large number of crimes, more than other people? We recently had two murders of Mac store clerks in our city, murders done by two young aboriginal men, murders of two family men who had done nothing except be in the store at the wrong time.l It appears to me that aboriginal criminals get lighter sentences than other criminals, just because they are aboriginal. I feel that if you do the crime, you should be punished, no matter your race.

    • Lois,
      I think you are correct. In Toronto where carding was viewed as racist, if you look at the data regarding who were disproportionately committing crimes it showed that the majority of those had black skin. So the police were actually using hard data to determine who they stopped and checked not racism. Wherever there is low education and high unemployment, those who live in those environments will be involved in excessive crimes. Those issues exist in spades in both aboriginal and black communities.

      • This argument never seems to get addressed properly. I think people sense that it’s just another form of racism to suggest that more crime = more [jail] time, but doesn’t the suggestion that crime is more rampant in poverty stricken areas kind of indicate that it’s poverty, not racism, that’s taking the hit? Not all minority groups stranded in depressed areas tend to commit crimes, but that’s an entirely different conversation. Maybe we should have it sometime.

      • It’s possible for both to be true. It’s possible that certain minority groups commit more crime, likely as a result of their socioeconomic circumstances which are in turn the result of racism, explicit and systemic. Simultaneously, it is possible that the justice system is biased against these same groups. It’s even possible that the way the justice system mistreats people in these groups exacerbates the socioeconomic conditions that then lead to future interactions with the justice system.

    • Let’s be fair and wait for the full article to come out. While I am skeptical of this claim (and even more skeptical that Maclean’s will present it in a fair and balanced manner), I’m willing to keep an open mind and reserve judgement until after they have made their case.

  2. What about Gladue rights whereby it is recognized that First Nations people are way over represented in the penial system and therefore, judges try to find alternate sentences so that they do not have serve time in prison. For instance, they can return to the reservation and serve time there. Are you saying the Gladue rights are not being used?

  3. Eighty nine ($89) USD an hour! Seriously I don’t know why more people haven’t tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening…And i get surly a chek of 12600 USD whats awesome is Im working from home so I get more time with my kids………………… http://www.Income-Join.com

  4. This is like the Macleans Story about Winnipeg being the most racist city in Canada.

    What Macleans failed to consider however, is that perhaps the people of Winnipeg were just tired of seeing the crime and violence surrounding them, and were even more tired and sick of the fact that most of those causing the problems were aboriginal.

    Granted, I think it is a question of poverty and not race, as I live near a fairly wealthy reserve, and they are amongst the most friendly folks you will meet.

    it’s like the “racists” cops in toronto. The question is, were these cops racists BEFORE they became cops, or is it the fact that 95% of the time they deal with violent crime, theft, murder and rape….they are dealing with blacks. It is the chicken and egg argument. Were you a racists BEFORE you were a cop…..or did the reality of those perpetrating the crime turn you into one?

  5. 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…Nancy Macdonald!
    The operative word here is ‘appears’
    With Ms Madonald’s extensive articles in the past on Indigenous people and ‘white racism’ her writing seems very bent towards anti-Canadian law makers and possibly white people as a whole.
    So when I hear from her that there is a system in place to put ‘indigenous people in jail for as long as possible’ then I grow very suspicious of the intent and the facts of the author.
    We’ll see the facts in the more extensive story–I hope there is some balanced reporting.

    • This is all really suspicious. Her first article doesn’t even mention Gladue rights. Those are the rights that Canadian judges have to consider other sentences than incarceration for First Nations people with a mindset toward rehabilitation. We are talking about judges that never agreed with Harper’s minimum sentencing….

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