Evidence of meeting #83 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was métis.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Vicki Chartrand  Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Bishop's University, As an Individual
Véronique Picard  Justice Coordinator, Quebec Native Women Inc.
Jonathan Rudin  Program Director, Aboriginal Legal Services
Melanie Omeniho  President, Women of the Métis Nation
Felice Yuen  Associate Professor, Concordia University, As an Individual

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

There was $65 million in Public Safety for aboriginal communities in the justice system, and $50 million for Correctional Service for mental health. That applies overall.

11:50 a.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Bishop's University, As an Individual

Prof. Vicki Chartrand

Okay.

My understanding is that the Correctional Service has introduced new programming around mental health. They've also deferred some funds.

I was listening to the Office of the Correctional Investigator. They said they had 700 beds for prisoner psychiatric patients and that they closed two-thirds of those beds to offer intermediate care. My understanding is that they needed those 700 beds and actually needed more than 700 beds. It sounds to me as though they're not effectively addressing the mental health concerns of individuals, not to mention that the prison system itself substantiates many mental health problems.

I know that Public Safety has been strongly involved in a lot of front-end strategies, working with communities. I understand they've been doing what's called safety planning with communities, just to make sure that there are some things in place that individuals can go to in order to stay safe.

Part of the problem with that is that—

I'm sorry, I have to pack it up. Okay.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Any additional comments you have can always be submitted as a brief as well, You've had excellent questions, so I thank you very much.

We're now going to move on to Rachael Harder for the final five-minute round.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you so much.

I'll direct my question to you first, Ms. Chartrand. Maybe you can comment a little bit with regard to aboriginal women. Of course we know that most of them were victimized before they themselves became perpetrators.

I'm just wondering if you can comment on what could be done to better pursue the healing process in order to make sure that these women are well cared for and go through that healing process even before they land in a penitentiary or a prison.

11:55 a.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Bishop's University, As an Individual

Prof. Vicki Chartrand

Can I defer that question to Madame Picard?

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Sure.

11:55 a.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Bishop's University, As an Individual

Prof. Vicki Chartrand

Patricia Monture, who has now passed on, made the comment, “Give me my people back.” I think it is really important that we understand that indigenous people heal in indigenous communities.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Sure.

11:55 a.m.

Justice Coordinator, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Véronique Picard

This is an important question.

Committing crimes can be part of the healing process. Everything revolves around history. Earlier, we talked about the cycle of violence. It starts with residential schools and intergenerational trauma. We reproduce what we have suffered. In my opinion, it will take several years to leave it behind.

The first thing to do is to talk about it and break the silence. In addition, institutions must provide the resources and services needed in communities to respond to this break in silence, to respond to those who want to begin this healing process. I would not say it's a cultural change, because it's not part of the culture; however, a change of mentality must take place within the communities themselves.

It's difficult to say what should be done to prevent crime. I think we have to stick to the basics. For example, some communities have housing problems. Because of that, several people are crammed into the same dwelling, because there are very few of them. This kind of situation can certainly lead to more crime. There are more people and these are precarious situations. In some communities, the basic elements of the minimum living conditions necessary for the development of a population are not present. I think it starts there. In terms of resources, there are still gaps.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

I'm going to let my colleague ask a question.

December 7th, 2017 / 11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

I think you have led to where I was before. To me, the most critical point, moving forward, is the “who” because looking at somebody else to say “we need resources” or looking at somebody else to say “solve this problem” is where we get into difficulty. We need somebody to decide who the “who” is, and that's where you need to go in defining the “who”.

I asked you and we ran out of time, but who is the who? This could be a long term, but who is most important in resolving this?

11:55 a.m.

Justice Coordinator, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Véronique Picard

I think that, essentially, it's always about communities.

This is the responsibility of the communities, but there is a relationship between reconciliation and things like that. I think we have to separate things. It comes from communities, but I think that some community problems require resources, financial or otherwise. In some ways, many communities are working hard to improve the services and living conditions of their populations, but there are very few stakeholders. They are overburdened because communities don't have the resources to engage many. In terms of services, there aren't many. I think the responsibility is difficult to evaluate. I would say that the community should—

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

We're going to have to wrap this up. Thank you very much.

I'd really like to thank the two panellists, Dr. Vicki Chartrand and Véronique Picard, for joining us today.

We're going to take about two minutes now to switch over our panel. We'll suspend for two minutes.

Thank you.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

We're now going to reconvene our study. Let me ask everybody to please take their seats.

We have three different panellists. From the Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto we have Jonathan Rudin. From Women of the Métis Nation, we have Melanie Omeniho, and from Concordia University, Felice Yuen.

We're going to start, each with seven minutes to provide opening statements. We'll begin with Jonathan for his seven minutes.

Noon

Jonathan Rudin Program Director, Aboriginal Legal Services

Thank you. I want to thank the committee for the invitation to be here.

I do work for Aboriginal Legal Services, but I want to mention our Ojibway name. We asked Elder Jackie Lavalley for our name. We gave her tobacco and asked for our name. The name we received was Gaa Kina Gwai Wabaama Debwewin, which will be impossible for the translators to translate. What it translates to is “all those who seek the truth”.

The significance of the name is not that we have the truth, obviously, but that in all forms of our work we try to assist people to try to find the truth. Sometimes it's the individuals we work with, sometimes it's the courts and tribunals we appear before, and I hope that our submissions today and our discussions will help you in your quest.

I have three points that I want to raise. The first point I want to talk about is the role of Parliament in addressing the over-incarceration of indigenous women.

Before we look at what the Parole Board does, before we look at CSC, we have to look at the fact that there are still mandatory minimum sentences that take away from judges the ability to sentence indigenous women the way they would like to be sentenced. There are still provisions that restrict judges from using conditional sentences, which can keep women out of prison.

We are in the midst of a charter challenge in the case of an indigenous woman charged with importing drugs into Canada. She is looking at a minimum sentence of two years. Unfortunately, although the current government has promised changes to the Criminal Code, they have not been implemented. Without our involvement and her counsel's involvement, she would be serving a federal sentence right now. Parliament can act on this now. It's our recommendation that it is past time for that.

It's not just the mandatory minimums. It's also the restrictions on conditional sentences. There is a study done by Ryan Newell, an article called “Making Matters Worse”. It's in the Osgoode Hall Law Journal. I can send information on the specific site.

He refers to research by a scholar who was looking at the way in which courts use the Gladue and Ipeelee decisions to sentence indigenous women. She found 31 cases of indigenous women who received conditional sentences. After the passage of the Safe Streets and Communities Act in 2012, 29 of those women would not have been able to receive a conditional sentence, which means they probably all would have been going to jail.

The first thing we urge the committee to recommend and to try at least to do is to have the current government bring in the legislation they have promised to bring in to restore to judges their discretion to sentence people without the burden of mandatory minimum sentences and the restrictions on conditional sentences.

Our second point relates to programming for indigenous women. I know that you heard from Correctional Service of Canada and that they talked about their Pathways program and the fact that there are elders available to indigenous women who want to access that service.

Those are good initiatives, but the difficulty with CSC's initiatives is that they're only available for indigenous women who want to participate in traditional programming. There are indigenous women who are in prison who are not interested in traditional programming. There are indigenous women who are traditional and don't want to access the programs in their institution because the elders in their institutions don't follow their practices. For those women, it's at though they're not indigenous because there are no services for them.

Programming has to be developed to meet the needs of all indigenous women, not indigenous women who simply fit into CSC's stereotype of who an indigenous woman should be.

We are supporting an initiative in Toronto called “Thunder Woman Healing Lodge”. It's an attempt to get section 81 and section 84 parole beds in a healing lodge for indigenous women in Toronto, because there are no such options available in Ontario. That program will be open to all indigenous women and will be able to address all of their needs. We can't simply say to indigenous women, you get a service because you meet our ideas of what an indigenous woman should be, and others don't.

The third point I want to raise relates to the national Parole Board. I know you've heard from the national Parole Board and they spoke about their elder-assisted parole hearings. It's nice to have an elder-assisted parole hearing in the sense that it's maybe a more culturally appropriate way to conduct a parole hearing, but that doesn't do anything to address the information the parole board has on the indigenous women who are before that parole board. The difficulty that we have now is that for indigenous women who are seeking parole, the information the parole board relies on is only that information that essentially has been collected by CSC and CSC staff about those women, and that's what goes forward.

One of the issues that the Parole Board and CSC have not really adequately grappled with, I think, is how to provide Gladue reports. These are reports certainly that our organization has been providing since 2001. How do we provide that sort of information to the Parole Board so that there's another source of information, another way to look at the circumstances of the indigenous women who are coming before them?

Those are my initial remarks. Thank you.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much.

We're now going to move on to Melanie for her seven minutes.

12:10 p.m.

Melanie Omeniho President, Women of the Métis Nation

Good afternoon. I also thank the committee for engaging and having us present here today. I'm going to start off by saying that there should be nothing about us without us. Those are my favourite words because the Métis often get forgotten.

There are several presentations that have been made, and one of my favourites is where the Métis are hiding in plain sight, where you've seen pictures and all sorts of icons of Métis presentations for centuries now, but nobody really wants to talk about us and we get left off of the agenda, without a seat at the table, all the time. I do appreciate the fact that you've reached out to engage with us.

I want to know more about things like what this committee and others are doing to engage indigenous women who are incarcerated. A lot of the discussion needs to happen with them at these discussion tables on the issues that affect and impact them, but I'm only going to speak on the issues of Métis.

You have to understand who we are and where we've come from to know that a lot of the programming and work that's been done within corrections or any of these processes has often excluded us. We want to make sure, when we're doing this kind of work and people are developing processes to move forward with policies and engagement, that Métis are not included as an indigenous characterization. We're all distinct and apart from each other, and Métis need to have their place. As your former speaker indicated, not every glove fits every hand. We need to make sure there are opportunities for Métis women when it comes time to deal with the issue of their incarceration.

One thing I want to talk about is the Gladue reports in relation to the people we have within the court systems. We realize how taxed they are. Many of our people are not getting Gladue reports.

The legal aid system is overburdened with the kinds of clients that people are dealing with. The lawyers find that a Gladue report is another tax on people, and they actually even discourage the people who are going through the court system from getting a Gladue report. They'll talk to them about how that's only going to increase their incarceration within the various remand centres for a longer period of time.

The whole point of a Gladue report is so that people can look at the factors as to how these people actually ended up where they are. It isn't a place to make an excuse for them, but it's a place where we can engage the correctional institutions to find a way out of this mess so that they don't become reoffenders, or if they are reoffenders, that we start looking at places where we can start engaging other solutions to help make sure they don't remain within those systems.

Quite often, many of the people we work with who are part of the correctional institutions are there because there are no supports in the community for mental health issues. They're there because there are addiction issues.

Addictions are a health issue. Corrections will never be a solution for us to fix addictions issues or to fix mental health issues. There is no programming or support in a correctional institution to help with those things, so we need to find a different way to start working with some of our indigenous women who are within those systems.

The Gladue reports are really important if they're truly being done the way Gladue reports were intended. As the Supreme Court had indicated, the Gladue reports are going to have ideas for the judges as to what kind of programming is going to be necessary for the person who's being put within these institutions. They can be a restorative justice program as much as they're a corrective justice program. I think it's important for us as indigenous women and Métis women to start making sure that these factors are in place.

I know that we need to fix the correctional institutions and the court systems in relation to how long it takes for any of these things to go on. We now have case after case in which individuals who are charged are pleading guilty prior to conviction because it's an easier solution to get them back home to their children than for them to deal with trying to leverage a defence for themselves.

Sometimes these women, especially young women, who are in these institutions are being introduced into a system that changes the direction of their lives and generates trauma for them. I really encourage and support that this committee start to address and look at some of the issues that relate to our women.

Mostly for the Métis, I want to say, there hasn't been a lot of research done. Most of the research, work, and information that we were able to gain, even when we were looking at coming to present here, is more of a pan-indigenous approach, which doesn't work for us. It doesn't support who we are. It doesn't support the women we are trying to work with to address the issues concerning what happens with them within those institutions.

We want to know how the programming is evaluated. We read some of the information that was linked to us for this presentation. Some of the programming.... I guess that if I were doing programming, I would want to toot my own horn too, but the question is, who is really looking at this programming? Who addresses the effectiveness of the programs?

As I said, we need to engage indigenous women with this stuff to make sure that it's benefiting them.

Thank you.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much.

We'll move on to Dr. Yuen for her seven minutes.

12:15 p.m.

Prof. Felice Yuen Associate Professor, Concordia University, As an Individual

Good afternoon.

Thank you, members of the committee, for this opportunity and for conducting this very important study.

My recommendations are grounded in two main points: the fragility of indigenous programs and services provided in women's corrections and the need for supports and services for indigenous women outside the prison.

CSC's intention to provide appropriate services for our indigenous women is fragile, because the services are created to fit within an existing framework, a framework that reflects western approaches to rehabilitation. While CSC has made many changes to support indigenous women, they already are or are at risk of becoming, as the women have said, whitewashed.

For example, when I was conducting my research in Grand Valley Institution, I witnessed deep relationships and connections between the women and the spiritual adviser. She was referred to as “Grandmother” by the women in the prison. Just before my research was about to end, this spiritual adviser expressed concern because she was asked by CSC to write assessments of the women. At that point in time it was merely a request, not a mandate, but in 2016 this process was further legitimized as an essential aspect of providing effective culturally appropriate interventions for aboriginal peoples.

A grandmother doesn't take notes; a grandmother doesn't report what you say and do to authorities. As women told me, “Grandmother loves and cares for us”, and that is what made a difference for them. I've had a few occasions to meet, since my time there, with some of the women I met at GVI, and they say it's not the same as before. Yes, there are more spiritual advisers now, and yes, there are more programs, but the quality of the relationships is not what it once was. As such, I recommend that CSC consider how they can change or make exceptions to their policies to fit the cultures or ways of life of indigenous people.

For example, I recommend implementing something similar to Gladue principles when assessing a woman for her level of security. Right now many indigenous women are not accessing the supports and services available because they are deemed medium or maximum security. If a woman's history of colonization and trauma are taken into consideration when security labels are applied, more indigenous women would have access to programs and services such as healing lodges.

A second recommendation is to provide equal funding for community-based healing lodges—they currently receive 60¢ to the dollar received by CSC-run healing lodges—and also to create new ones in urban settings. I refer you to the correctional investigator's annual report for the rationale behind this, specifically the segment on section 81.

The third recommendation is to create opportunities for intergenerational healing. The trauma of colonization and the pathway to incarceration for many indigenous women goes back generation upon generation. While there are children allowed in federal prisons—those four years and under can stay there full time, and six and under can stay there part time—I think it makes sense not just for women to heal but the generations before and generations after.

The fourth recommendation is training and education for CSC staff and mainstream, community-based organizations who will play or already play a part in supporting indigenous women. As we already know, the average Canadian doesn't know enough about indigenous cultures and the colonization of indigenous peoples. One starting point could be the blanket exercise offered by Kairos. The RCMP have used it, along with the Montreal police, and they suggest that it's been a good experience thus far.

My final recommendation related to my first point is to partner with indigenous organizations and have them offer programs and services for women. This might get beyond the pan-indigenous approach that has already been highlighted by members of this panel.

This recommendation dovetails with my second point: the need for supports and services for indigenous women outside of prison.

The fact is that while indigenous supports and programs in federal prisons need improvement, they're better than what many indigenous women face in the community. I've heard numerous stories about how women revoke the conditions of their parole or reoffend so that they can go back. “It's good to be back home amongst my family,” they say when referring to their sisters, members of the Native Sisterhood, “just in time for Christmas.”

The point is that some women experience their culture in a positive light for the first time in prison, and once they are released they don't know where to find support so that they can continue this way of life. The gaps in supports and services for women released from prison is a noted issue. For indigenous women, it's even worse.

My recommendations include the creation of halfway houses, or at least units within existing halfway houses, that have culture-specific programming and services for indigenous women. I reiterate that this is done in collaboration with indigenous organizations that already exist. I suggest that programs for indigenous women in prison include a community bridge or link that provides some sort of continuity for women upon their release.

Here I refer you to a program that is hosted by Community Justice Initiatives called “Stride” at Grand Valley Institution. Notably, there's not a strong representation of indigenous women who participate in this program, but this organization is trying to find ways in which they can collaborate and connect with indigenous organizations, or members of the community who will help them reach indigenous women.

This is an ongoing issue with many mainstream organizations. I know the Elizabeth Fry Societies has been trying hard to try to find ways to help and support indigenous women as well. The fact that this committee is conducting this study is a significant step in the right direction because it provides an opening for the possibility of collaboration, and ultimately, a stronger network to support indigenous women.

The overrepresentation of indigenous women is not just the responsibility of CSC but of all of us.

Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much.

We're going to start our first round of questioning for seven minutes with Sean Fraser.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you very much. I have a pile of questions. I really appreciated the testimony. If we can keep answers short to get through it, I would sincerely appreciate it.

I'll start with our guest from Aboriginal Legal Services.

On the issue of mandatory minimums and conditional sentencing restrictions, I completely accept the evidence that you've given. I don't know how we think we are better positioned in Ottawa, with no facts or evidence, to decide what a sentence should be than a judge who is aware of the facts and evidence in a particular case. The Gladue reports sort of play into this. There is not equitable access to Gladue reports because in different parts of the country, in different communities, they are just not done for whatever reason.

How can we at the federal level encourage the use of this so that courts are aware of the aboriginal social history that the witnesses from our last meeting discussed at length as being very positive in terms of the outcomes?

12:25 p.m.

Program Director, Aboriginal Legal Services

Jonathan Rudin

Certainly, you're right that Gladue reports are not universally available . They are not available at all, frankly, in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. One of the issues is that the federal government does not want to be involved in the funding of Gladue reports. While the federal government in their aboriginal justice programming is very involved in many areas, they have not touched the area of Gladue reports.

In Ontario, we have 14 Gladue writers who will probably do 400 or 500 Gladue reports this year, and almost all of our funding comes from Legal Aid Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.

I think that if the federal government were prepared to provide funding on some cost-share basis, that would encourage other provinces to jump into the process. It would also allow for better use of that funding in places like Ontario and Alberta, where the provinces are bearing all the costs.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

If there were going to be some kind of a pilot program to test the outcomes of an investment like that, how could we best introduce this? Is this just sort of a colourful proposal for organizations that do this?

12:25 p.m.

Program Director, Aboriginal Legal Services

Jonathan Rudin

The federal government already does cost-share agreements with indigenous organizations that provide services in restorative justice areas, and we have funding for that. There are all sorts of areas where the aboriginal justice division in the ministry of justice or the Department of Justice has relationships. It wouldn't be hard to expand that. That wouldn't be an issue.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Still on the issue of Gladue reports, you mentioned how important it would be to give access to the information contained in those reports to the parole process. What kind of a change would be required for that to take place?