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

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Could you tell us briefly about the types of services that exist for those women, whether general or cultural, in order to ease their integration after they leave prison?

11:35 a.m.

Justice Coordinator, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Véronique Picard

I would say that there are no services on an ongoing basis. Some services exist, in Montreal in particular, but they are not regular or permanent. They may be set up, but then, for lack of funding or resources, they disappear quite quickly. Regular or permanent programs and services are what we most lack. Some organizations work with indigenous populations in conflict with the law, especially in Montreal, but they have very few human and financial resources with which to do their work. As a result, the services are provided sporadically. The women may receive a service, but it may be interrupted two months later. The fact that they are not permanent and regular is absolutely an obstacle, and a major one.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

You have mentioned the lack of services a number of times, but could you also give us an overview of what the prison system means for the women who have told you their stories?

11:40 a.m.

Justice Coordinator, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Véronique Picard

You want to know what the prison system represents for those women?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Yes.

11:40 a.m.

Justice Coordinator, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Véronique Picard

It is a negative experience in a lot of ways. They feel very disadvantaged, especially when they get out of prison. They always feel shame. Some decide not to go back to their communities. As we know, of course, their communities are small and everyone knows and talks about everyone else. So they end up in the city in a precarious situation. As they are quite vulnerable, they are in danger of falling back into the legal machinery quite quickly.

However, we are told that, in some respects, some women feel more comfortable when they are incarcerated because of the lack of resources they experienced when they were on the outside.

So there are two realities, and both are very negative. They are both related to the lack of services outside the prison system.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

You talk about a lack of services, funding and resources. We know that the government could do something in that regard.

In your opinion, what role could the federal government play to make access to legal services easier for those indigenous women?

11:40 a.m.

Justice Coordinator, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Véronique Picard

First, you have to listen to those women and become aware of their needs. Ms. Chartrand put it well when she said that, above all, you need to sit down directly with the indigenous women who have dealt with the justice system, women who have been in prison, women who are there now, and women who have been released. What I mean by that is that they have broken out of the vicious circle.

It is all very well to listen to what experts say, or organizations like ours that work with the women directly. But that will never be as poignant as what the women themselves say. They can tell you about what their communities need, and what they need.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Ms. Chartrand, you talked about a research project that focused on “the historical links between the penal and colonial logics to understand the incarceration of indigenous peoples in Canada”.

Could you tell us what you mean by “penal and colonial logics”?

11:40 a.m.

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

Prof. Vicki Chartrand

Yes, it's a good question.

“Penal” means “punitive”, and “colonialism” would be the history of European exploitation in other people's countries, like in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. It's a settler colonial region where individuals came, settled, and had to eliminate the existing systems, governance, and cultures in order to settle. That would be a colonial-penal logic. They parallel each other through assimilation, reformation, and rehabilitation.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much.

We now go on to our second round, for five minutes, with Rachael Harder.

December 7th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today. We certainly appreciate it.

I think my questions are for the most part for both of you. I'll direct my first question to Véronique, if I may.

You talked a lot about community resources and the need to make them available to aboriginal women as they come out of the prison system, in order for them to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society and be successful in that reintegration.

Have you seen any examples in which a community bond has been put to use and has worked well? By that I mean a situation in which the government has given money to an organization to implement a program to help serve these women as they come out of the prison system, whereby the programs that are being established—the not-for-profits, often, that are putting these programs together—would be held accountable based on results. In other words, how many of the women they're working with return to being incarcerated, versus how many don't? Maybe there are some other factors that could be measured along the way as well.

Basically, this would be the idea of using a community bond to help these women re-establish their lives in Canadian society. I'm wondering if you've seen this work, if you have examples, or if you could comment on whether you think it is a model that could be pursued.

11:45 a.m.

Justice Coordinator, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Véronique Picard

I know several stories of reintegration. I must say that I prefer the word “healing”, even if the word “reintegration” fits better in this system. We are always talking about healing. Since this is a process, it is difficult to measure.

Beneficial activities, such as a sharing circle, are offered by the Montreal Native Friendship Centre, for example. I believe that the gaps lie in the lack of permanence of these services. These services should also be directed specifically to the population that has been incarcerated, for example to women in prison. Some existing services are very good for women in general and could incorporate more culturally appropriate services.

The example of the Elizabeth Fry Society transition house may be relevant, except that there is a gap in the lack of culturally appropriate services for indigenous women who were incarcerated. Services exist, but they are not always relevant to indigenous women. Will they feel that they are part of something? Will they feel that we don't judge them?

We always think in a spirit of healing and not in a spirit of reintegration. Reintegration can mean many things to different people. Although it is difficult to measure, if the person initiates a healing process or if they say they have completed their healing process, it is a success.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Out of respect, I want Vicki to have a chance to answer that same question as well.

In your estimation, or based on your research, would you say that this is something that should or could be pursued?

11:45 a.m.

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

Prof. Vicki Chartrand

To echo what Madame Picard was saying, right now, as far as I know, there's one section 81 for women—a healing lodge for women—and that's in Alberta. Then there's one healing lodge run by CSC, which is in Saskatchewan.

Just to go back to the idea of results, it really is different for each individual, and we have to meet the individual where they're at. Some of our requirements in the transition house.... We want to see people, if they want, take education or have employment, abstain or undertake risk management with harm with drug use and whatnot. We always, however, met them every day and said, “Hi, how are you today?”

If they had to come back 100 times because they had relapsed, or whatever the case may be, I'd say hello to them 100 times. I'd just let them keep coming back to access the services, and I'd meet them where they were at that moment. The idea that they have to reintegrate, and then, if they relapse, we breach them and they're back in prison, just sets them up to fail. You're setting people up to fail.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you so much.

We're now going to continue with Marc Serré for five minutes.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I would like to thank our two witnesses for their work and their passion. Obviously, there is still a lot of work to do.

My first question is for Ms. Picard.

On its website, the organization you represent indicates that it is denouncing the Indian Act because it is unfair. Do you have any specific recommendations for improving the Indian Act, especially with regard to the particular component of justice?

I would like to say that I fully agree with your position.

11:50 a.m.

Justice Coordinator, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Véronique Picard

With respect to the Indian Act, we have always been very adamant about its usefulness as an assimilation tool. In addition, women suffer more discrimination.

We have made a number of recommendations for amendments, if there are any, and amendments that should be made to clause 6, for example. This specific clause affects us in a particular way.

In our opinion, the debate surrounding the Indian Act is very broad. However, we have always said that gender discrimination is also discrimination. We don't really realize that women would have lost their status and would no longer have had access to those kinds of services. In our view, a woman who says she is an indigenous person is an indigenous person, but she isn't in the eyes of such legislation.

However, she doesn't necessarily have access to the services and resources of her community if she has needs in terms of justice, health, disclosures or consultations, for example.

I don't know in what way you're asking what changes should be made to the Indian Act, but—

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

That's great. You've touched on the things we need to look at.

My next question is for Ms. Chartrand.

Among the publications you made reference to, you had the 2007 United Kingdom Corston report, when they looked at the prison system and at a women-centred approach, in some of the recommendations and rethinking.

Do you think we should be applying any of those recommendations that were done in the U.K. and some of those strategies here, for indigenous women in the correctional system in Canada?

11:50 a.m.

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

Prof. Vicki Chartrand

Yes, I do: the ones that pertain to decarceration strategies. It would be around those. I definitely wouldn't say I'm an expert around the Corston report—it's more on what's being done in Canada—but it would be anything around decarceration.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Would you be able to provide us at a future date some of the recommendations along those lines from the Corston report?

11:50 a.m.

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

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you.

Here is a question for both witnesses.

In budget 2017 we had—I just want to hear your comments on this to see whether it has been beneficial—$65 million for Public Safety for aboriginal communities in the justice system. We also had $50 million under Correctional Service for mental health. Have you seen some benefits? Do you have any comments about some of these investments that were made just recently in budget 2017?

11:50 a.m.

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

Prof. Vicki Chartrand

I'm sorry, could you just quickly repeat those numbers?