Evidence of meeting #84 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 indigenous.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jennifer Metcalfe  Executive Director, West Coast Prison Justice Society/Prisoners' Legal Services
Raji Mangat  Director of Litigation, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund
Stephanie Weasel Child  Senior Manager, Claims and Research, Siksika First Nation
Lois Frank  Instructor, Native American Studies, Criminal Justice, University of Lethbridge, As an Individual

December 12th, 2017 / 11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Yes, we would prefer to have no prison system in the country, which would be the best thing to have for anybody, but when you talked about a macro system, in a sense, there was a lot of duality that I would derive from what you were talking about. As I think just came up, we have indigenous people on communities or reservations, and then we have them in urban centres, which is not a community, in a sense. If I'm taking you right, you're talking about a duality of justice and legal systems. How would that be effective in indigenous and urban settings when they're very different?

11:25 a.m.

Executive Director, West Coast Prison Justice Society/Prisoners' Legal Services

Jennifer Metcalfe

Well, I think it's important to engage both the bands and the urban indigenous organizations. There are indigenous people who live in urban centres and on reserves all over Canada, so we need to be working with all of those bands and organizations in talking about how to transfer the responsibility for corrections to first nations.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

That's my point, in a sense, when you say “return to their community”. I've been on a street in a major urban centre when there were indigenous people released from a prison setting onto a main street in that large urban centre. You say that's a return to their community, but that's not what they're returning to. That phrase has been used many times—the wraparound service in their community—and it's been referred to basically as the indigenous home community, but that's not where a lot of them are.

11:25 a.m.

Executive Director, West Coast Prison Justice Society/Prisoners' Legal Services

Jennifer Metcalfe

No, and I think urban centres are also indigenous communities, and we need to consider them to be communities as well.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

In listening to that, I think we need to make sure it's clear that you're not talking about home reserve indigenous, but about where the community is. I think that needs to be very clear that if we're moving forward, we need to understand where that community reference we're talking about is, and it's not just a home community of historical reservations.

11:25 a.m.

Executive Director, West Coast Prison Justice Society/Prisoners' Legal Services

Jennifer Metcalfe

That's right. I think the friendship centres in cities would play a big part in that.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Thank you.

Ms. Mangat, thank you for your explanation. I liked that one piece when you talked about grassroots and the type of ability that may have to change this. Would you like to expand a bit on that grassroots effect that could play a role in what you're talking about?

11:30 a.m.

Director of Litigation, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

Raji Mangat

Sure, and I think that maybe dovetails nicely with what you were asking Ms. Metcalfe about, and I agree with her. I think, when we think of indigenous communities, we sometimes have this idea of this sort of idyllic community that exists in this pristine way that hasn't changed since settlers first came here. That's not the reality for any of the indigenous people who I know or any of the indigenous communities my organization works with. But I think that there are organizations working with bands and with individuals in urban settings that are really looking at ways that some people who want to can reconnect with some of their cultural traditional practices that make sense for them now in this modern age.

I've heard from many indigenous prisoners that their first idea of culture, of their culture being provided to them, was through CSC programming that was, perhaps, not really a great way. Talk about neo-colonialism to say to someone that we're now giving them their culture in this institutional setting.

I do think that grassroots community organizations have a huge role to play, because those are the organizations that have seen some of these people through their best and worst times. They're the organizations that I think are committed to building that trust. Ms. Metcalfe spoke about this, and this is my experience with women in prison as well, that you can say that people are coming to see them every day, someone comes down, walks down the range, and asks them how they're doing, but that's not meaningful social contact. I don't think any one of us thinks that's meaningful social contact, so where is that meaningful social contact happening? For many indigenous women, it's happening in those grassroots community movements and organizations. I think that's where we need to be focused.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

I have one last question, and I'm going to Ms. Metcalfe first.

Your first priority, if you had a choice, what would it be?

11:30 a.m.

Executive Director, West Coast Prison Justice Society/Prisoners' Legal Services

Jennifer Metcalfe

It would be decarcerating indigenous women.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Okay.

11:30 a.m.

Director of Litigation, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

Raji Mangat

Yes, for me as well, and solitary confinement.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Okay. You are very specific on that one.

11:30 a.m.

Director of Litigation, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

Raji Mangat

I am on that one. I mean, decarceration absolutely, but if we're going to look at something that's sort of before the courts right now, then I would say solitary confinement for everyone, but certainly for indigenous women and certainly for men and women with mental health concerns.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Okay. Thank you.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

We're now moving to Sheila Malcolmson for seven minutes.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to both witnesses. You've made it really specific and really easy for us. Thank you both for your work.

I'm going to try to fit a lot into a short period of time. My first question will need a yes or no answer, I hope. We heard a couple of weeks ago from Anne Kelly, the senior deputy commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada. She said, “Our approach to working with indigenous women is holistic and women-centred, and is built to address their unique needs and contribute to their safe and timely reintegration into the community.”

Is it your experience that that is true?

11:30 a.m.

Executive Director, West Coast Prison Justice Society/Prisoners' Legal Services

Jennifer Metcalfe

No, I would say no. I think that was a vision of “Creating Choices”. I think some of those ideas were there in the beginning, and there's been a real decline in the women-centric approach from the beginning of FVI and the other women's prisons.

I think during the Harper era, which had the tough-on-crime agenda, it really affected the way they run the women's prisons, and I don't think that's true anymore.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thanks.

11:30 a.m.

Director of Litigation, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

Raji Mangat

My answer is no, as well. I think, as Jennifer said, from “Creating Choices”, we've seen this radical shift away from the sorts of things that witness was saying they're doing. They may think that's what they're doing, but that's not what's happening. There's been this radical shift from the sort of approach that was first articulated in “Creating Choices” back in 1990 to this sort of risk-centric, security-centric approach, and that's making many of the women's facilities look not very different from the men's facilities. That was sort of what “Creating Choices” was supposed to be doing, saying we're going to do something different.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you.

West Coast LEAF, can you table this report with the committee?

11:30 a.m.

Director of Litigation, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

Raji Mangat

Oh, sure.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

This is your report card on CEDAW, the UN Committee to End Discrimination Against Women and their recommendations a year ago to the federal government. You've applied it to B. C. specifically, but I think it has relevance, so if we were able to get it into our list of evidence, that would be helpful. We could draw on that.

11:35 a.m.

Director of Litigation, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

Raji Mangat

Yes, absolutely. I am very pleased to table that 2017 CEDAW report card. We put that out every year. This one was just released last week. It's an assessment of how British Columbia is doing in terms of Canada's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The grades are never great—spoiler alert—but I think that, although it's B.C. specific, a lot of these issues cut across the country. Our assessment is B.C. specific because that's our mandate, but I hope there is much in there that will be of service to the committee in its study.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Right, thanks.

To both the witnesses, the UN CEDAW report from a year ago indicated the committee's concern in relation to Canada specifically that financial support for civil legal aid programs has considerably diminished in the last 20 years, and has become increasingly restricted, affecting particularly women who are the primary users of civil legal aid.

Have you seen any progress, especially since this concern was registered a year ago? Have you seen commitments of increases in funding on the ground for the women you serve?