Evidence of meeting #86 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

Virginia Lomax  Legal Counsel, Native Women's Association of Canada
Denise Peterson  Councillor, Town of Strathmore, As an Individual
Savannah Gentile  Director, Advocacy and Legal Issues, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Kassandra Churcher  Executive Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Katharine Curry  Policy Analyst, Native Women's Association of Canada

4:15 p.m.

Director, Advocacy and Legal Issues, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Savannah Gentile

Yes, absolutely. We would be of the opinion that it absolutely needs to be reinstated. It was a very big hit to women in prison that they couldn't benefit from accelerated parole. There are a few women who still qualify because of the dates of the investigations for their crime, but otherwise it was devastating to women.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I want to clarify something on segregation. There's actually a bill that was introduced last spring, Bill C-56, and I encourage you to watch its passage closely, because it deals specifically with administrative segregation. I know that CSC brought in new guidelines last summer such that anyone who is at risk of self-harm or suicide, or who has severe mental health issues, could not be put into administrative segregation. I want to clarify that there is legislation coming, and I encourage you all to watch. It's been introduced. It's not at committee yet.

4:15 p.m.

Director, Advocacy and Legal Issues, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Savannah Gentile

Could I comment?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Yes.

4:15 p.m.

Director, Advocacy and Legal Issues, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Savannah Gentile

Unfortunately, CSC's saying that women won't be placed in administrative segregation doesn't mean that women won't be placed in segregation or, in fact, in solitary confinement.

Women are frequently placed on what's called “mental health watch”, in a segregation unit most often, and are monitored by camera. They sometimes are placed in a “doll gown”, which is essentially a gown to reduce the risk of harm—such as, for instance, that she could tear something off the gown. They are still under conditions of solitary confinement, just by another name, and this is one of the ways that which CSC gets around some of the regulations.

What we say in response is that women who are on mental health watch and anything of that name should be deemed to be under administrative segregation so that those safeguards are in place for them, at least until the time when we can do away with the practice altogether.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Do we need more mental health beds, forensic mental health beds, for women? How many do we have?

4:20 p.m.

Director, Advocacy and Legal Issues, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Savannah Gentile

I think there are two mental health beds currently for women—two.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Two?

4:20 p.m.

Director, Advocacy and Legal Issues, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Savannah Gentile

Yes, under section 29. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, CSC has had requests and has just have not acted on them. CSC will tell you that there isn't an interest and that it's not possible. In fact, I heard from a member of CSC in a meeting that they're not looking at section 29 anymore.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

We're here to try to come up with solutions, and we're not going to look backwards. We're going to look forward—

4:20 p.m.

Director, Advocacy and Legal Issues, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Savannah Gentile

Absolutely.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

—and make sure that we try to fix this. I was shocked at the number of mental health beds for women and the lack of services. Do you think women in the corrections system need 24-7 health services? Sometimes, because of cutbacks, they're not able to offer programming 24 hours a day seven days a week; it's nine to five. What are your thoughts on the availability 24-7?

4:20 p.m.

Legal Counsel, Native Women's Association of Canada

Virginia Lomax

Yes, there needs to be availability 24-7. This is especially true for indigenous women. I wanted to add to the discussion of mental health that symptoms of mental health can appear differently. Again, mental health is a clinical judgment, and these systems can appear differently for people who have experienced intergenerational trauma. I just wanted to make sure that this is really clear: these issues of the symptoms appearing and how someone might get access to services are going to be different for indigenous women. That's my point.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I have only 20 seconds left. Should we be doing a gender-based analysis of the job training programs that women are doing? Yes or no? I ask because I saw sewing for women and cabinet-making for men....

4:20 p.m.

Director, Advocacy and Legal Issues, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Savannah Gentile

Absolutely: women need more vocational options than sewing.

4:20 p.m.

Policy Analyst, Native Women's Association of Canada

Katharine Curry

At the Joliette Institute, they actually make men's underwear for male prisoners.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much for adding that.

We are now on our second round. There will be five-minute questions. We'll begin with Rachael Harder.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you so much, everyone, for being with us today.

My questions will be focused toward you, Ms. Peterson. If you had your say, would you say that we should be focusing our attention, our time, and our money on preventative care, programs, and initiatives? Or would you say that we should be focusing on post-incarceration?

4:20 p.m.

Councillor, Town of Strathmore, As an Individual

Denise Peterson

I think we're very entrenched in coping, and in fact struggling, with existing structures, and are all very aware that none of them are working. In my world, we work extremely successfully on court diversion and prevention. The Siksika Nation has been incredibly successful in doing this. They've been successful in working with programs around restorative practice and Aiskapimohkiiks, and that has seen both prison and court diversions.

The preventative method is immensely important. I don't in any way denigrate anything that's being said by the other presenters today, because it is all very true, but so much of what we are engaging in is a treadmill, the gerbil-and-the-treadmill kind of process. A year and a half ago, we received information from the Alberta FASD network around the Edmonton Institution for Women. That report said that 100% of the women incarcerated were indigenous. You talk about prevention, but there were absolutely no options for these women, some of whom were our students, with regard to looking at the brain injuries they had suffered and the severe pressures that they were undergoing in incarceration.

We've seen the difference in what happens to.... Because we live in Alberta, we have had access to Buffalo Sage and to the treatment centre in southern Saskatchewan—very limited—but we're so short of those beds. What I can tell you is that we see the aftermath as well. For young women coming out of the programs that have had the healing centres that were not run by Corrections Canada, their capacity to cope with post-traumatic stress syndrome, which every single one has a clinical diagnosis for, was 100% better, and their improvements were so much more.

In our population, we know that working on and dedicating these immense resources to prevention have created incredible results over the last 20 years. Those have come about by the nation weaving this safety net in a 360° view, individualized education programs, and bringing all services providers to the table.

One of the things that we really believe is missing in our community is that community courts concept. If that were a reality, we think it would give that aboriginal voice, that indigenous voice, the power that is needed to effect the preventative strategies in a more profound way.

If I had to answer your question succinctly, I would say that I would like to see the money put into prevention, most certainly.

February 1st, 2018 / 4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you, Ms. Peterson.

I have less than two minutes left on the clock, so my next question is this, because you've already hit on it and I'm just wondering if you can expand on it further. Where is our money better put?

Is it better put in departmental programs, in that direction, or is it better put on the ground with communities that are going to work with indigenous individuals right in their homes?

4:25 p.m.

Councillor, Town of Strathmore, As an Individual

Denise Peterson

There is absolutely no question in my mind that indigenous people have the answers to the problems that are assailing them in society. We absolutely need to put the power into their hands. As Roberta Jamieson has said about speaking truth to power, they absolutely need to have the power to reconcile the suffering of their own people, and non-indigenous people need to support that process.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Very quickly, just so we have a working definition, when you talk about “community courts”, what do you mean?

4:25 p.m.

Councillor, Town of Strathmore, As an Individual

Denise Peterson

There are examples of community courts in pilot projects in Calgary like the drug courts, where there is co-operation between the crown and defence. There is court support around developing strategic planning and there are options to use indigenous-based restorative practices.

It still is within the court system, but the court system has a more holistic process in involving service providers, crown prosecutors, and defence counsel. They have a mandate to come up with a strategic plan to have the community come together to work with supporters on both sides—the victims and the offenders—to a resolution, with the option of going back to court.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you so much.

We're going to continue for the next five minutes and into the next hour, if you don't mind.

We have five minutes for Sean Fraser for the final round.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

That's perfect.

Thank you so much to each of our witnesses. We do have five minutes, so to the extent that you can give concise answers, I'll get more questions out, and that would provide great value, given the testimony we've heard so far.

First, for our friends from Elizabeth Fry, you spoke at length about the classification system. What is the fix to achieve the judicial oversight you're looking for? Is it a legislative fix that we really need here? How can we achieve that level of judicial oversight?