Evidence of meeting #88 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 parole.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kathryn Ferreira  Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic
Debra Parkes  Professor and Chair in Feminist Legal Studies, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia, As an Individual
Eric Michael  Executive Director, Willow Cree Healing Lodge, Prairie Region, Correctional Service of Canada

4:10 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

We provide assistance to male prisoners, actually. We deal with male aboriginal prisoners as well, obviously. They're also overrepresented. We currently don't provide assistance to female prisoners because of our geographical location.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

How could your organization help incarcerated indigenous women if they asked it for help?

4:10 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

Certainly, the problem for women indigenous prisoners is much greater than it is for men. There is much more maximum security for women. They are much more secure units in maximum security for women than they are for men.

Again, having more legal resources for indigenous women would help them, I'm sure. I think that the legislation is there. The way to assist these indigenous people already exists. In my opinion, it's just not being used. It is under the control of the Correctional Service. They have not done a successful job with it. As I've been mentioning, it requires more oversight.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

I have one minute.

Could you comment on the drafting of Gladue reports? We have heard that there aren't enough writers, but also that many of the people who write these reports are not indigenous.

Is there a standardized training process for this in Canada.

4:15 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

I believe that for decision-making within the Correctional Service, there are a lot of references to Gladue factors and paying attention to Gladue factors.

As was mentioned earlier to the committee, I think these factors are considered, as they have to be, for every Correctional Service decision that is made for these prisoners. The parole board considers them as well. However, the problem is that we haven't done a good job on how these factors impact the final decision.

For example, we're supposed to be considering the Gladue factors in parole decisions, but I'm not sure that the consideration of these factors is having a direct impact on the decision that is being made.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much.

We're now going to go on to our second round. We're going to start for five minutes with Rachael Harder.

February 8th, 2018 / 4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you so much for being with us today.

I think for the most part I'm wishing to focus more on the side of prevention than post-incarceration. I believe there are many things we can do post-incarceration, but I have to ask the question, why do we have the problem to begin with? Are there actions that can be taken by the government, by aboriginal communities, by the general public? Are there actions that can be taken in order to facilitate the empowerment of aboriginal women to help in whatever way possible? Even if that means no action, then let's do that. Are there places where maybe there are actually too many hands on deck and more space needs to be given to aboriginal communities themselves? There are different factors involved there so I want to talk about that.

My first question has to do with the fact that many of these aboriginal women, and witnesses have argued that even the majority of these aboriginal women who end up in correctional facilities, have been victimized themselves. They have been abused or various things have taken place in their lifetimes. That said, I'm wondering if you can talk a bit about what that looks like from your view. When you have individuals come in—and I understand that you work largely with men—what would your observation be in terms of the victimization of those who are incarcerated within our system?

4:15 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

In terms of their responses to that victimization, is that what you mean?

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Yes, what does that do to them? What impact does that have?

4:15 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

In terms of the prisoners we deal with, which is the male population, it looks like a lot of trust issues for anyone who's involved in the current system because the system has not assisted them. There are often mental health concerns that aren't being appropriately addressed. Even the processes that are explained to them can be very foreign to them. There's a sense that these people are in need and their needs aren't being addressed. Within the federal system there are a lot of mental health concerns. Aboriginal people are often quite fragile and take a lot of time trusting.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

What are the main factors that lead an aboriginal woman to commit a crime?

4:15 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

I can only speak to the things that I have mentioned, which is the intergenerational trauma, the abuse, the violence that they are subject to, which I'm sure is a lot about the economic state that they're facing. They're obviously particularly vulnerable in light of all of the factors that they're experiencing in terms of employment, concerns with policing, poverty, inadequate housing. I don't mean to speak for these women because I can't do that. I think those things are certainly impacting their actions.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Bottom line, if money has to go towards prevention or towards post-incarceration, where should it go?

4:20 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

That's a very difficult question, as I'm sure you realize. Over-incarceration is epidemic, so not directing resources to address that current problem is very concerning, but at the same time, you're right, the systemic issues that are leading to the incarceration are problematic as well.

I guess I have to speak for the women who are currently incarcerated and facing very dire situations, so based on—

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Sorry, we're now going to move on to Pam Damoff for five minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you very much to our witness here with us today.

I want to expand a little bit on a question that Ms. Ludwig brought up. As the federal government, we can't mandate municipal police forces to have education, but the RCMP does fall within our mandate and, obviously, for a number of women, that is the police force they will come in contact with.

I'm wondering about two things: one, expanded education for police officers before these women get to the courts; and two, we heard from the parole officers that recruitment of indigenous parole officers needs to go into reserve.

Do you think that looking at innovative ways to recruit more indigenous people to go into the RCMP would be advantageous for women who do come in contact with the law?

4:20 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

That answer would have to be “certainly”. Increased representation of indigenous people on the police force must be a positive in terms of impacting on the culture that indigenous women would be experiencing, so directing resources toward that innovation would be an important venture for certain.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Okay, and the education as well...?

4:20 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

I would never say no to education. The problem is that, if education hasn't assisted.... Again I can only go back to the thing I know best, which is the Correctional Service of Canada, and there has been lots of education, and the changes have not been happening.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I only have three minutes left.

We've talked a lot about intergenerational trauma and fetal alcohol syndrome. Should the federal government commit more funding toward mental health services for young people on reserve as they are growing up?

4:20 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

I can't imagine how that wouldn't be a necessary thing.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

The other thing is the number of children in foster care. We know it is a crisis. Our minister has just recently made an announcement around that to try to come up with a solution to keep these kids in the community. She was telling us some tragic stories about women who have lost their children. It's tragic for both the women and the kids.

I think I know the answer, but I agree that it needs to be a priority for us to deal with the foster care crisis. Would that have a positive impact for keeping women out of Corrections in the first place?

4:25 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

I think that is undisputed, that it's very necessary, and addressing these sorts of really huge issues with resources must lead to a positive impact on the incarceration rate.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

On mandatory minimums, when I was in Edmonton recently, I talked to some women who got caught in the mandatory minimum sentencing, so because of that.... Had the sentencing been different, because of the nature of their crime, they may not have been sent away for as long as they were.

For other than the most egregious of crimes, do you think the government should remove mandatory minimums and go back to when judges had the ability to sentence in the past?

4:25 p.m.

Director, Queen's Prison Law Clinic

Kathryn Ferreira

Absolutely.