Evidence of meeting #89 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 system.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Darlene Shackelly  Executive Director, Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of British Columbia
Audra Andrews  Union of Safety and Justice Employees
Lowell Carroll  Manager of Calgary, Red Deer, and Siksika Legal Services Centre, Legal Aid Alberta, As an Individual
Claudie Paul  Services Director, Regroupement des centres d'amitié autochtones du Québec inc.
Jacinthe Poulin  Health and Social Services Advisor, Regroupement des centres d'amitié autochtones du Québec inc.
Marie-Claude Landry  Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission
Teresa Edwards  Member of the Board of Directors, Indigenous Bar Association in Canada
Fiona Keith  Senior Legal Counsel, Human Rights Protection Branch, Canadian Human Rights Commission
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Kenza Gamassi

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Awesome. Thank you so much.

Now we're going to move over to Teresa Edwards for seven minutes.

5 p.m.

Teresa Edwards Member of the Board of Directors, Indigenous Bar Association in Canada

Good afternoon.

[Witness speaks in Mi'kmaq]

I just said that my name is Teresa Edwards, I'm Mi'kmaq First Nation, and my traditional name is Young Fire Woman.

I want to acknowledge the Algonquin people on whose territory we're gathered and of whom I'm a guest today. I also want to thank the committee for the opportunity to present on the topic of improving indigenous women's experience with the federal justice and correctional systems.

Today I'm presenting as a board member on behalf of the Indigenous Bar Association. The IBA is a national not-for-profit organization incorporated in 1994, made up of lawyers, academics, and law students from across Canada. The objectives at the IBA are to advance issues and concerns that indigenous people have with the justice system and to be a national voice for indigenous peoples generally. The IBA has also been recognized by governments, courts, and tribunals in many instances. I hope that you'll take our recommendations into account today.

I also have to acknowledge that my other hat here is as legal counsel and executive director for the Legacy of Hope Foundation. It's a national indigenous organization aimed at educating Canadians about the ongoing impacts of residential schools upon survivors, their families, and their communities.

With the last school having closed in 1996, we as a society are faced with generations of indigenous peoples who have been subjected to racism within policy, within legislation, and within the justice and correctional systems. Survivors have experienced all forms of violence—physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse—and have often not been given proper education or life skills to thrive as adults or as parents. These experiences have significantly contributed to the many social and economic conditions that they are facing today, including the strong links to poverty and to conflict with the federal justice and correctional systems.

I brought a research report for the committee today. There are only copies in English. I do have copies in French and I'll be giving them to the committee as well; tomorrow I'll have someone from my office bring them over.

The LHF fulfills its mandate by providing curricula and educational resources to schools across Canada. We've secured curricula for the three territories, and now we're working on an agreement with the Government of Alberta and concurrently with the Government of Ontario to do the curriculum from K to 12 so that it will actually include the appropriate history of indigenous peoples in Canada, including that concerning residential schools, the sixties scoop, and ongoing child welfare.

The reason for this is that we will expose the links that exist with social ailments today and build a stronger empathy and acknowledgement, just as we honour veterans in teaching histories of wars or teaching the history of Auschwitz and other issues. We need to do the same for Canada's dark history.

We make use of art and a series of exhibitions to uncover historical wrongdoings to understand where society went wrong in its treatment of indigenous peoples.

I will go on to speak of the effects that are affecting women, that are connecting them to conflict with the justice system.

It still has to be said that there's another side of the story for Canadians and justice officials whereby racism has to be addressed.

We have incidents of contact with the police. From the first instance, if the person is non-indigenous or not a racialized person, they're often given five or 10 warnings. I know this from personal experience in 25 years as a lawyer, in travelling to more than 110 communities and working as a legal counsel at NWAC—the Native Women's Association of Canada—and the AFN. In story after story, I hear of children, a group of five, who are apprehended by police together. Non-indigenous children are brought home to their parents and given a slap on the hand; the others are brought to the station and immediately charged, and their career begins.

You have this whole link of survivors of residential school with children who are survivors of a residential school or else are second generation. They may have been in contact with the state, being removed from the home largely because of poverty. These kids then come into contact with the justice system, and so starts the cycle.

You have racism at every impact. I really want the committee to be conscious of that point, inasmuch as we have to look at all the impacts of residential schools on indigenous people. When we look at the solution, we need to address that context.

I love the anecdote of “Bob hit Mary”, which becomes “Mary is an abused woman”. We look at solutions for Mary the abused woman, and Bob is gone from the equation.

We need to look at the fact that there is racism within the justice system from all angles before we can address the solutions.

I really concur with the comments that were made before mine. I would just add that for several generations indigenous communities have had to struggle with the impacts of residential schools and the imposition of foreign systems, policies, and laws that have disrupted our nations and have contributed to the social and economic hardships I spoke about.

We've had human rights violations and continuous colonization of indigenous women, and their children have been affected the most by these violations. We've had dispossession of traditional lands, of traditional roles and responsibilities, of our participation in political and social decisions. All are contributing factors that harmed our families, cultures, traditions, and languages. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has consistently recognized that indigenous women in particular face these multiple forms of discrimination that I've spoken about.

In Canada, indigenous women are more likely to be involuntarily segregated and to endure longer segregations than non-indigenous women. They are prisoners who are younger than their non-indigenous counterparts, with an average age of 29, as compared with 32 for non-indigenous women. We know that they make up 5% of the female population in Canada, but 39% of the female prison population, and they make up 50% of federal segregation placements.

As well, I have heard people speak about the mother-daughter programs. In reality, I've seen on paper what they're supposed to look like and how their implementation is supposed to work, but I've also met with women who spoke of having a half hour a week to visit their newborn child.

There are so many instances that I could give you. I know you are all going to receive the report that I already submitted, so I'll go straight to my recommendations.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Teresa, we have to go into questioning, because you are past your seven minutes. We only have time for one round from each group.

I'm going to start with seven minutes with Emmanuella Lambropoulos.

February 13th, 2018 / 5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you for being here with us today to answer our questions. My first question is going to go to Teresa.

Would you like to give your top recommendations on how we can improve the situation?

5:05 p.m.

Member of the Board of Directors, Indigenous Bar Association in Canada

Teresa Edwards

Thank you.

One—eliminating legal provisions that discriminate against indigenous women—has been mentioned. Next is compulsory training for all law enforcement, judges, and Correctional Service of Canada staff regarding indigenous peoples, particularly on the specific circumstances of indigenous women.

I've been trying to do culturally sensitive training with the police for 13 years. I'm happy to report that I met with a body of police officers at Deerhurst two weeks ago, and that was a breakthrough. Change is happening, but it really needs to happen on a larger scale.

Next, ensure enforcement and application of Gladue principles. I can't stress that enough. People are checking off the box, but there are no Gladue principles being articulated by lawyers who are representing indigenous clients.

Next is facilitation and implementation of sections 81 and 84 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act for the benefit of criminalized indigenous women prisoners.

I'm hearing about the Buffalo Sage facility and other instances in which beds are given away to non-indigenous women. We have such high rates of incarceration for indigenous women, but because of their high classification, they're not making it into those healing lodges. I agree with looking at classification and at transferring, where there are medical needs, because there is an extreme amount of mental health difficulty and PTSD for these women.

Make sure that they have access to culturally based programs and spiritual services while in prison, and take all necessary measures to address the issue of separation of indigenous children from their parents.

Provide adequate supports and counselling with respect to mental health and well-being while inside and ensure healing and coping strategies to deal with matters on the outside.

Here is a huge issue: supporting indigenous women in their pursuit of education, as has been said. Indigenous women have low completion rates while incarcerated. This would include providing life skills and other training that will help with their successful integration.

We now know statistically that in Canada indigenous women have higher education than indigenous men, but it's not translating into income. We need to shift that. We need support programs that will help indigenous women to be able to participate in the workforce and to access employment upon release. In particular, trades is a great avenue for our women to follow, so that their first job will bring a sustainable income with which they can support themselves and their children.

Another need is helping indigenous women to secure safe and affordable housing for themselves and their children upon release. We have stories of women who are given four bus tickets. They get on a bus, they take it as far as it will go, and they go and commit a crime so that they'll get back and have a place to live. There's no plan in place.

We need to have those plans for women, as well as safety plans for women and children who are escaping violent situations, with proper transitional supports and programs that support their physical and psychological well-being upon release.

Thank you for that opportunity.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Ms. Landry, can you tell us about the vicious circle you mentioned, the never-ending cycle?

Can you tell us what you recommend to the government to help break the cycle?

5:10 p.m.

Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission

Marie-Claude Landry

Thank you for your question.

My first recommendation is simply

stop studying, start implementing.

We must stop conducting studies. Studies have been done for a number of years. There was Ms. Arbour's study and several others prior to that. There was the study of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2003, and there have been many others ever since.

There have been recommendations, but they have not been implemented. This is the priority. This is the most important message that the commission wants to get across today.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

How much time do I have left?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

You have three and a half minutes.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

I'm going to pass my time to Eva,

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

My thanks to the witnesses for their presentations.

Ms. Landry, I would like to ask you a question about something that I have been thinking about.

I have not found concrete evidence of differences in the experiences of indigenous women when they have to deal with female or male police officers. Do we know whether indigenous women who are victims of racism and misogyny, and are discriminated against by police, are treated better by female police officers? Based on your experience or the studies you have consulted, are female police officers more understanding and better equipped to intervene with incarcerated women?

5:10 p.m.

Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission

Marie-Claude Landry

I have no numbers; I have none. There is no study—

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

I don't need numbers. Could you just answer based on your experience and what you know?

5:10 p.m.

Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission

Marie-Claude Landry

Based on my background and experience at the commission as Chief Commissioner, there is a difference in how female police officers address and manage things relating to female inmates. That's clear. The responsiveness or the connection between the two groups is significantly easier than between male police officers and female inmates.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

We could therefore say that female police officers don't have the same prejudice toward indigenous communities.

5:10 p.m.

Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission

Marie-Claude Landry

I'm not sure whether it's a matter of prejudice or a difference in approach. The relationship is perhaps easier between women. As I was saying in my remarks, it is important to keep in mind the historic trauma of women, often victims of all sorts of abuse, such as physical and psychological violence. Generally speaking—and I don't want to get into stereotypes—women are victims of violence because of men, spouses, males. Of course, the authority relationship of police officers or correctional service officers is also more difficult. As I said in my remarks, the necessary connection, the trust is missing.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Ms. Edwards, do you want to add anything?

5:15 p.m.

Member of the Board of Directors, Indigenous Bar Association in Canada

Teresa Edwards

I would add that sexual abuse that women have experienced compounds this as well. Yes, of course, trust in the relationship is easier to build when you have women interacting with indigenous women.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you for your presentation.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Teresa, we are going to take your information and are going to have it translated so that everybody can see all of your recommendations. You had a great piece to provide to us. We'll make sure everybody gets it.

We're now going to move on to Rachael Harder for seven minutes.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Welcome. My first question here is going to go to Ms. Landry.

I wonder whether you can comment on the prevention side and on what suggestions you would have for the committee for being able to assist women to live empowered lives so that they don't even face incarceration to begin with. Rather than putting focus on the “during incarceration” or “after incarceration” stage, what do we do to just prevent it, to empower these aboriginal women to be able to live great lives?

Let me be very specific. I'm interested in your take on this. Is it best accomplished through big government programs, or would it be better accomplished by empowering community members and organizations to do the work on the ground?

5:15 p.m.

Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission

Marie-Claude Landry

Certainly.

In my opinion, it's to empower the community, for sure, and to raise awareness and give them the resources and the help they need to be informed and to address the different challenges they have to face. It's certainly one part of addressing the systemic discrimination. We need to address the systemic discrimination that those women face.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

One witness we heard from, whose organization does incredible work in Saskatchewan, has as one of their main clients, I guess you could say—or individuals or groups that they work with—young aboriginal moms. They work with them in order to empower them and to help them in terms of being able to care for their children, cook for themselves, find secure housing, and live really great lives. In doing that work, these women are enjoying life, they're giving back to society, and they're doing remarkably well. For me, that's a great example of prevention. These women are being invested in and empowered to live these great lives.

This program was accomplished through what's called a “social bond” or a “social impact bond”, meaning that this organization is accomplishing this, and based on the results of the work they're doing, they are funded through public dollars as well as a combination of private dollars in order for them to continue to do the work they're doing.

Could you see a model like this being used within communities? Could you see this being beneficial if we were to expand these types of endeavours in order to further assist women?

5:15 p.m.

Fiona Keith Senior Legal Counsel, Human Rights Protection Branch, Canadian Human Rights Commission

I'd like to defer to my colleague. The first thought that comes to my mind is that I think you should ask the communities.

5:15 p.m.

Member of the Board of Directors, Indigenous Bar Association in Canada

Teresa Edwards

If I may, I'll quickly give an answer to that. The majority of indigenous people live off reserve, so in talking about communities, you're talking about communities in Canada, in the provinces and territories. That's the reality. Indigenous people live in urban settings. A very low percentage live on reserve, so to say that if we had programs in communities....

I take your point. Indigenous communities that already have trust can help women to empower themselves. That's great. I'm a huge believer. I volunteer with indigenous women who are living in a homeless shelter to help them have financial literacy, to encourage them to go back to school, and to help them to secure housing and get an education, but most of all, the number one factor is to help them gain employment, because the reality is that they can have all the education, as a lot of indigenous women do.... I have six degrees, and I am blessed that I have a successful career as a lawyer, but many indigenous women have multiple degrees and are living on assistance because they don't have the economic transition to get the jobs that are out there.

We need to support women in getting jobs. They could have education, yet be living in a violent situation. They could go to a safe house or a transition house, but after a month they don't have any money, so they have to return to that violent situation. If you give a woman a job, if you help her to gain employment, even in a violent situation she can put money away, have a plan, and escape the violent situation. That's one little aspect, but you still need the holistic supports that support all the abuse that has happened, the sexual violence and everything that a woman has lived.

The last residential school closed in 1996. That's not a hundred years ago. That's 20 years ago.