Mr. Speaker, often the best of intentions go awry. Unintended consequences and terrible results can come from acts that were seemingly simplistic. Such is the case with Bill C-10.
The thinking behind this bill is certainly simplistic enough: jail the bad guy and crime disappears. The unfortunate part of Bill C-10 and its companion piece, Bill C-9, is that this is the only idea the Conservatives have had about justice: the start and the end of crime is prisons and nothing else.
As Canadians, we abhor crime and violence, and rightly so, but we also denounce injustice and inequality. Our concept of Canada as a just society demands nothing less. However, there is injustice in Canada, social injustice, and it is etched in the history of our aboriginal people.
In a response to one of my questions, the Minister of Indian Affairs said that the first agenda he dealt with was the advancement of social justice for aboriginal people. I would suggest that either this is clearly not the case or the rest of cabinet did not get that memo.
Bill C-10 is a case in point. It talks about crime and it hits all the good fear buttons, but the justice minister is not looking at a holistic approach, a consultative approach or a community-building approach to eradicating crime in aboriginal communities.
The bleak numbers in a study released last week by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics have depicted this history as incredibly brutal and harsh for all aboriginal people. Aboriginal Canadians have the terrible distinction of being more likely to be victims and more likely to be jailed than non-aboriginal Canadians.
The study reveals that 40% of aboriginal people over the age of 15 reported being victims of crime in the 12 months prior to being interviewed for the study, which is 12% higher than non-aboriginal Canadians. Aboriginal people were twice as likely to be repeat victims, three times more likely to be robbed, assaulted or raped, and three and a half times more likely to be the victims of spousal assault.
On reserve, the reality for many aboriginal people is even worse. Compared to national averages, aboriginal people on reserve are eight times more likely to be assaulted and seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted.
These are unfortunate realities. Therefore, the first question is this: has incarceration been the solution? Has locking up and throwing away the key been the answer?
These numbers persist despite the fact that aboriginal people have an incredibly higher rate of incarceration. In fact, although aboriginal people make up only 3% of the Canadian population, they made up 20% of the provincial inmates and 18% of the federal inmates.
In Saskatchewan, this number explodes. Although aboriginal people are approximately 11% of the population in the province, they comprise 80% of the people in jails.
The situation is so grim, in fact, as stated by Larry Chartrand, head of the aboriginal governance program at the University of Winnipeg, that young aboriginal people “have a greater chance of landing behind bars than graduating from university”.
Let me repeat that: young Canadian aboriginal people have a greater chance of landing behind bars than graduating from university, and this in Canada, the home of the just society.
There is no mystery to these terrible numbers. These studies lay out stark terms. They list a number of factors that have been associated with higher rates of victimization and offending. On overage, aboriginal people are younger. Their unemployment rates are higher and their incomes lower. They are more likely to be involved in crowded conditions. They have a higher residential mobility. Aboriginal children are more likely to be members of single parent families.
In spite of noticeable improvements to education levels, there is still a noticeable education gap between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people. The gaps in education and employment opportunities are reflected in the aboriginal people who are in these correctional institutions. Three-quarters of incarcerated aboriginal adults have not completed their secondary school education. Also, aboriginal Canadians were less likely to be employed at the time of incarceration.
There is a problem that needs to be responded to. Therefore, we have a second question. Will mandatory minimum penalties and more jail time address or improve these statistics? The answer, very clearly, is no.
My colleagues have surgically dissected the justice minister's sparse evidence rather easily. The reality is that the justice minister has no evidence to support Bill C-10. In fact, various studies have demonstrated that tougher penalties do not deter crime. Evidence suggests they increase reoffending and recidivism by 3%.
Furthermore, as one of my colleagues stated, the law of unintended consequences kicks in, with increased prison populations, an increased aboriginal population in prison, increased prison costs for taxpayers, and decreased spending on other aspects of the justice system, the net effect being no improvement to ensuring safer streets and safer communities.
Saskatchewan's justice minister has voiced his concern that the Conservative measures will result in yet an even higher percentage of aboriginal people in jail. Saskatchewan has worked hard to address this issue. The concern is a reality. The Library of Parliament has noted that Australian studies have shown that mandatory minimums have a disproportionate effect on aboriginal offenders.
The 2003 study by the Northern Territory of Australia showed that 73% of all people subject to certain mandatory terms were indigenous. This study concluded that “the length of the minimum sentence was not an effective deterrent for the population known to have been subject to mandatory sentencing” and that “available data suggests that sentencing policy does not measurably influence levels” of crime. In fact, Australia went as far as to repeal this legislation in 2001.
There are more concerns than the major issue of disproportionate impact that these laws will have on aboriginals.
There are concerns about wrongful conviction through plea bargaining, because some accused individuals may have a fear of being faced with a justice system unfamiliar to them.
There are concerns about an added stress for an already overcrowded and under-resourced legal aid system.
Finally, there is the grim spectre of individuals being hauled to an overcrowded prison that is bursting at the seams with lifelong criminals and thinly stretched correctional service officers.
Saskatchewan's justice minister has called the Conservative approach “not focused or strategic”. He summed up his feelings by saying, “I don't think any of this has been thought out”.
If the federal justice minister were truly interested in dealing with crime and particularly the terrible toll it has taken on aboriginal people, he would do well to reference the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and any number of the over three dozen judicial inquiries, commissions and reports that have been completed over the last two decades. They have all arrived at the same conclusions: focus on the root causes; focus on restorative and rehabilitative measures; and empower aboriginal communities to deal with their own justice issues.
A way to ensure that we can respond to this challenge is to empower aboriginal communities to deal with justice issues at their level. For example, there is the MKO model in northern Manitoba. Aboriginal communities can adapt policies and strategies to build a justice system within the principles and procedures of the existing Canadian system. Aboriginal people have not had experience dealing with the justice system. Rather, they have experienced dealings with the legal system, focusing on punishment and no restorative and preventive resources.
The Conservative government moved further toward a one size fits all approach and “father knows best” attitude that has been the case far too often. Aboriginal communities must be allowed to develop a justice system that respects their culture and history, encourages healing and erases the victimization and exclusion that has occurred for so many years.
Mr. Chartrand, the head of the aboriginal governance program at U of W, whom I quoted earlier, had another suggestion for the government to combat this tragedy: it should rethink its Kelowna accord commitments. When the government heard these numbers of victimization and incarceration, it dismissed the Kelowna accord yet again and said that the government will commit more money and set its own course. The government just does not get it.
Were my people clamouring for the Conservatives to renegotiate Kelowna? I have not heard one word of that. As a matter of fact, we have heard outcries for the government to move forward, but we should not be surprised that the government has taken these actions. Bill C-10 and Bill C-9 unfairly target aboriginal people.
Let us look at the record. On child care, there is no provision for aboriginal child care or early learning. On taxation, there is increased income tax for those with the lowest incomes, which is the case for most aboriginal people. As for health wait times, aboriginal people cannot even get access to primary health care. On accountability, Bill C-2 promotes the stereotype that first nations are not accountable. On safer streets, we see the evidence that this will increase incarceration rates for aboriginal people and will provide no support for preventive measures.
I call upon the government to live up to our reputation as a just society.