Mr. Speaker, I do not appreciate the caustic comments coming back at my request for consideration.
This policy shift to jail everyone contradicts testimony by experts and the sound recommendations from countless national reviews on how to reduce the number of aboriginals committing crimes or who are the victims of crime. While only 3% of Canadians are aboriginal, they constitute 22% of the prison populations, nine times the national average. In 2008, one in four people identifying as aboriginal was in provincial or territorial sentence custody. In Nunavut, prisons are so crowded prisoners are sent away from the community to serve their sentences. They are dislocated from any community support. The long-standing housing shortage in Nunavut may soon be perversely solved through expanded jails.
Yet only 2% of the federal prison budget is spent on aboriginal programs. While the Canadian Human Rights Commission decries the government's failure to offer rehabilitation for aboriginal inmates, the government continues to cut effective programs, including prison farms and healing circles.
National Chief Shawn Atleo has told us that aboriginal high school students are more likely to be incarcerated than to graduate. Aboriginal youth face a 14% unemployment rate. Aboriginal women suffer more than twice the rate of unemployment than non-aboriginal Canadians.
The Samson Cree first nation faces an unemployment rate of 53%, high levels of substance abuse, marked increase in gang activity, and among the highest rates of incarceration per population of any first nation in this country.
A task force of first nations, RCMP and government agencies examined the root causes and recommended a number of measures. At the top of the list was a youth centre to stream vulnerable youth away from the incubating of gangs, yet they were told the government does not fund recreation centres for aboriginals.
Aboriginal women make up a whopping one-third of women in custody. Federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers has reported systemic discrimination against aboriginal women prisoners. He has reported that they do not receive timely access to rehabilitation programs which hinders their community integration. Given the percentage of women imprisoned, that is likely having a significant impact on aboriginal communities.
Anyone who commits a crime must face justice, but is it not equally important to take action to prevent involvement in criminal activities?
As the majority of prisoners are released back into the community, and as the intended result of this legislation is to imprison more people, is it not important that greater attention be given to rehabilitation programming? Is that not important to reduce the risk of reoffending and thus reduce more victims of crime? Instead of building more jails, why not invest more in education and job creation for aboriginal Canadians?
Aboriginal people are also victims of crime and deserve informed, effective strategies to protect their communities and their streets.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2009, 37% of aboriginals age 15 or older in the provinces have suffered violent victimization compared to only 26% among non-aboriginals. Twelve per cent of aboriginal people have been victims of violent crime compared to 5% of other Canadians. In 2009, 67,000 or 13% of aboriginal women reported being a victim of one or more violent crimes. The number of aboriginal women reporting incidents of spousal violence was two times more than non-aboriginal women. The number of missing and murdered aboriginal women continues to rise.
In assuming the portfolio as aboriginal affairs and northern development critic for my party, I have taken the time to review reports by the Auditor General. Sixteen reports over two decades have raised significant issues regarding the federal response to rising aboriginal health, housing, education and employment disparities. Aboriginal affairs reports that aboriginal people are four times more likely to live in crowded dwellings and in poor conditions.
Sheila Fraser advised that she was profoundly disappointed to note that despite federal action in response to her recommendations, a disproportionate number of first nations people still lacked the most basic services that other Canadians take for granted. In her words, “In a country as rich as Canada, this disparity is unacceptable”. She called for action on structural impediments to services. Nowhere in her report does she call for the construction of yet more prisons to address this disparity.
The government has committed, under the Canada-First Nations Joint Action Plan, to address disparities in education, jobs and governance. It is unclear whether similar commitments will be extended to Inuit and Métis Canadians. The question to ask is, what new fiscal commitments are being made to deliver on these promises?
The government has yet to table in the House the projected costs of the prison expansions needed under Bill C-10. It has also not yet revealed if there will be cuts to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. In the last budget the government cut support for the healing centres. As many provinces are facing significant deficits, the downloading of prison expansion costs will have implications for their programs, such as for addictions and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Alberta already has faced public displeasure over the decision to cut its restorative justice program. Municipalities are begging for support for housing. Sadly, a good percentage of the Edmonton murders recently are related to mental health and homelessness. One victim was murdered as he slept on a bench. He was slated to move into his first home the next day after 20 years of living on the street.
The situation in which far too many aboriginals find themselves growing up fosters criminal activity and abuse. Why not respond to the myriad commission reports calling for increased investments in housing, in youth programs, in schools, and addictions counselling, and reduce the probability of yet more victims of crime? Why not invest in programs that may provide a ray of hope instead of legislation and policies that merely entrench despair?
The Auditor General and many others have offered constructive measures. It is time for the government to respond.