Canada’s federal prisons are disproportionately classifying Indigenous prisoners as “high risk” despite a lack of evidence, according to a new audit that highlights the broad problems in the country’s correctional system.
The report by Auditor General Michael Ferguson paints a foreboding picture of how Correctional Service Canada treats Indigenous prisoners, who remain disproportionately incarcerated and held in stricter conditions, while the agency reduces its training on Indigenous issues.The report comes a year after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on the federal government to end the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in custody over the next decade.
There is a wide discrepancy between which facilities Indigenous inmates are sent to, compared to non-Indigenous offenders.
The audit found that 16 percent of Indigenous offenders were classified as high risk, compared to just 11 percent of non-Indigenous inmates. Most Indigenous prisoners, 61 percent, are deemed medium-risk, a label reserved for just 47 percent of the rest of the population. Those Indigenous inmates in the higher-security facilities have less access to traditional and spiritual services.Just 23 percent of Indigenous offenders are labelled low-risk, while 42 percent of non-Indigenous inmates receive the same classification. Auditors traced the problem to a blunt risk-rating scale, due in part because provincial and territorial courts are taking months to send relevant documents.
Intake officers are supposed to consult police reports, judge’s comments and Gladue reports — which assesses how an Aboriginal offender was shaped by residential schools and intergenerational trauma. But a study of 45 case files showed that just four included Gladue reports, and nine included judge’s comments.
“The timely release of offenders on parole has a direct bearing on public safety. It could also hinder their successful reintegration into the community.”
Most prisoners are required to undergo rehabilitative programming prior to their release. While delays persist in the prison system in general, Indigenous-specific programming has an average backlog of five months.
These delays, caused mostly by chronic under-staffing, often thwart prisoners’ chances at getting parole. In the audit, which covered the most recent fiscal year, 83 percent of Indigenous inmates had their parole hearings delayed, almost always because they were still undergoing the programming they would need to be released.
As a result, rather than receiving a parole evaluation within the first third of their sentence, Indigenous prisoners are often serving twice as long before getting a chance at day passes or early parole.
Under Canadian law, about half of prisoners are eligible for early release before they finish two-thirds of their sentence. But that process is afforded much less frequency to Indigenous inmates, with nearly seven-in-ten waiting until a statutory release, which takes place after setwo-thirds of their sentence.
The audit also found that most Indigenous prisoners who were granted early release were discharged directly from medium- or maximum-security facilities. The auditors warn that abrupt releases lead to higher rates of reoffending. “The timely release of offenders on parole has a direct bearing on public safety,” they note. “It could also hinder their successful reintegration into the community.”
A possible solution raised by the audit could be to assess inmates down to lower-security prisons prior to their release. Correctional Service Canada has sharply cut Indigenous social history from its training. In 2013, parole officers received two full days of training on Aboriginal social history — now they get just six hours.
Meanwhile, Indigenous prisoners struggle to get culturally relevant programming, such as meetings with elders, healing lodges, and counselling. Those lodges, which are spaces where Indigenous people can live and have access to traditional and spiritual programs and can undergo skills training, are only available for men in minimum security facilities, and for women in minimum- and medium-security prisons. That means the vast majority of Indigenous inmates have no access to these facilities, even though Correctional Services Canada have found that inmates who have lived in these lodges have a lower recidivism rate than the average offender.
The government will respond to the audit Tuesday afternoon. The audit’s findings echo an annual report published earlier this year by prison ombudsman Howard Sapers, who slams the government for making “little discernible or meaningful progress in narrowing the gap in key areas and outcomes that matter to Aboriginal offenders and Canadians.”
Tuesday’s audit covered April 2013 to August 2016, and only looked at prisons operated by Correctional Service Canada. Prisoners often serve sentences of two years or less at provincial jails.
Research published this week by Nature has confirmed Australia’s aboriginal people are the Earth’s most ancient civilization. “A Genomic History of Aboriginal Australia” is a world-first genomic study that helps reveal how ancestors of today’s aboriginals reached what is now Australia about 58,000 years ago.
Led by Professor Eske Willerslev from the University of Cambridge, the study was co-authored by elders from indigenous communities around Australia. The team was able to sequence the genome of 83 aboriginal people, as well as 25 Papuans from the New Guinea highlands. Researchers collected saliva from widely dispersed geographic and linguistic groups to retrieve the DNA. Previously, only three aboriginal Australian genomes had been sequenced.
Prior to this study being published, some scientists had debated whether or not modern aboriginals are the descendants of ancient tribes who first populated Australia. This research, the most comprehensive genomic study of indigenous Australians to date, also helps to confirm that all humans share the same common ancestors from a single African migration event.
That event occurred when both Papuan and Aboriginal ancestors left Africa as part of a larger group of migrants around 72,000 years ago, then split with that main group of early humans about 58,000 years ago. Probably the first group of humans to cross an ocean, they reached “Sahul”—the supercontinent that was made up of modern day Tasmania, Australia, and New Guinea together—and then split apart about 37,000 years ago. The supercontinent only split up around 8,000 years ago.
“Australia has one of the longest histories of continuous human occupation outside Africa, raising questions of origins, relatedness to other populations, differentiation, and adaptation,” the study concludes. “We find that Aboriginal Australians and Eurasians share genomic signatures… a common African ancestor.”
As the research also shows, aboriginal civilizations have lived in Australia for so long that they’ve been able to adapt biologically to its environment. This means that groups living in different parts of the country adapted in different ways according to weather conditions. Because they were so geographically isolated from one another—Australia’s landmass being particularly vast—genetic diversity between different tribal groups is huge. Aboriginal Australians living in desert regions, for example, were able to withstand sub-zero night temperatures without increasing their metabolic rates. Europeans can’t do this.
The publication of the research about human migration comes at a poignant time, with government immigration policy making headlines in Australia and around the world. Yesterday, Essential Research published the finding that 49 percent of Australianssupport a ban on Muslim immigration.
So if you’re afraid of immigrants, perhaps consider this—you’re a fairly recent arrival on land owned by the oldest-living civilization on earth.
Crime in Canada increased for the first time in 12 years, and, for the most part, it’s all thanks to Alberta, according to new data.
Statistics Canada reported that there was an 18 percent jump in the province’s crime severity index (CSI), which determines the volume and severity of police-reported crime. Canada’s overall CSI saw a five percent increase from 2014 to 2015.
This spike in Albertan crime has be attributed to many factors, such as the economic downturn due to falling oil prices and a rise of drug-related crime.
Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht told reporters this week that he wasn’t surprised about the increase.
“We kind of anticipated this. We know property crimes continue to go up again this year – that’s driving it. The big driver is break and enters, thefts from vehicles and thefts of vehicles… and it continues to cascade into 2016,” he said.
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He said that there isn’t much they can do about it because of the state of their economy, and urges Albertans to lock their cars (thanks, dude.) Beside property crime, violent crime in Alberta has not seen as much of an increase.
“The other violent crimes, other than homicides, are down right now,” Knecht said. “[The rates] are just trending evenly over the past five years.”
Last year’s rise in fentanyl usage can also be considered when looking at Alberta’s rising crime rates. StatsCan reported an national increase in drug-related offences—other than marijuana—in 2015. Crime involving fentanyl increased by six percent. Last year, there were almost 300 fentanyl overdoses in Alberta alone.
Other provinces that saw an increase in crime last year include Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia.
In recent months, we’ve seen a surge in public displays of affection for TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline. According to such fanboys/fangirls (a long list including Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, the entire Conservative caucus and Rick fucking Mercer), the 1.1 million barrel/day project would create jobs, generate sweet, sweet export dollars and lessen Canada’s dependency on foreign energy sources. It’s a “nation-building” project, we’re told, one compared by TransCanada’s CEO to the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 19th century (a pretty tone-deaf comparison given the CPR was built with slave labour and helped trigger the North-West Rebellion).
None of those arguments matter in the slightest. That is, if Canadians want to pretend to care about recognizing the legitimate sovereignty of Indigenous peoples.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to implement all 94 recommendations contained within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, both of which emphasize the implementation of “free, prior and informed consent” and rejection of the “terra nullius” principle (the bullshit theological argument used to justify settler-colonialism which allowed the federal government to claim “ownership” over Canada’s lands). JT has specifically described Indigenous rights as “not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation.”
But many First Nations and treaty organizations across the country ardently oppose pipelines. Court cases are piling up and Indigenous groups are winning lots of them. In December, Kanesatake – where the legendary Oka Crisis of 1990 happened – pulled out of the review process for Energy East along with another nearby Mohawk community. Many other First Nations and treaty organizations have called for delays or a full halting of the process.
So the fact that politicians and corporate execs continue overtly and implicitly advocating for the completion of Energy East and other pipelines like Kinder Morgan and the Northern Gateway in the midst of such overwhelming dissent serves as a slap in the face to Indigenous peoples, especially when the same people use language like “nation-to-nation” and “reconciliation” on the regular.
Clayton Thomas-Muller, the Stop It at the Source campaigner for 350.org and member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, emphasizes it’s not the fault of the 634 First Nations that the “settler-colonial state of Canada” chose to agree to “nation-to-nation” relationships with them (the latter referring to the concept of two nations coming to the table with equal rights and recognition of each other’s sovereignty).
“That’s something that Trudeau and the federal government of Canada, and of course the provincial governments who hold jurisdiction over natural resources, need to figure out,” he told VICE. “And they need to provide Indigenous peoples with adequate resources to meaningfully engage their populations to make sure they’re informed without any meddling of corporate or government entities to be able to effectively say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a project. I think there’s a lot of coercion, a lot of economic blackmail and exploitation of the socioeconomic crisis by both the state of Canada and by the corporations they’re working in collusion with.”
It’s technically the job of the Crown to consult with Indigenous peoples, but part of that duty has been delegated to the National Energy Board (NEB), a federal tribunal responsible for the regulation of interprovincial and international oil and gas pipelines. It’s a controversial approach that the Supreme Court of Canada will continue to mud-wrestle with in future years. Individual First Nations may receive benefits such as revenue sharing, guaranteed jobs and the reclamation of damaged lands. A system exists. But it’s horrendously flawed in the eyes of many.
There are good reasons. For one, the NEB has never rejected a project based on First Nations opposition. In recent years, the NEB has also been criticized for draconian rules on oral testimonies, a refusal to allow testimonies from traditional experts, cuts to participant funding (which helps First Nations pay for the pricey process, including hiring of experts and preparing of evidence and reports), abbreviated consultation windows and a failure to ensure companies are complying with conditions. Many lawsuits have been filed against the federal government and NEB by First Nations, mostly recently the joint application by Clyde River and Chippewa of the Thames approved by the Supreme Court. These are not exactly the indicators of a process that respects the rights and desires of sovereign nations.
“It’s not the fault of the NEB,” notes Eugene Kung, staff counsel for the West Coast Environmental Law’s Aboriginal and Natural Resources Law team. “They’re not set up to have those nation-to-nation conversations. They’re made of engineers and accountants who are very good at a very specific job but I don’t think that particular scope includes nation-to-nation reconciliation or some of the concerns that are much broader than an economic or technical analysis, especially when given unrealistic timelines.”
To be sure, Trudeau has indicated the NEB process will be bolstered, with three interim board members to be appointed to meet specifically with Indigenous groups. He’s also stated the federal government will consult directly with the over 150 First Nations communities impacted by Energy East after the NEB process has been completed via a single ministerial representative.
But such moves are exercises in contradictions. Trudeau recently stated that energy exports will “fund this transition to a low-carbon economy,” implying support for pipelines given his commitment to address climate change. According to the Alberta regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the prime minister’s sending “mixed signals” about the ability for First Nations to veto pipeline projects. A vice-president for a petroleum industry service provider stated after sitting in on a roundtable with Trudeau in early February that “from what he told us today, he’s in favour of pipelines because it benefits all of Canada.” Mixed signals indeed.
“There’s definitely a lot of posturing by these governments to paint that they’re moving in a different direction,” says Eriel Deranger, communications manager and member of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (one of the communities hardest hit by tarsands development). “It’s problematic because I’m not sure how they would actually achieve it unless they were willing to actually restructure the governance that has been in place for the last century-and-a-half.”
It all comes back to treaties. Many have been made with Indigenous groups over the centuries, with the most famous cluster being the 11 Numbered Treaties signed between 1871 and 1921. Debates have raged ever since then about the “true spirit and original intent” of such agreements. Indigenous elders and scholars have often argued that treaties represented a commitment to mutual respect, the sharing of land and resources and not to meddle in each other’s internal affairs.
But the Canadian state has essentially interpreted them as agreements of the surrender and extinguishment of land title, which is how Indigenous people ended up on reserves (well, that and John A. Macdonald’s sociopathic forced starvation of such peoples in order to “clear the plains” for settlement). It’s even more complicated in British Columbia, where most of the province is not subject to treaty.
But this shit gets tricky even within Indigenous circles given contested understandings of nationhood: Hayden King, director of Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University and member of Beausoleil First Nation, notes that “nation” can refer at any one time to a small community, clan, First Nation, treaty territory or an entire confederacy. Dealing with simultaneously fluid and powerful nations would be inconvenient for Canada (if sovereign, such entities would possess a formalized veto over a pipeline for whatever reason they please: they don’t like the colour, it bisects a field that’s really quite good for playing ultimate frisbee in, or maybe a spill from it would devastate traditional hunting, fishing and trapping terrain.)
Yet Canada has finally decided, at least in rhetoric, to “reconcile” with Indigenous peoples. King notes that so far, that’s just looked like many “politically convenient” meetings between Trudeau and AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde, who Thomas-Muller nicknames “Pipeline Perry.” Something’s gotta give. Yet the recent First Ministers’ Meeting, which rounded up all the premiers to chitchat about climate change and a green economy, excluded any Indigenous leaders from the actual meeting. Sunny ways but only if you’re a politician representing settlers, it seems.
“Really, when we’re talking about climate change or land and resources, it’s provinces that have that jurisdiction and First Nations need to have conversations with the provinces,” King says. “There’s no better opportunity than at a First Ministers’ meeting to have those conversations.”
But that relationship’s starting to change whether the provinces and country want it or not. Kung – who works with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, which has filed a lawsuit against the NEB and federal government over alleged lack of consultation in the NEB’s controversial Kinder Morgan review – says while it’s not a legal requirement to obtain consent from First Nations, it’s turning into a very practical need: “Across the board, the lack of that consent represents very real legal and financial risk.”
In other words, veto power is already effectively in place given recent successes in the courts, although it would help all parties involved if there was more certainly about the rules of engagement. But such efforts cost First Nations in legal fees, money which could otherwise be used to house their communities, provide clean water and fund health services. Plus, there’s the salt in the wound of having to sue the nation you signed a treaty with in order to be respected (but that’s a whole different story).
Meanwhile, grassroots activism continues building. Judy DaSilva, a member of the Grassy Narrows First Nation (near Kenora, Ont.) and veteran activist, was served an injunction by CN in April 2015 for holding an Anishinaabe water ceremony next to the railway lines passing through her home nation owned by CN. She’s also helped organize a blockade against forestry activity in Grassy Narrows since 2002 and has been an outspoken advocate about mercury contamination. Now, DaSilva’s gearing up for another fight, this time against Energy East: on March 19, she’s hosting another water ceremony adjacent to a pipeline that runs close to her grandfather’s gravesite and residential school site where many children are buried.
It’s a battle that Thomas-Muller has great confidence that Indigenous people will win: “We’re still in a bit of the honeymoon period but it’s becoming very, very clear that Prime Minister Trudeau and the establishment, along with the centrist Indigenous chiefs’ organizations, are continuing to try to push business as usual,” he concludes.
“I think the difference between before and now is that there’s a powerful, bonafide climate justice movement in this country led by First Nations people that is standing in the way of their pipeline dreams.”
A mass of New Yorkers gathered in Columbus Circle near the southwest corner of Central Park yesterday at noon to collectively share their contempt for Donald Trump, the man who may very well become the first Republican presidential nominee to have previously branded both steak and cologne.
At around 2 PM, a handful of Trump supporters stood with Trump International Hotel as their backdrop just off Central Park West. A few police officers stood between them and their rivals as they chanted “Build the Wall!”As more rally-goers began to hear these Trumpers, they swarmed the scene. Curses were thrown, accusations of racism were made, and birds were flipped. Eventually the police escorted the pro-Trump crowd away for their own safety. From there, the protest marched briefly through Central Park toward the Trump Tower at the corner of 56th Street and 5th Avenue.
As a new parliamentary report recommends that few restrictions, not even the need to have a terminal illness, be placed on Canadians’ ability to access doctor-assisted suicide, the report also says that assisted death should be available to those with mental illnesses or psychiatric conditions.
Initially, this report recommends that parliamentarians consider allowing minors to have access to assisted-death after a three-year period in which only adults are allowed to access it.
“Suffering is suffering, regardless of age and that there is a risk that the provisions may be challenged on the basis of section 15 of the Charter (equality rights) if minors are excluded,” says the report.The 21 recommendations, released Thursday, come from a 16-member parliamentary committee as Justin Trudeau’s government looks into new legislation for assisted death after last year’s Supreme Court ruling.
Yet given the politics, not everyone on the committee agreed with the report. Four Conservatives even wrote a dissenting opinion, saying not enough safeguards were being put in place. As the report lays out general guidelines for who can access assisted death and how it should be granted, it basically says anyone with an illness that causes enduring suffering and with the ability to provide informed consent should have the ability to access doctor-assisted death, the report says. Essentially, it also suggests two doctors need to independently sign off on a patient’s death request and that the request should be witnessed by two people who don’t have a conflict of interest.
The good thing is that the report says that doctors should be allowed to object to the practice as long as they can recommend the patient to another physician.