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Disproportionality of Indigenous People in Incarceration

June 21, 2023

My question is also for Senator Gold.

Senator Gold, on this day — National Indigenous Peoples Day — we reflect on the legacy of colonization and celebrate the incredible accomplishments of Indigenous peoples. I recognize the reality, as I stand here, that Indigenous men are one in three in federal prisons, Indigenous women are one in two in federal prisons and 95% of those segregated in structured intervention units. We know that the significantly high numbers of youth mean these numbers will continue to increase.

I cannot help but ask how the government is planning to address the mass incarceration and overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples at every stage and negative component of the criminal legal system such that we can hope it will eventually be a just system.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ - ]

Thank you for the question, senator. This is a real problem, as you and many others have pointed out and quite properly so. There are approximately 12,400 inmates in federal custody currently in the Correctional Service of Canada, of which 32% are Indigenous.

This government has taken many steps in many areas to address the historical injustices and the intergenerational consequences to individual families and their communities.

This morning, I was pleased to be present at the refreshing and raising of the Survivors’ Flag, surrounded by Indigenous leaders, senators, colleagues from here and from the other place. With that and many other measures, this government is committed to accompanying us and leading us, in some respects, on the path to reconciliation.

It’s impossible to look into the future with any certainty, but the Government of Canada continues to support and create initiatives to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous men and women, Black and racialized people in Canada’s criminal justice system, and they will continue to do so.

Thank you for that. I agree there has been a lot of discussion, a lot of good intentions around this. I just left a meeting with Indigenous leaders. Their appropriate, concrete question is this: By what percentage will the government commit to reduce the population of Indigenous peoples in prisons by this day next year?

Senator Gold [ - ]

Thank you for the question. I understand the question and I understand the preoccupation, but it’s impossible to know that.

First of all, the administration of justice is within the hands of the provinces and the territories. The prosecution of offences is within the hands, in large measure, of the provinces and territories. The sentencing of offenders is a matter for the judicial system. Many such cases go before provincially constituted courts, not superior courts under federal jurisdiction. Policing is, in large measure, a local matter.

The Government of Canada is taking a leadership role; it’s doing its part. It’s just impossible to set a percentage, but what the government can do, should do and is doing is taking concrete steps, whether in law reform or in bills we’ve passed to reduce but not entirely eliminate mandatory penalties; to provide alternatives to incarceration; to provide assistance to the provinces and territories so that the social service networks are more robust and better able to play their role; and to support Indigenous policing. The list goes on.

No one measure is a panacea or a silver bullet. In the aggregate, let us hope and commit ourselves to ensure that they will make a difference.

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