Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the
Government in the Senate.
The state of Aboriginal women in Canada's prisons is very
troubling. It is appalling. Aboriginal women are
significantly overrepresented in Canada's prisons and they
now account for one third of all federally incarcerated
women. This number has increased by 91 per cent since 2001.
Additionally, about 80 per cent of female Aboriginal inmates
are held in maximum- to medium-security prisons, while only
about 20 per cent are in minimum-security prisons. In my
home province of Saskatchewan, which has one of the largest
provincial Aboriginal populations in Canada, Aboriginal
women make up 87 per cent of the female inmate population.
In neighbouring Manitoba, the number is 83 per cent.
To compound the problem, about 30 per cent of incarcerated
Aboriginal women are said to have mental health problems at
the time of imprisonment and cannot access treatment
programs. Of the Aboriginal women who are incarcerated, 90
per cent have been victims of sexual, physical and/or
emotional abuse. Experts agree that the proposed crime
legislation from this government will significantly increase
these numbers. More Aboriginal women will be incarcerated.
Aboriginal women are at a higher risk of reoffending because
culturally appropriate programs and services that are
mandated by Correctional Service Canada are not made
available to most Aboriginal women.
We cannot sit by and watch an already vulnerable population
continue in a cycle of offending and reoffending without the
necessary help in Aboriginal communities to reintegrate them
and in prisons nationwide to rehabilitate them.
Could the Leader of the Government in the Senate explain why
the government continues to ignore the underlying issues of
poverty, abuse, violence, homelessness and drug abuse in
Aboriginal communities that perpetuate a cycle of offenders,
and why the programs that are specifically for Aboriginal
women have not been made more widely available?
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government):
I thank the honourable senator for the question. This is, of
course, a serious concern to all people in government and
society. The number of Aboriginal women in our prison
system, of course, is high. It is a very disturbing figure.
I must report to honourable senators that it is not only
through Correctional Service Canada and the Minister of
Public Safety, but also through the Department of Indian and
Northern Affairs and Status of Women Canada, that a
significant number of programs are in place. We are working
with the Native Women's Association and a number of other
organizations to get out into the Aboriginal communities and
offer all the assistance possible to the various groups
directly affected by the many factors the honourable senator
With regard to Aboriginal women with mental health issues in
prisons, as I mentioned yesterday when I was asked a similar
question about mental health and the treatment of same, we
are continuing to take significant action on the entire
issue of mental health. We have invested more than $50
million in funding to Correctional Service Canada over the
past five years. Correctional Service Canada has increased
access to services for inmates and invested significantly in
the training and retraining of staff so that they can better
recognize and treat mental health issues.
I must point out, honourable senators, that the resources we
have provided to deal with this serious issue have only been
provided by our government; they were not in place under any
In Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, near the Nekaneet First Nation
reserve, the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge provides culturally
appropriate programs for female Aboriginal offenders. This
type of rehabilitation has been successful; however, this is
the only Aboriginal women's healing centre run through
Correctional Service Canada.
Does the government have plans to open more of these types
of centres given the effectiveness of such a program to
reduce reoffending, which of course will keep Canadian and
Aboriginal communities safer?
That is a good question. The government is always interested
in having programs that prove to be successful, such as the
one that Senator Dyck just mentioned.
Through Status of Women Canada and also the Department of
Indian and Northern Affairs, there are many programs.
Specifically with regard to women, Correctional Service
Canada, as I mentioned a moment ago, has programs in place.
However, I would be happy, honourable senators, to ask my
colleagues, the Honourable Vic Toews and the Honourable Rona
Ambrose, whether or not this very successful project is
being looked at with the possible conclusion of having other
According to the material from Correctional Service Canada,
there are plans under way to develop culturally appropriate
interventions that address the specific needs of First
Nations, Metis and Inuit men and women.
In particular, would the Leader of the Government in the
Senate provide this chamber with an update on what the
government has done to, first, develop and implement
culturally sensitive classification and assessment tools for
women; second, develop and implement culturally sensitive
programs for Aboriginal women; third, develop and implement
targeted interventions for Aboriginal women; and, fourth,
enhance the knowledge of Aboriginal women and effective
corrections for that specific population? Could we get an
update on what the government has done, what programs they
have funded and where they are?
Absolutely, honourable senators, I would be happy to ask for
updated information on the questions posed by Senator Dyck.
Hon. Sharon Carstairs:
Honourable senators, while the Honourable Leader of the
Government in the Senate is gathering that information,
would she also gather the information as to how many
incarcerated Aboriginal women received culturally sensitive
programs in the fiscal year 2010-11?
I certainly will, honourable senators. I can say one thing,
that the figure will be higher than that of the previous
That is very helpful.