Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-10,
the government's so-called Safe Streets and Communities Act.
Today, I will address the impact of this piece of
legislation on our Aboriginal Peoples.
It is the dream of every Aboriginal child to live and
grow up on safe streets and in safe communities, but this
bill does little to make that a reality in Canada's
Aboriginal communities. It is imperative that we examine
Bill C-10 in the context of the Aboriginal population, since
they will be most affected.
The staggering overrepresentation of Aboriginals in the
Canadian prison system has been well chronicled and reported
over the last several years, by both the Auditor General and
the Office of the Correctional Investigator. Aboriginal
people comprise less than 4 per cent of the Canadian
population, but they represent 20 per cent of the total
federal prison population. This overrepresentation is even
worse when we look at the Prairie provinces, where the
majority of Aboriginal Canadians live. In my home province
of Saskatchewan, Aboriginals make up about 14 per cent of
the population, but they represent about 57 per cent of the
provincially incarcerated population. Study after study
suggests that the underlying historical, social and economic
issues plaguing Aboriginal communities are the root causes
for this overrepresentation. Yet, the government's only
answer seems to be to lock them up, fail to offer the
necessary rehabilitation and mental health services and
throw away the key.
Bill C-10 only exacerbates the current situation for
Aboriginals in prison, and goes completely against the trend
of recognition and reconciliation that the criminal justice
system has tried to adopt. The Supreme Court of Canada, with
their decision in Gladue, tried to address the need for the
criminal justice system to give particular attention to the
circumstances of Aboriginal offenders, given their social
history, and to consider all other available sanctions other
than imprisonment. Changes to the Criminal Code and the
Youth Criminal Justice Act were made to bring into
consideration some cultural and historical sensitivity when
it came to sentencing Aboriginal offenders. As the Ontario
Court of Appeals wrote in their recent 2011 decision in
R. v. Collins, it must be made clear that this approach
. . . is not about shifting blame or failing to take
responsibility; it is recognition of the devastating
impact that Canada's treatment of its Aboriginal
population has wreaked on members of that society.
However, as successive reports by the Office of the
Correctional Investigator have noted, these traditional
Aboriginal justice programs are not widely accessible to the
incarcerated Aboriginal population. We are left with greater
overrepresentation and little help for the underlying causes
of criminal behaviour.
What is neglected by this Conservative government and
this piece of legislation, is the historical and cyclical
nature of incarceration on the Aboriginal population,
especially as it affects Aboriginal women and girls.
This is an important segment of the Aboriginal population
to focus on because the proportion of Aboriginal women and
girls in custody has continued to steadily increase since
1997. The numbers are truly astounding. In the case of women
offenders, 33 per cent of the total inmate population under
federal jurisdiction are Aboriginal. This number jumps to 87
per cent for the female Aboriginal population incarcerated
When we look at the cyclical nature of Aboriginal
incarceration and these staggering numbers, it should come
as no surprise that a significant number of Aboriginal women
in prison today had parents or relatives who had also been
incarcerated. It is a problem that has deep roots in
The Native Women's Association of Canada has produced a
significant report entitled Arrest the Legacy: From
Residential Schools to Prisons that highlights the
criminalization of Aboriginal women that stems from the
decades of intergenerational trauma caused by the legacy of
colonial policies, namely the policy of residential schools.
This legacy has led to years of physical and sexual abuse,
discrimination, alcohol and drug addictions, and other
mental health problems. These conditions render Aboriginal
women and girls vulnerable to criminalization.
Honourable senators, most incarcerated Aboriginal women,
according to the Elizabeth Fry Society, are in prison due to
crimes associated with maintaining an alcohol and/or drug
addiction. They have been charged with economic crimes such
as theft, fraud and prostitution.
In the new provisions of Bill C-10, the government has
decided to bring mandatory minimum sentences into the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This will eliminate the
opportunity for judges to apply subsection 718.2(e)
of the Criminal Code, which allows for the application of
principles and policies to Aboriginal offenders. Judges will
no longer be able to use their discretion with Aboriginal
offenders by sentencing them to culturally relevant programs
instead of incarceration in prison. With Bill C-10, it is a
mandatory minimum and, in reality, nothing else. While a
judge may sentence an offender to a drug treatment facility
or a drug court, there are no drug courts in the North and
serious delays already exist in getting into the few drug
treatment programs currently available. Bill C-10 will make
Many of these programs that try to deal with the
addiction problems will not be made readily available to the
incarcerated Aboriginal population, especially since they
are located in cities far from reserve communities. In
addition, Bill C-10 makes no additional exception for judges
to sentence Aboriginal offenders to Aboriginal justice
courts, such as the Gladue court in Toronto, to avoid the
mandatory minimum sentence. Under Bill C-10, Aboriginal
women offenders will find themselves with no access to any
alternative sentence that incorporates Aboriginal justice
principles and they will have a very difficult time
accessing the drug and mental health treatment that they
need. They need this far more than they need to be locked up
in a prison.
Honourable senators, two thirds of Aboriginal women in
prison are mothers and many are the sole parent of their
dependent children. While programs for incarcerated women to
maintain contact with their children are limited,
conditional sentences allow the judge flexibility in
sentencing to allow single mothers to continue working while
serving their sentence, or ensure that those with underlying
mental health needs gets the community treatment that best
ensures their recovery and rehabilitation. This prevents
breakdowns of families and addresses the underlying issues
of Aboriginal criminal activity. However, Bill C-10
eliminates this type of conditional sentencing. By replacing
conditional sentencing for Aboriginal mothers with mandatory
minimums, mothers will be incarcerated longer with no
recourse to maintain the relationship with their children.
Aboriginal children whose only parent is in prison will
most likely be lost to the foster care system. In addition,
the inclusion of nonviolent crimes — such as theft over
$5,000 — in the list of offences ineligible for conditional
sentences targets these Aboriginal women. As I stated
earlier, the large majority of Aboriginal women are in
custody due to economic crimes.
This becomes a salient point when we look at the
incarceration rate of Aboriginal girls. Between 2008 and
2009, Aboriginal female youth comprised 6 per cent of the
Canadian female population, but accounted for 44 per cent of
female youth in custody. Of the Aboriginal girls who are
incarcerated, a staggering 81 per cent had been in foster
care at some point. If we were to reflect upon my earlier
point of how Bill C-10's mandatory minimums and elimination
of conditional sentencing affects Aboriginal mothers, we can
clearly see this cycle of incarceration on the Aboriginal
population. Furthermore, we can specifically see how Bill
C-10 makes the problems worse.
For example, consider this: The mother becomes
incarcerated. She has no options while incarcerated to
access culturally relevant programming and/or mental health
treatment. She is not afforded the opportunity of a
conditional sentence to allow her to maintain her
relationship with her daughter. The daughter is placed in
foster care and is also more likely to commit a crime and
end up in custody. It is a heart-breaking cycle; mother and
daughter, constantly in and out of the prison system.
Honourable senators, I will take a moment to talk about
different models of justice and I would like to refer you to
the material in Arrest the Legacy: From Residential
Schools to Prisons because there are completely
different justice systems within our mainstream society and
within Aboriginal communities. Years ago I read book
entitled Dancing with a Ghost, written by Rupert
Ross, a judge who travelled in Northern Ontario to hold
Aboriginal court. He wrote this book as a consequence of his
experience because he could not understand the community. He
did not understand why sentencing someone to prison did not
satisfy that community.
I take this information from the Native Women's
Association of Canada. In our mainstream community, crime is
individualized. In the mainstream community the penalties
are prescribed by the state and it limits who can
participate in the process and solutions. That is how our
mainstream judicial system works.
In the Aboriginal justice system, however, we encourage
communities to assume responsibility for what is happening
to their young people and to come together with the common
purpose of identifying a solution that meets everyone's
needs: the person who is being charged, the victim and the
whole community. In these communities they recognize that
the offender has to come back and live with their family and
the community. We cannot just punish the offender. We must
rehabilitate, because if the offender is not rehabilitated,
he or she will come back and repeat the same sort of
offences, unless they learn how to live within a community
by the community's rules.
Within the mainstream community, what we talk about here
is primarily legalistic. It excludes many people impacted by
the crime by extension, such as the families. The victim is
fairly marginalized in the process and we have heard that
before. The victims of crime are often left out of the
process. However, in Aboriginal justice systems, ceremony
and prayer are part of the process. The process includes
defining who is impacted by the crime so that it is larger
and it includes all the people affected by the process in
finding solutions. It focuses on the victim and also on
communal rights and responsibilities. Both the victim and
the offender feel a sense of justice has been accomplished
in the resolution. It addresses it much more holistically.
Honourable senators, Aboriginal girls, as well as boys,
deserve to grow up on safe streets in safe communities. They
also deserve to go to school and graduate.
On a final note, honourable senators, I would like to
focus on the importance of education in addressing the issue
of the overrepresentation of Aboriginals in prison.
It should come as no surprise that close to half of the
Aboriginal youth in custody had dropped out of school prior
to their first offence, but what is truly interesting and
should be on the forefronts of policy-makers' minds is that
education has a significant impact on Aboriginal
incarceration rates. According to Statistics Canada, in
Saskatchewan the incarceration rate among Aboriginal young
adults with a high school education was four times lower
than among those without a high school diploma. We need to
invest in Aboriginal youth and make sure they graduate from
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Dyck: There is a direct correlation
between having a high school diploma and lower incarceration
rates for Aboriginals.
As honourable senators know, education for on-reserve
Aboriginal students has been chronically underfunded for
decades. Aboriginals have the highest high school dropout
rate, at 34 per cent, across our country, this wonderful
country of Canada. In Saskatchewan, the rate is 49 per cent;
half of Aboriginals do not get their high school diplomas.
This government fails to recognize the facts right in
front of them. Instead, their priority piece of legislation
is to get tough on crime rather than get smart about
education. Their crime agenda will cost anywhere from $9
billion to $19 billion and will push more Aboriginals into
custody and hold them there longer, with no plan to provide
them with the necessary culturally relevant and successful
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I
regret to inform the Honourable Senator Dyck that her 15
minutes is up. Would she like to ask the chamber for more
Senator Dyck: Yes. I need about one minute.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore:
Five minutes is granted.
Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, I do not
support the passage of Bill C-10. I believe that the impact
of this legislation on our Aboriginal peoples would make it
far worse for them.
To conclude, as the police chief of Saskatoon, Clive
Weighill, stated, "Until we can change the social
contributors to crime, we're not going to see big decreases"
in crime rates. The facts cannot be any clearer; the
solution is not Bill C-10.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore:
Would the Honourable Senator Dyck accept a question?
Senator Dyck: Yes.
Hon. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu: Honourable senators,
Senator Dyck said that it would cost $17 billion to
implement Bill C-10. Could the senator tell us where she got
that figure? If she got it from the analysis carried out by
the IRIS research institute, could she tell us whether she
read this analysis?
Senator Dyck: I believe I said this could cost
anywhere from $9 billion to $19 billion, although $17
billion falls in the middle. I do not have my references in
front of me, but I can get the honourable senator the source
Senator Boisvenu: I would very much appreciate
that. The honourable senator will understand that an amount
that high is misleading. I would appreciate having the
document in question.
Senator Dyck: If I may, the cost is not the
significant factor here. The main issue here is the impact
of this bill on Aboriginal women and girls, on Aboriginal
people as a whole.