Criminal justice & the prison industry……

……IN THE NEWS #1.

Kitten Keyes, an Indigenous woman, was forced to sleep on a floor for 21 straight days.  And this while she was in the care of Canada’s federal government. 

Kitten Keyes uses a wheelchair and was an inmate at the Grand Valley Institution.  Her wheelchair wouldn’t fit through the door into her cell. She couldn’t reach her bed and she couldn’t get to her toilet. 

What did that federal prison institution’s staff do to help her, to accommodate her disability?  Nothing.  Canada is the only country in the world whose constitution explicitly protects people with disabilities from discrimination.  More recently, our government passed the Accessible Canada Act which prohibits discrimination based on disability in all federally regulated organizations.  This Act provides the means and enforcement parameters to accomplish that purpose.

What has Correctional Service of Canada done to meet this mandate?  Well, it more often ignores the needs and human rights of inmates with physical/mental disabilities, more than half of prison populations, while spending about $5 billion a year for operations.  So, what have the powers-that-be in Ottawa who oversee the prison industry done to remedy the neglect?  You guessed it.  Nothing.

That’s one strong argument for defunding prisons.

Thankfully, Kitten Keyes has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Attorney General of Canada for the discrimination and suffering she faced as a prisoner, contrary to the government’s obligation to accommodate her disability. 

Extracted from University of Toronto law student Matthew Tran’s contribution to the Toronto Star, published on December 9, 2021.  Matthew is also a member of the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project.

How many of your tax dollars do you think our government spends each year to pay off complainants because of irresponsible conduct?

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Journalist Kristy Kirkup, writing for the Globe and Mail from Ottawa on December 18 of last year, reported that Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger deplored the “sad milestone” Canada will reach soon, where half of federally sentenced women will be Indigenous, while representing only 5% of the women in the country.  This is a human rights issue, evidence of “public policy failures over successive decades, as no government has been able to stop or reverse the trend.”

Dr. Zinger’s office reported in January of 2021 that the proportion of Indigenous men and women in prisons reached 30 per cent, an historic high, and numbers were continuing to climb.

Senator Kim Pate argues high incarceration rates for women contribute to the issues around murdered and missing Indigenous women.  Senator Yvonne Boyer notes the number “has skyrocketed” because the current approaches to reform are failing.  Senator Mobina Jaffer has drafted legislation to allow judges to exercise discretion in not imposing mandatory minimum sentences when that would result in injustices and perpetuate systemic racism.

The Toronto Star editorial on Monday, January 3 of this year, “The shame of our prisons,” was authored by Dyanoosh Youssefi, law professor and former criminal defense lawyer.

25 years ago, he wrote, the Criminal Code was amended to lower Canada’s high incarceration rate by requiring judges to consider alternatives, particularly for Indigenous offenders.  22 years ago, in R. v. Gladue, the Supreme Court called the number of Indigenous people in prison a “crisis”, and 9 years ago, the Court declared the Canadian government complicit in creating environments that lead to crime among the Indigenous population.

8 years ago, then Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers warned the rates at which Indigenous and non-Indigenous were imprisoned was widening.  7 years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked governments at all levels to “provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders and respond to the underlying causes of offending.”  But, 2 years ago, current Correctional Investigator Dr. Zinger told us incarceration rates reached a new high.

This despite the current government’s assurances that they are committed to reducing the number of Indigenous persons in prison.  “It’s almost as if there is zero political will to end this reprehensible injustice,” wrote Professor Youssefi.  “Most importantly, we must take proactive steps:  bolster education, child welfare, housing, health care, employment opportunities and cultural connections in Indigenous communities.”

What’s going on?  Whose special interests are blocking the way forward?

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The Department of Justice will say its concern for the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the system is a priority (as it is for the numbers of Black offenders in custody).  Correctional Service of Canada argues it has no jurisdiction over who is put into its care, and that it spends millions a year to accommodate its responsibility to the mandates around accessibility and the care of all offenders.

How would you measure their success?

 

 

Police & racism

…..STILL?  HOW CAN THIS BE?

Wouldn’t you think, wouldn’t we all think, that when countless people accuse public servants of wrongdoing, and substantiate those complaints with the support of the Courts and the media, wouldn’t you think there would be a non-negotiable compulsion to act?

Apparently not.

Wouldn’t you think that our elected office holders, responsible for ensuring the men and women who work under them are meeting their mandate, wouldn’t you think they would not tolerate a dilly-dally response or a flurry of window dressing from wayward public employees?

Apparently not.

There isn’t a police force in North America that hasn’t at least paid lip service in the last couple of years to demands for a review and study of race relations.  Many in policing are sincere in their intentions to find solutions to what one American pundit describes as structural racism.  The reference was to the U.S. as a whole, including law enforcement.  What persists there is jaw-dropping, but we are not dancing in a field of clover here in Canada either.

The RCMP’s reputation is far from admirable.  Police services in Quebec City and in Montreal are notorious for their treatment of minorities.  Police practices in Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Halifax are questioned.  Nowhere in this country is any sizeable police organization free of criticism in its relationship with the community.  Sir Robert Peel’s nine principles of law enforcement seem to have been abandoned in the field of operations.

A recent case in point attracting media attention is the conduct of Constable Darrell Corona, a member of the Peel Region Police Service, the third largest in Canada after Toronto and Montreal.  The Regional Municipality of Peel, about 1,250 square km in area with a population of near 1.5 million residents borders the west and northwest boundaries of Toronto and includes the cities of Mississauga and Brampton and the town of Caledon.  The population is highly diverse.  The police chief himself was born in Sri Lanka.

The Toronto Star’s “Peel cop’s gun case tossed” from last December 5 began, “For the fourth time in four years, Peel Regional Police Const. Darrell Corona has been rebuked by a judge in a case where criminal charges have been thrown out due to his interactions with a black man.”  The judge found this officer racially profiled an 18-year-old Black man, breached his “human dignity” and violated his charter rights, whereby evidence of a revolver Corona seized from the accused was tossed and the charges dismissed.  There had been three previous similar incidents where Black men were freed of charges brought by this same officer.

Peel police recently partnered with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to deal with systemic racism and discrimination in the force.  Further, the service is about to introduce a pilot project where officers will collect race-based data during traffic stops.  Will this make for change?  In any case, Constable Corona is still in uniform and that warrants comment.

December 27, 2021

Nishan Duraiappah, Chief,
Peel Regional Police Service,
Mississauga, Ontario

Re:       Constable Darrell Corona

Dear Chief Duraiappah:

For a time in the late 1980s, American media highlighted the number of charges that were dismissed by U.S. courts due to infringements or violations of a defendant’s rights and/or constitutional protections.  Press attention was drawn by the very serious nature of some of these crimes, and the apparent culpability of the accused.  A retired judge whose name I did not record at the time suggested that if all involved in bringing an accused before the courts did their jobs properly then justice would be better served.

You head one of the largest police operations in Canada, servicing among the most diverse communities in the country.  I don’t doubt you and your management team work to reflect the background of its members in the faces of families in Peel neighbourhoods.

Given that, why is Constable Darrell Corona still a member of your force?  Perhaps, as lawyer Alex Mamo told the Toronto Star; “Anti-black racism is so deeply embedded in our society, so when we see these cases of racial profiling by police officers, I think it’s just a reflection of that.”  Just as importantly, he added; “…how many times are these officers breaching peoples Charter rights, racially profiling an individual and illegally searching him and not finding anything, and nothing comes of it.”

I’ve been observing police interactions with the public since the early 1960s.

You can do better.

Where is management in all this?  Where are our elected officials in this?  Where is the executive of the police unions?  Does nobody know how to give an order?  Does nobody know what to do when orders are disobeyed?

Apparently not.

When praise is due……

…..THEN GIVE IT.

“The Liberal government tabled Bill C-22 in mid-February to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black people in the justice system.  It would repeal mandatory minimum penalties for all drug offences and some firearm offences, expand the use of conditional sentences (i.e. house arrest) for a number of crimes and allow police and prosecutors to divert drug possession charges away from the courts.”

That began “Prisons & Bill C-22” from August 1 of last year.  The government had taken years to get this before the House, only to have it die when the election was called last fall.  Advocates had much to admire and much to criticize in this proposed legislation, but it was a important first step as Justice Minister David Lametti underscored.  We joined the chorus to chastise the government and Mr. Lametti for not moving the bill through Parliament much earlier.  As Vice President Daniel Brown of Ontario’s Criminal Lawyers’ Association said at the time, “anyone watching would wonder whether or not (C-22) was a hollow promise…..”

On Tuesday, December 7 last month, Bill C-22 was revived as Bill C-5 and without any changes to add stronger or additional reforms.  Voices echoed earlier complaints that as good as this was, there was still much more that could have been done.  What’s true as well is Mr. Lametti’s “important first step” took so many years to materialize, one can only imagine when an important second step might come along. 

Kudos to all who stepped up to call out the government.  The need for noise isn’t going away any time in the foreseeable future.  But compliments are due to Mr. Lametti for doing as he said he intended to do when the election was called.

December 9, 2021

The Honourable David Lametti,
Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Re:      Bill C-22 reincarnated

Dear Minister Lametti:

Thank you for bringing Bill C-5 to the House.

As you’ve said previously, this is an “important first step”, and once C-5 becomes law, your office can look to make even greater headway with reforms to our justice system. 

I encourage you to look past the medievalists among the Conservative Members who may never learn that the prison industry they champion when given the opportunity is not a correctional system that benefits the community.  Their vision is quite simply regressive and punitive.

Best wishes in the work you have ahead.

Be grateful for progress….any progress.