……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?
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?
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?