1st Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 148, Issue 147

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Public Safety

Aboriginal Justice Strategy

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

According to the Correctional Investigator’s recent report, Spirit Matters, Aboriginal offenders account for 22 per cent of Canada’s incarcerated population, while they make up 2 per cent of the Canadian population. The situation of Aboriginal female offenders is even more concerning. Aboriginal women account for 32 per cent of all federally incarcerated women, representing an increase of 86 per cent over the last decade.

More than 20 years ago, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act came into force. The act, to borrow the Correctional Investigator’s description, contains provisions to enhance Aboriginal community involvement in corrections and to address chronic overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in federal corrections.

I ask the leader: What will the government do in reaction to the investigator’s report as to the situation that exists for Aboriginal people in prison?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, the government is well aware of the report and has invested in programs through various departments to assist inmates, especially women, who find themselves incarcerated. There is a long list of programs that I would be happy to provide by written response.

Senator Jaffer: I have a supplementary question. The Correctional Investigator’s report also found substantial funding discrepancies between section 81 healing lodges operated by Aboriginal communities and Correctional Service of Canada facilities. The Correctional Investigator estimates that Aboriginal communities are getting about 60 cents on the dollar to operate their healing lodges compared to those operated by the Correctional Service of Canada. There are 68 beds in four Aboriginal community healing lodges across Canada. These faith facilities can only accommodate 2 per cent of the federally sentenced Aboriginal offenders. What will the government do to negotiate permanent, realistic and at-parity funding levels for existing and future Aboriginal community healing lodges and to significantly increase the number of bed spaces available in those healing lodges?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, with regard to Aboriginals in prison, of course, like any segment of the population, any decision with respect to the guilt or innocence of an individual is made by the justice system. Through the justice system, decisions are made with regard to their incarceration based on the evidence before the courts.

The government has provided significant resources, honourable senators, to the Aboriginal Justice Strategy, which enables Aboriginal communities to have increased involvement in the local administration of justice. We provide funding through the Aboriginal Courtwork Program, which ensures fair and equitable treatment for Aboriginals charged with offences. We have taken a balanced approach, which includes prevention, such as investing in the Northern and Aboriginal Crime Prevention Fund, the Youth Gang Prevention Fund, the National Anti-Drug Strategy and the National Crime Prevention Strategy.

With regard to the specific question about healing lodges, I do not have information in order to respond, so I will take the question as notice.

 

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