Canadian natives still face prison discrimination

Canadian natives still face prison discrimination

Tue Oct 23, 2007
By Jonathan Spicer

TORONTO (Reuters) – Officials have largely ignored the findings of a hard-hitting report into the treatment of aboriginals in Canadian jails, and conditions have worsened in some areas, a federal watchdog says.

Ed McIsaac, executive director of the Office of the Correctional Investigator, said there had been no improvement in conditions for native prisoners despite last year’s damning report, which said they routinely face discrimination.

“We continue to see the same gap that we reported last year between aboriginal and non-aboriginal offenders … and in some of the areas the gap may in fact be increasing,” McIsaac told Reuters. “We have seen virtually no change in terms of the outcomes.”

Aboriginals, including Indians, Metis and Inuit, now account for 20 percent of federal inmates, up from 18.5 percent last year. The groups represent just 3 percent of Canada’s population.

Last year’s report recommended that the prison service hire more natives, and appoint a deputy commissioner responsible for aboriginals. But McIsaac said the Correctional Service of Canada had not adopted the recommendations.

“We are saying you’ve got to run a system that is equitable, reasonable and fair, and to date the outcome does not indicate that,” he said.

McIsaac said natives are still over-represented at maximum security prisons, under-represented at minimum security facilities, and are less likely to be released early. Aboriginals, especially women, were “left at the short end of every stick.”

The correctional service refused requests for comment.

Last year, when the report was released, the service denied there was systemic discrimination against aboriginals. It said it was “making progress and we are doing this in a culturally sensitive and professional manner.”

Government statistics show that Canada’s aboriginals have lower incomes, shorter lives, and are more likely to come from single-parent homes than non-aboriginals. An estimated 40 percent live in poverty, compared with about 15 percent for the country as a whole.

“There’s racism within the prison system,” said Kenneth Young, a political advisor for the Assembly of First Nations. “The people who work there don’t care. They’ve become insulated with that attitude.”

McIsaac said this year’s report from the correctional investigator, likely to be introduced next month, will again highlight aboriginal issues.

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