The backlog and hardships faced by many of Canada’s indigenous peoples, especially women, are far from gone. Some of the figures that have become known in recent days even show that the scenario continues to deteriorate. According to the Office of the Corrections Investigator, the agency that enforces the rights of prisoners in Canada, half of the inmates in prisons run by Ottawa belong to indigenous groups. However, the women of these communities make up 4.9% of the country’s female population.
“For the first time they reach 50%. It’s just shocking and embarrassing for a country with so many resources,” Canadian Corrections Investigator Ivan Singer told The Globe and Mail. In 2015, Indigenous women made up 35% of federal prisons. They made up 42% of inmates in provincial and territorial prisons as of early 2021, according to Statistics Canada. Currently, 32.7% of the total number of men and women held in federal centers are of indigenous origin. Over the past decade, the number of non-indigenous prisoners has decreased by 18%, while the number of these groups has increased by 28%.
Cindy Wild is professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Ottawa; He served 25 years in the Canadian Correctional Service. Wilde comments to EL PAÍS: “Since 1970, there has been reference to the over-representation of indigenous peoples in the prison network. And more than half a century later, the numbers continue to deteriorate. We see the consequences of colonialism. The judicial system is not culturally adapted to these groups and is largely based on punishment, there are no services, there are language barriers. Communities must be the central actor; this is one of their demands for self-determination towards Ottawa.”
The Anichinape and Atikamek expert adds: “There are ways of assessing the system that are problematic. For example, people considered very dangerous are almost always natives. They face many barriers to parole and therefore to services that support their social reintegration.” Various structural elements also play against this, such as low levels of education, difficulties with housing and drinking water. Likewise, addictions and mental disorders affect members of these communities more than other Canadians.
These factors are especially important for women. Indigenous people in Canada are 12 times more likely to be murdered or disappeared than people in the rest of the country. Likewise, forced sterilization has been practiced on thousands of them for decades. The 1993 report of the Royal Commission on Indigenous Peoples already reflected this grim scenario through the testimony of a prisoner: “We must acknowledge the reasons why we are here. We were not born to be in jail. Things have happened in our lives. We suffered, we had many failures. And it’s all about getting here.”
Wilde covers cases of racism and discrimination in various government agencies; one of them, the forces of order. Civil society organizations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia continue to regret that police have been slower in investigating the disappearances of Indigenous women and are often prosecuting these people. In December, a group of local residents filed a class action lawsuit against the Quebec government. These residents of the city of Val-d’Or claim to have been sexually harassed, beaten and arrested unjustifiably by some provincial police for years. An independent report released this Monday highlights the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s mistreatment of local women. Trust is everywhere.
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Cindy Wilde comments on indigenous women in the penitentiary system: “We weren’t surprised when we checked their records. They have a history of marginalization within and outside their communities. Violence is a kind of common thread.” He says many of them went through protection centers or institutions for juvenile delinquents at an early age. “Others also lived in boarding schools for indigenous children,” she adds. Wild refers to the federal pension network (operated by religious groups) that operated between 1883 and 1996 to forcibly assimilate some 150,000 Native underage people according to a large list of horrors. The discovery of more than 1,400 unmarked graves in several of these centers over the past 12 months has sent shock waves around the world.
Last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked those responsible for justice and public safety to take an active role in addressing the over-representation of so-called First Nations in the prison system. Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Security, acknowledged in a parliamentary session last week that the numbers were “unacceptable,” saying the Liberal government was going to solve the problem with a series of reforms, though without going into detail. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada already pointed out that a large number of natives behind bars means “a crisis in the judicial system.”
Native Women’s Association of Canada urges Ottawa to take immediate action; He also points out that every citizen of the country must demand change. “For decades, successive governments have promised to address the problem of overrepresentation caused by poverty and unequal social conditions, and exacerbated by laws that disproportionately punish, in particular, marginalized indigenous women. But it is clear that the situation is only getting worse, ”said its CEO Lynn Groulks. Based on various international surveys, Canada ranked fourth in the world with the best living conditions for women in 2021 (first in the Americas). But “Canadian paradise” is not for everyone.
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