Treaty 2 Territory -Rooted in a legacy of colonialism, Canada continues to oppress Indigenous peoples in its institutions such as the criminal justice system. On January 21, 2020, Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger reported that peoples account for 5% of the general Canadian population, yet now make up more than 30% of federally sentenced inmates. Whereby there has been a decline in general inmate population over the past decade, the rate of incarcerated Indigenous inmates has increased by 43.4% (OCSI, 2020). Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon; injustice has been documented for decades. For example, The Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (1991), The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People (1996), and more recently, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015), and the Inquiry into the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (2019). These commissions report the problems, but also offer hundreds of recommendations to Canada and the public for how to correct the problem.
Canada is aware of the problem and the recommendations, so why does the problem persist? According to Dr. Zinger, the Canadian criminal justice system “seems impervious to change and unresponsive to the needs, histories and social realities behind high rates of Indigenous offending” (OCSI, 2020). He went on to point out that Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has denied responsibility for Indigenous overrepresentation, and instead viewed CSC as being on the receiving end of the CJS; that is, CSC believes they have no contribution other than managing offenders who find themselves part of the system. He argues this is a long-standing fallacy and that CSC makes a measurable contribution in the continued failure to close the gap in outcomes for Indigenous compared to non-Indigenous counterparts.
Dr. Zinger declared the all-time high proportion of federally sentenced offenders “…indicates a deepening indigenization of Canada’s Correctional system” (OCSI, 2020). He suggested a more critical review of indigenized interventions is needed in order to address the gap in outcomes. Indigenization is the process of putting Aboriginal peoples into positions in the system where there would otherwise be non-Aboriginal peoples; in roles such as Aboriginal police officers, correctional officers, etc. (Dickson-Guilmore & La Prairie, 2005). Palys et al., (2012) suggest the initial purpose of Indigenizing was so the criminal justice system would better understand and deal with Indigenous peoples more appropriately and so Indigenous peoples become more knowledgeable and receptive to the Canadian justice system. Lisa Monchalin is the first Indigenous woman in Canada to hold a PhD in Criminology and she says that indigenization “… makes room for them in the system without actually changing it” Monchalin, 2016, p. 267).
Another approach to addressing injustice for Indigenous peoples in Canada’s criminal justice system is decolonization. Decolonization is often described as the action or process of withdrawing from a former colony, or the dismantling of colonial systems. Although some sections of provincial and federal governments may utilize this terminology, they are not likely actively working to dismantle their systems or truly committed to enacting Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.
The work of indigenization and decolonization belongs to colonial systems, wherein FNT2T visions our own Peacemaking System intending to heal and bring balance and harmony to our Nations. FNT2T Government does not indigenize or decolonize colonial systems, instead we are committed to Nation Building in Treaty 2 Territory.
Submitted By: Jennifer Meixner, Restorative Peacemaking Policy Keeper
Last modified: April 20, 2021