Ottawa needs to end ‘racist’ classification policies against Indigenous inmates: advocates - APTN NewsAPTN News

Ottawa needs to end ‘racist’ classification policies against Indigenous inmates: advocates


Kenneth Jackson
A case to be heard before the Supreme Court of Canada Thursday involving a Metis man could have far-reaching impacts across the prison system, including helping Indigenous female inmates.

At least that is what Sen. Kim Pate, and fellow advocates for Indigenous female inmates, certainly hope happens.

The case involving Jeffrey Ewert essentially comes down to how the Correctional Service Canada (CSC) classifies inmates.

Indigenous people are known to be disproportionally placed under medium and maximum security compared to non-Indigenous inmates.

Ewert has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn a 2016 Federal Court of Appeal ruling that determined CSC’s classification policy didn’t discriminate against him.

“It’s a case regarding an Indigenous man who was denied access to appropriate programs and services because of his classification,” said Pate Wednesday on Parliament Hill.

“He is challenging the classification scheme used by the Correctional Service Canada to classify Indigenous prisoners.”


(Senator Kim Pate a news conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday. Photo: APTN)

But Indigenous women face the same discrimination, if not worse, said Pate who spent years advocating for incarcerated women as president of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS).

Now a senator, Pate was joined by the Native Women’s Association of Canada and members of CAEFS a media conference.

Both NWAC and CAEFS are intervenors in the Ewert case.

“The current colonial process has a discriminatory impact on Indigenous women resulting in extreme over classification of Indigenous women in federal prisons,” said Francyne Joe, president of NWAC. 

“Once imprisoned, many Indigenous women are classified as higher security, placed in solitary confinement with limited access to programs and services.”

That means they are less likely to be released in a community that is safe for them, said Joe.

Joe added that instead of spending money on keeping Indigenous women behind bars, funding should be directed to housing and programs that help them on the outside.

Kassandra Churcher got down to brass tacks.

“Let’s start with numbers,” said Churcher, executive director of CAEFS.

There has been report after report for decades trying to get CSC to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in prison, which the classification process impacts as it has been proven to keep Indigenous inmates in prison longer.

Churcher said 29 years ago a prominent committee called for Canada to address the overrepresentation.

Then 27 years ago a federal task force proposed some ways to do so but most recommendations were never implemented.

Six years later, CSC was found to deal with Indigenous women in unfair ways.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission found 14 years ago that CSC’s classification scheme discriminated against inmates on the basis of sex, race, and disability.

Churcher didn’t mention it but the former Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers, released annual reports slamming the classification process.

“That is why is,” said Pate, explaining why two prominent women’s organizations are intervening in a case involving a male inmate.

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