Prison reform advocates from across the country joined forces today at the Supreme Court to challenge the way Indigenous prisoners are classified in Canada’s penitentiaries.
The case was first filed by Metis inmate Jeffery Ewert.
He claimed he was denied access to appropriate programs and services because of a Corrections Canada classification process.
Ewart appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn a 2016 federal court ruling that determined the classification policy did not discriminate against him.
According to lawyer Emily Hill from Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, the case could have far-reaching impacts on Indigenous prisoners across Canada.
“We know that Indigenous people are over-represented at every stage in the corrections system,” said Hill. “In Canada and criminal justice system, we know that the supreme court has repeatedly said that we need to do things differently when it comes to indigenous offenders, we need to start doing things differently because we need to get different results.”
Savannah Gentile of the Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies said it’s a policy that also affects many Indigenous women in the prison system.
“The system of classification affects everything you do moving through the institution or prisons,” she said. “So maximum classifications will result in more restrictive conditions in confinement, will result in less access to programming, less spirituality, and culturally appropriate programming as well.”
Senator Kim Pate, a long time advocate for prisoners rights, said she hoped the judges will see this.
“There is documentation out there, corrections knows and I.. I’m very very hopeful that the Supreme Court of Canada will actually make the right decision and that will be the impetus to help move us really to a stage where we have reconciliation in issues pertaining to Indigenous prisoners in the country,” said Pate.
“And that we start to see some meaningful change so we can get them out.”
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