Ministerial Question Period: Disproportionality of Indigenous People in Incarceration

By: The Hon. Brian Francis

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Hon. Brian Francis: Welcome, minister.

A report from November 2022 by the Correctional Investigator of Canada found that the federal government has made little progress to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the last decade, with some facing even worse conditions today. The report also highlighted that healing lodges, which help support successful rehabilitation and reintegration, continue to be underfunded and underused across the country. In Atlantic Canada, for instance, there continue to be no beds available at healing lodges, although the incarcerated Indigenous population in our region has increased by nearly 90% in the last 10 years.

Has the number of Indigenous people, particularly women, decreased at all in the last year? What are the current occupancy rates in the existing 10 healing lodges funded and/or operated by the Correctional Service Canada, or CSC? Are there any plans to build Indigenous-run healing lodges in Atlantic Canada or elsewhere? If so, where and when?

Hon. Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Public Safety: Thank you, senator, for the question. To foreshadow where I am going, we will get you those exact numbers and provide them to you and your colleagues in this chamber.

In order to address the chronic overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in their interactions with the law enforcement institutions across this country, we need to do some very concrete things. First, we obviously need to be sure that we are training law enforcement members across every level of policing in ways that are culturally sensitive and relevant when it comes to Indigenous traditions, culture and history.

Second, we have to make sure that we are empowering Indigenous communities to lead when it comes to public safety initiatives. I think I have provided some very concrete examples of how we are doing that. I recently had a very positive and constructive engagement in Eskasoni not too long ago, senator, a community that you will be very familiar with.

Third, and most important, the relationship has to be based on trust and respect. There’s no shortcut to that. It requires direct engagement, and it requires ensuring that we create the space that is necessary for Indigenous peoples and communities to lead these reforms and change themselves. That is precisely the work that I am committed to doing.

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