Hon. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.
Senator Gold, Indigenous peoples make up 31% of all people in federal prisons and 44% of women in federal prisons. As the Minister of Justice noted in his speech on Bill C-22, “These figures are staggering . . . .”
Some preliminary correctional data shared by the government indicates that Bill C-22 may reduce imprisonment for mostly non-racialized accused and prisoners but will once again leave Indigenous peoples and particularly Indigenous women behind.
The government has committed to reducing the number of disproportionately harsh sentences for Indigenous peoples. With this objective in mind, will the government accept amendments to Bill C-22 to ensure it meets such objectives?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question and for her continued interest and attention to this important bill.
This government is taking very progressive action on criminal law reform. No government has removed a mandatory minimum penalty from the Criminal Code prior to now.
I have also been advised that, between 2007 and 2017, the proportion of Black Canadians admitted to federal corrections for importing or exporting drugs increased from 33% in 2007 to 43% in 2017. Even worse, the proportion of Indigenous offenders admitted for firearm-related offences punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty more than doubled.
In addition, Bill C-22 expands eligibility for conditional sentence orders that were previously restricted. I’ve been advised that in one academic survey, the researcher found that over 80% of the Indigenous women who had received a conditional sentence order prior to the enactment of restrictions of the previous government would have been ineligible for a CSO under the new laws. The Ontario Court of Appeal, in the Sharma case, noted that these limits on the availability of CSOs undermined the remedial purposes of Gladue principles.
The government is always open to considering suggestions for improving its laws, but I’m not aware at the moment of any such plans beyond the bill that you are referring to.