Question Period: Systemic Racism

By: The Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard

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Parliament from across the Ottawa River, Ottawa

Hon. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.

Senator Gold, one of the root causes of the overrepresentation of Black people in Canadian prisons is systemic, anti-Black racism. One of the major barriers that many Black prisoners face is being labelled as part of a “security threat group.” This label can be applied to their file for simply wearing a durag or for the neighbourhood in which their family resides. This label stays on their file whether or not they are currently gang-affiliated and it impacts the treatment in prison, eligibility for programs and for parole. This is only one example of anti-Black racism present in Canadian prisons.

Senator Gold, what is being done to address systemic anti-Black racism in Canada’s prisons and the criminal justice system?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, for your question. As we all know, far too well, Indigenous people, visible minorities, including Black Canadians, are overrepresented in our criminal justice system and this needs to change.

The government is working to create the conditions for everyone who works within the criminal justice system to take the necessary steps to redress this and to produce more equitable outcomes. I’m advised that the government is also providing Black-Canadian offenders with services aimed at supporting their reintegration, including addressing cultural employment and mentorship needs.

I’m further advised that the Correctional Service of Canada is studying the in-custody experience of racialized inmates including Black Canadians, which is expected to produce a full research report this fall.

As we know, the government has also introduced Bill C-5, which represents an important step forward. These changes, if and when the bill passes, will ensure that our criminal justice system is more fair, effective and will keep Canadians from all communities safe.

Finally — and this goes without saying — there is more work to be done. The government knows it. The government is committed to doing it.

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