Justice Minister Vic Toews' Wilful Blindness to the Ongoing "Crisis" in Canada's Justice System
Justice Minister Vic Toews' Wilful Blindness to the Ongoing "Crisis" in Justice System
By Pamela Palmater; November 26, 2011 - rabble.ca
Please tell me that I am not the only one who is shocked by federal Justice Minister Vic Toews' idiotic comments tonight on [Aboriginal Peoples Television Network] News. Did he actually say that there is nothing wrong with our justice system and that our justice system does not discriminate? I can't even think of a proper descriptor for his comments - ignorant, racist, wilfully blind, pitifully stupid, unprofessional, and irresponsible don't seem to convey the depth to which his comments are offensive.
It is as if he has ignored every single justice report, inquiry, and Supreme Court of Canada judgment that has found, based on overwhelming research and evidence, that our justice system does in fact discriminate, especially against Indigenous peoples. However, we all know that as Minister of Justice he knows about all these reports - he has simply chosen to ignore them because it suits the Conservative party's racist assimilatory policy towards Indigenous peoples.
I hardly know where to start.
The Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) published in 1996 is one of the most comprehensive studies on the situation of Indigenous peoples in Canada:
In the same year, they released a report entitled: Bridging the Cultural Divide: A Report on Aboriginal People and Criminal Justice in Canada which highlighted the numerous problems with the justice system as it relates to Indigenous peoples. Both reports found the fact of over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system to be due in part to ongoing discrimination.
Prior to that, in 1989, there was the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Prosecution which you will recall was brought about because of the wrongful imprisonment of Donald Marshall Jr simply because he was Mi'kmaq:
The inquiry found: "The criminal justice system failed Donald Marshall Jr., at virtually every turn from his arrest and wrongful conviction for murder in 1971 up to, and even beyond, his acquittal by the Court of Appeal in 1983." They further found that everyone involved, from the police, Marshall's lawyers, the judges, prosecutors, and appeal judges all failed Marshall because he was "native".
Minister Toews would be shocked to learn that their actions "amounted to a defence of the criminal justice system at the expense of Donald Marshall Jr., in spite of overwhelming evidence that the system itself had failed." Toews might also be gobsmacked to hear that this inquiry made recommendations to "reduce discrimination in the justice system".
There is also the Report of the Manitoba Justice Inquiry in 1999 which made significant findings in relation to the level of discrimination in the justice system as it relates to Indigenous peoples:
They found that there are two primary reasons why Aboriginal peoples are over-represented in the criminal justice system, and both are the result of systemic and ongoing discrimination against Aboriginal peoples. First of all, they found that Aboriginal peoples are more likely to be confronted by the justice system, not because they are culturally pre-disposed to criminal activity, but because of the long history of "discrimination and social inequality that has impoverished Aboriginal people and consigned them to the margins of ...society."
However, the Inquiry found that the more serious issue was the ongoing discrimination within the justice system that assumes all people are the same. A system which assumes equality exists "can't help but discriminate against Aboriginal people". Just in case there was any doubt about the fact of discrimination in the justice system (which Toews denies), the Inquiry further found that: "Discrimination against Aboriginal people has been a central policy of Canadian governments since Confederation" and "represents a monumental symbol of intolerance".
Aboriginal peoples have been, and continue to be victims of "the openly hostile bigot" and the victims of the systemic discrimination found in our justice system. For Minister Toews to say otherwise is an outright lie according to these legal inquiries, the Supreme Court of Canada and even the Office of the Correctional Investigator. This alone is cause for Minister Toews to submit his resignation because he obviously no longer represents the public interest if he can so openly deny the sickness within the justice system.
Most of you will recall the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Gladue:
The TOP COURT in our country found that in addition to Canada being "a world leader in putting people in prison"; the "serious problem of aboriginal over-representation in Canadian prisons is well-documented", the "excessive imprisonment of aboriginal people is only the tip of the iceberg" because "Aboriginal people are overrepresented in virtually all aspects of the system."
The Supreme Court of Canada goes on to explain (so READ carefully Minister Toews), that "there is widespread BIAS against aboriginal people within Canada" such that "this widespread RACISM has translated into systemic DISCRIMINATION in the criminal justice system." (emphasis added) They also highlight the fact that the drastic level of discrimination and over-representation should be considered "a CRISIS in the Canadian criminal justice system".
But, just in case numerous reports, inquiries and court cases from the top court in the land don't convince you, what about the research and observations of a federal official like the Office of the Correctional Investigator who has been saying for over 15 years that the discrimination at every level of the justice system against Aboriginal peoples is a full-blown CRISIS:
I invite anyone to read any report from any year and you will note that report after report highlights the discrimination, the suffering of Aboriginal peoples by discriminatory laws and policies and the fact that the problem is getting WORSE not better. These reports call the situation:
- "discriminatory" (2001);
- a "continuing crisis and embarrassment" (2003);
- a "grave" situation which prevents Aboriginal people from enjoying equality (2005);
- the "inequitable results" stem directly from federal policies (2008);
- the situation is getting much worse (2009); and
- "inequitable outcomes" are the direct result of federal policies and practices (2010).
What does this all mean in terms of numbers? Well, Aboriginal peoples are only 4% of the population, but in places like Manitoba Aboriginal men can make up 79% of the prison population. Aboriginal women fare even worse making up to 83% of all prison admissions:
However, the situation is getting much worse for Aboriginal women and are expected to have significant increases. In fact, over a 10 year period, the imprisonment of our Aboriginal women rose by 151%:
This of course, ONLY reflects what is happening in criminal justice. This does not include all the overt discrimination faced by Aboriginal peoples in the justice system by way of:
- murdered and missing Aboriginal women left to die without adequate police attention;
- our people who are taken on Starlight tours and left to freeze to death;
- our people who are shot to death, beaten to death or tasered unnecessarily; and
- the use of CSIS, RCMP, military and now [Indian and Northern Affairs Canada] to spy on our people - even those of us who have never committed a criminal act.
No one in their right mind could stand before all Canadians and claim that our justice system is not broken and does not discriminate against anyone. Only a right-wing extremist, drunk with "white privilege" and power would even have the nerve to say something like that and ignore all the evidence to the contrary - including evidence that comes from the very justice system he defends.
This controversy all comes about over his defense of Bill C-10 - a massive bill that would make numerous amendments to numerous acts - many of which will have devastating consequences on Canadians. It will make minimum prison sentences mandatory and will take away the discretion of judges to find alternatives to prison.
It is widely opposed - by organizations like the Canadian Bar Association which represents lawyers in Canada. Their 100-page submission against the Bill highlights the speed at which this omnibus bill (one that makes many changes to many acts) is being considered, the lack of time for study and comment and the overall dangers of the bill:
The following link is to a radio interview where I first talked about Bill S-2 (matrimonial real property on reserve) and then Bill C-10 and how they both relate to the oppression and assimilation of Aboriginal peoples:
I know I ask a great deal of my readers - to read such lengthy blogs, access numerous links and write e-mails to express our concerns regarding endless bills, policies and actions against our peoples. But, most of us have the education, access to internet and computers and ability to do this. Think of all those who can't, but who will no doubt be the ones to suffer from this ongoing oppression and assimilation of our people. Please write to Minister Toews and tell him to get real, submit his resignation and NOT pass Bill C-10.
Thank you for all your support and for continuing the battle for real justice and equality. For rabble fans, see my blog on rabble.ca.