Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace


Posted by strattof on August 25, 2008




August is Prisoners’ Justice Month, a time to reflect on the Canadian judicial and prison systems and to ask the question: Is justice being served?


In Saskatchewan

  • The incarceration rate of Aboriginal adults is 35 times that of non-Aboriginals.
  • Aboriginal adults make up 77% of the total prison population.
  • Aboriginal women account for 87% of all female admissions.


Aboriginal peoples make up 14% of the population of Saskatchewan. Why are they over-represented in the prison system?


  • The legacies of colonization and residential schooling have resulted in cultural discontinuity in Aboriginal communities. This is tied to high rates of depression, alcoholism, suicide, violence, family breakdown, gang activity, and low levels of education. In a Saskatchewan study, treatment centre staff ranked lost cultural identity as the single most important factor for drug and alcohol abuse among Aboriginal people.


  • Racism is a daily experience for Aboriginal peoples in Saskatchewan. According to a 2007 survey on the state of race relations in the province, “there is a higher rate of racism experienced in Saskatchewan than there is nationally” (Leader Post May 15 2008).


  • Racism, both nationally and provincially, consists not only of the racial bias of individuals, but is also systemic. For example: ◘ Nationally, the charge rates of Aboriginal youth are 19% higher than those of non-Aboriginal youth (Statistics Canada). ◘ In today’s Saskaboom economy, the employment rate of Aboriginal peoples living off reserve experienced a pronounced decline from 57.1% to 52.9% during the last year. Over the same period, the employment rate among non-Aboriginal people in Saskatchewan edged up 0.2 percentage points to 68.2%. “Saskatchewan has the lowest employment rate among its off reserve Aboriginal population of the western provinces” (Statistics Canada).


On June 11 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology to former Indian residential school students. Earlier in the year, his government introduced a new “tough on crime bill” that will result in increased incarceration for those people who are easiest to arrest and prosecute.  Are prisons the government’s replacement for residential schools in Canada?


For the Prime Minister’s apology to have any meaning, the question of justice for Aboriginal peoples in Canada must be dealt with. 


  • Incarceration does not address or solve the problems resulting from colonization, residential schooling, and systemic racism. The Canadian justice system is an ineffective, alien, and inappropriate means for resolving conflict involving Aboriginal peoples.  


Other reasons why prisons are not the answer:

  • Imprisonment is an uneconomical means of addressing social problems. Funding incarceration means that resources are cut from social services, education, health care, and job creation programs. If even half of the $7 billion currently spent annually on imprisoning people was invested in social spending, there would be an enormous benefit to whole communities.
  • Imprisonment has negative effects. In the words of the director of the RCMP’s National Aboriginal Policing Services, Chief Superintendent Doug Reti, “Many of the youth we were dealing with, if they were not gang members going into jail, they certainly were coming out” (Toronto Star).
  • “Prisons do not make us safe, but instead reinforce conditions that produce violence and insecurity” (Julia Sudbury, Canadian Roundtable on Prison Abolition). 


The incarceration of Aboriginal peoples is connected to family breakdown, loss of culture, and substance abuse stemming from colonization, residential schools, and racism. How is a harsh prison system going to initiate any healing for future generations?



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