Here is a quiz.
What percentage of Canada’s population is Black? And what percentage is Indigenous?
Now, what percentage of Canada’s federal prison population is Black? And what percentage is Indigenous?
You will find the answers in the Auditor General of Canada’s report released on May 31, 2022:
Report 4—Systemic Barriers—Correctional Service Canada.
Here is an excerpt from the Auditor General’s press release about the report:
The audit found that Black and Indigenous offenders experienced poorer outcomes than any other groups in the federal correctional system and faced greater barriers to a safe and gradual reintegration into society.
It was a finding deeper in the Auditor General’s report that caught the attention of MCC Ontario’s program team:
The demographics of the offender population have changed over the last 10 years (Exhibit 4.1). The overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the federal correctional system has grown. Indigenous peoples make up an estimated 4% of the Canadian adult population yet accounted for 27% of federal offenders in the 2020–21 fiscal year.
In particular, Indigenous women make up 43% of women serving federal sentences in custody and are the fastest-growing population in the federal correctional system. Among visible minorities, Black people are overrepresented in federal custody, making up 3% of the general Canadian adult population but 8% of all federal offenders.
Wait. What did I just read?
Indigenous people make up 4% of the adult population but account for 27% of federal offenders? And Indigenous women make up 43%?
And why are Black Canadians also overrepresented in the federal corrections system?
We know the answers all too well. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented in detail how Canada’s residential school system caused generational trauma that is reverberating in Canada and will for years to come. The discovery of unmarked gravesites at former residential schools in the summer of 2021 woke Canadians to this grim reality -- and also awoke in us, we hope, a commitment to walk the path of reconciliation needed to heal that trauma.
Foster Care is a modern-day residential school system with more Indigenous children in care now than there were under the residential school system.
Meanwhile, the Black Lives Matters movement has challenged us all to learn about racial profiling and commit to work for racial justice.
In a way, the overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black people in Canada’s correctional services is the end of the pipeline of racial injustice. The Auditor General points to steps that Correctional Service Canada must take to improve things for Indigenous and Black people in federal prisons. The MCC Program Team sees in the report a call to help shut down the pipeline leading to the imprisonment of so many Indigenous women and men and Black Canadians.
Rhetoric. Reality. Reallocation.
When we think about the rhetoric of who we aspire to be as Canadians -- reconciliation, welcome, justice -- and compare that to the realities we see most starkly in our prisons, it begs the question of how to reallocate resources to improve the lives of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour to close the incarceration pipeline.
For example, Foster Care is a modern-day residential school system with more Indigenous kids in care now than there were under the residential school system. What steps are needed so Indigenous children can remain with their families? What steps are needed to prevent Indigenous mothers from ending up in prison, far from their children? How do we assure that Indigenous communities have the housing they need, schools for their children, safe drinking water and effective control over their lands and resources?
Or consider that Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour are more likely to work in low- paid jobs, in essential jobs and in the caring professions such as personal support workers. A simple policy such increasing the minimum wage helps improve the incomes of racialized workers. What other policies are needed to ensure racialized workers also have access to better paying jobs? And how do we ensure that from an early age racialized children receive the supports they need to succeed?
MCC’s program work in Ontario intersects questions of racial justice in many ways -- restorative justice, Indigenous neighbours, walking with people in poverty, migration and resettlement. The program team is looking at ways we can more intentionally focus our efforts to promote racial justice. We will explore the links that create the incarceration pipeline. We will listen to and amplify the voices from communities most impacted to support solutions that reallocate resources toward strengthening communities. We will look at legislative and policy changes. We will look at our own programming to see how our own work can help build a world where our aspirations for reconciliation, welcome and justice are better reflected in people’s lived reality. We will strive to engage our own constituency in this work.
We hope that you will join us in this work. Look for MCCO learning opportunities that you can take part in. Invite friends and colleagues to sign up for this newsletter and join us in advocacy actions. Please share with us your experiences as well.