Skip to main content

Systemic racism in Canada: Relationship of Indigenous people to justice system

Reproduced below is an article published in "The Globe and Mail" by Jody Wilson-Raybould, independent member of Parliament for the British Columbia riding of Vancouver Granvill, and. author of” From Where I Stand: Rebuilding Indigenous Nations for a Stronger Canada”: 
*** 
There are few periods in my life where I have felt such intense emotions as in recent weeks. The murder of George Floyd, along with the killing of six Indigenous people by Canadian police since April, has left me outraged and incredibly sad. At the same time, I am not despondent. I have been heartened by the activists and protesters who have taken to streets around the world in a push for systemic change.
I have lately wondered: Are we at a tipping point in the fight against systemic racism and injustice? Is long-overdue transformative change, including in Canada’s justice system, finally upon us?
I believe we are in such a moment, and I am hopeful for our future – I have to be. Actions and protests in support of racial justice are certainly not new. But I, like many others, have been encouraged and emboldened to see young and older Canadians, from all backgrounds and corners of the country, calling for true and fundamental change. Over many generations, some important progress has been made. We now need to build on those successes and accelerate our efforts toward an ever more equal, just, loving and inclusive Canada.
Indeed, it was not very long ago that such struggles for justice felt far lonelier. As Indigenous leaders, we would sometimes wonder why public awareness was so hard to raise, and where true allies may be found. No longer. And in the broader fight for racial justice for all peoples in Canada, the numbers who have joined our struggle feel larger than ever. We increasingly stand together, and take action together, because we understand that while we have come far, our present reality continues to reflect and rest on certain forms of racism, discrimination, inequality and injustice.
Despite my optimism and hope, there is one critical factor that makes me uncertain about whether we are truly at a tipping point and whether the promise of this moment will be met.
Do our current leaders and governments have the will, understanding and courage to make foundational, transformative change to address systemic racism, including through new laws, policies and practices?
Based on experiences I have had during my time in government and as Minister of Justice and Attorney-General from 2015 until early 2019, on these fundamental issues of equality and inclusion, my answer would be “no.” I hope the current government is finally ready to do what they previously would not.
Time and again my experience was symbolic inaction and ineffective baby steps were privileged over transformative efforts to address Canada’s colonial legacy, systemic racism and the challenges with our criminal justice system. Too often, political expediency triumphed over bold and necessary action.
And sharing firsthand experience around the many tables at which I sat – as often the only Indigenous woman present – was commonly met with kindly, and sometimes even hostile, paternalistic dismissal. My lived experience as an Indigenous woman was, apparently, the wrong experience for knowing the reality of systemic racism and, more importantly, for how it needed to be addressed. I was discounted. Even as Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, for far too many in government, it often seemed that on these issues in their eyes and understanding, I was an Indigenous woman first.
When I chose to enter federal politics in 2015, among the many issues I wanted to address, two were always closest to my mind and heart: bold criminal justice reform, including repealing the vast majority of mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs) and bolstering restorative justice measures; and establishing a framework in new legislation and policies to recognize and implement Indigenous rights, including phasing out the Indian Act. I believed these were also among the core priorities of the government and many of my colleagues. These priorities were in the 2015 Liberal Party platform and in mandate letters to ministers, including reference to “the most important relationship to this government” being with Indigenous peoples. Indeed, I know many within government see these as fundamentally urgent changes that need to be made.
Of course, these priorities of justice reform and reconciliation are intertwined. The relationship of Indigenous people to our justice system, including policing, is one of the starkest examples of systemic racism, and how the legacy of colonialism remains with us. Indigenous people are far more likely to be arrested, charged and jailed, and far more likely to suffer forms of violence, including murder. Similarly, Black and racialized Canadians of all backgrounds face disproportionate harm through their contact with the justice system. What is needed is comprehensively addressing the harmful reality of overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, while also changing laws in ways that recognize and empower Indigenous governments and Nations and help create the space for them to rebuild their social systems, economies and governing institutions.
For this reason, from my first day as Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada, I aggressively advocated, along with my colleagues, for a range of bold measures, including repealing MMPs, large investments in expanding forms of restorative justice, and addressing a broad range of socioeconomic gaps that deprive Indigenous peoples of a level playing field. On MMPs specifically, the evidence is clear: they perpetuate injustice, impose disproportionate burdens on vulnerable populations, overwhelm our prison system so it cannot fully do its work, and in important ways have been shown to be inconsistent with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They also fuel the gap and mistrust between the justice system, law enforcement, and racialized populations in ways that we see playing out in the current moment.
From day one, I, and others, also pushed the government to develop and adopt a Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework, through passing new legislation that would embrace the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law while at the same time recognize rights, support Indigenous self-government, create pathways out of the Indian Act, and help Indigenous peoples rebuild their Nations and governments.
In those early years in government, I believed that we would take bold steps forward on these issues. We did not. Instead, patience was preached. The excuses were always the same. There are other priorities that had to be dealt with first. The political moment was not right. Urgency to see these major reforms was seen as na├»ve. Or, when it was deemed too late, we were “out of runway.”
But who should be patient in the face of injustice? Why is it those suffering injustice are always asked to keep waiting?
I believed awareness of events surrounding the tragic deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine in early 2018 would be a tipping point. Canadians marched in the streets for criminal justice reform. How often had that happened in Canadian history? At around the same time, on Feb. 14, 2018, the Prime Minister promised to develop a Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework in a historic address in Parliament. Was change finally here? Or would an amnesia about the reality of racism set in again, and, as in the past, real recommendations for change – that have been made in many reports time and again – simply gather dust on a shelf?
That was also an intensely personal time for me. I had known too many young people like Colten and Tina – or like Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore, two of the six Indigenous men and women killed in recent months. I grew up surrounded by them. They were my neighbours, schoolmates and cousins. Absent good fortune and some forms of “privilege,” I, and my sister, Kory, could have easily been them. I have many loved ones who were not so fortunate.
In response, even though I was told by some that the “centre” did not want to hear it, I, along with others, again implored and pushed for bold criminal justice reform, including repealing MMPs, and true reconciliation in every venue I could. I held hope that my colleagues could see that there are children across Canada growing up with a far greater likelihood they will be a Colten and Tina, rather than a Jody or Kory, and that real change would now come. I, and others, tried to ward off another passage into racial amnesia or indifference.
Yet again, nothing. Symbolic inaction, and at best incremental shifts, would carry the day. This was heartbreaking. Political expediency had triumphed over the work of creating a more just society.
So two years later, here we are again – but in many ways on an even larger and more intense scale. No doubt, the tipping point for the Canadian people has been met. Urgent change is needed – and Canadians know it.
But for governments and leaders the verdict remains out. The Prime Minister choosing to “take a knee” and “listen” on June 5 is a sign of cynical practices we should condemn and reject. It is, once again, merely symbolic inaction. So, too, is silence rather than condemning the racist behaviours of the President of the United States. We must always remember that, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Let me be clear: Kneeling and strategic silence are useful actions citizens can take to assert their view that change is needed. They are not sufficient responses for leaders who hold in their hands the tools for effecting needed legislative and policy changes.
Real, transformative action is what is required. This can begin with changing the law to get rid of the vast majority of MMPs and reinstating necessary judicial discretion in sentencing. We can do this – and much more – now. It also includes fulfilling the promises of the Prime Minister of Feb. 14, 2018, to recognize and implement Indigenous rights through legislation so that Indigenous peoples can build stronger communities and governments, offer better care for their citizens and address social dysfunction.
Two years ago, I asked inside government, invoking the words of president John F. Kennedy, “If not now, when?” and “If not us, who?” The answer was not now, and not us.
Well, Canadians have spoken. It is up to the Prime Minister and his government to answer the second question and show whether they are up to the task of real change or will they just take a knee.
Make your voices even louder. Say that you expect our government to reflect the will, vision, and courage that thousands have shown across this country. We can do this. We can make the changes that generations of Canadians have fought and sacrificed to see happen. By taking action, we can honour George, Colton, Tina, Chantel, Rodney and all the other lives lost. We can continue to make Canada even better, more equal and more just.
If the government does what is right and what is needed – on increased justice reform, including MMPs and restorative justice, and true recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights – I will be the first one to applaud and offer my support.
---
This article was distributed by Peoples Media Advocacy & Resource Centre - PMARC

Comments

TRENDING

Crucial to revisit roots, embrace core Hindu principles: love, compassion, harmony

A note on religious leaders'  Satya Dharam Samvad in Haridwar: *** In a groundbreaking gathering, more than 25 religious leaders including Swamis, Acharyas, Pujaris, Gurus, and Sadhvis from all over India convened to discuss the tenets of Hinduism on September 16th, 2023, in Haridwar, to discuss and discern the current trajectory of Hinduism. This brand new initiative, the Satya Dharam Samvad, was inspired to organize its first assembly in response to the December 2021 Dharma Sansad, where hate speech and calls for violence against the Muslim community contravened the essential principles of Hinduism. Religion is being used to incite riots among Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, etc. In the face of such hatred, Swami Raghavendra felt that something meaningful should be done in the present climate. 

Maoist tendency of mechanically adhering to Chinese path ignores Indian conditions

By Harsh Thakor  The C.P.I. (Maoist) formed in 2004 with merger of the C.P.I. (M.L) Peoples War and the Maoist Communist Centre has demonstrated courage in intensity compared to any great revolutionary struggle in the history of the world. It leads the largest armed movement of a Peoples Guerrilla Army in the world today and proved themselves as the true torch bearers of the Indian Communist movement.

Significant step towards empowering and particularly engaging with informal workers

ActionAid note on drive to empower informal sector workers Odisha with the support of District Labour Department: *** The Odisha Unorganised Workers Social Security Board (OUWSSB) facilitated an Unorganized Workers Awareness Camp at the Red Cross Bhawan in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. The event took place in collaboration with the District Labour Department at Khordha, Centre for Child and Women Development and ActionAid Association. This informative event aimed at empowering informal sector workers by disseminating crucial information regarding their eligibility for various social security schemes provided by the Government of Odisha.

We need to resurrect Neruda, give birth to poets of his kind amidst neofascist rampage

By Harsh Thakor  On 23rd September we commemorate the 50th death anniversary of Pablo Neruda, whose contribution to revolutionary poetry was path breaking. Pablo Neruda’s poetry manifested the spiritual essence of revolutionary poetry and how poetry was a weapon for a revolutionary struggle. The story of his life illustrated the spiritual transformation undergone a human being to transform him into a revolutionary and how environment shapes the lie of revolutionary.

Dev Anand ably acted as westernised, urban educated, modern hero, as also anti-hero

By Harsh Thakor  On September 26th we celebrated the birth centenary of legendary actor Dev Anand. Dev Saab carved out a new epoch or made a path breaking contribution in portraying romanticism and action in Bollywood cinema, giving his style or mannerisms a new colour. Arguably no Bollywood star manifested glamour in such a dignified or serene manner or struck the core of an audience’s soul in romantic melodies. Possibly we missed this evergreen star being cast in a Hollywood film. Dev Anand is like an inextinguishable soul of Bollywood. Although not as artistic or intense as Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor or Ashok Kumar ,Dev Anand surpassed them all for liveliness or flamboyance, with his performances radiating g energy on the screen, in realms rarely transcended. In his own right, Dev Saab, was a craftsman, like his classical contemporaries, with a characteristic composure. Perhaps never was a Bollywood star so suave, bubbling or charming as Dev Anand, who often looked like an Indian versi

Grassroots NGO enlightens people of Kupwara with intricacies of Right to Information

J&K RTI Foundation and Founder Civil Rights Movement Kupwara note on how RTI Pend is empowering Kupwara with insights on Right to Information Act: *** RTI Pend, the grassroots initiative aimed at democratizing access to information, hosted its 2nd event in Kupwara. On the request of the Civil Rights Movement Kupwara, this event was tailored to enlighten the people of Kupwara with the intricacies of the Right to Information Act, presented in their local language and dialects. The event successfully bridged both offline and online participation, addressing queries on the spot and offering applicants practical solutions.

Abrogation of Art 370: Increasing alienation, relentless repression, simmering conflict

One year after the abrogation by the Central Government of Art. 370 in Kashmir, what is the situation in the Valley. Have the promises of peace, normalcy and development been realised? What is the current status in the Valley? Here is a detailed note by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties , “Jammu & Kashmir: One Year after Abrogation of Art. 370: Increasing Alienation, Relentless Repression, Simmering Conflict”:

Agro-biodiversity through seed identification, conservation, replication, crop selection

By Kuntal Mukherjee, Basant Yadav, Shivnath Yadav* This article is mainly based on a journey of the three of us since 2010 based on field experience, study of different articles, reflective journeys with local community based organisations, villagers and practitioners in Chhattisgarh. The slow growth of Agriculture in India with near stagnation in productivity since mid ‘80s in contrast to the remarkable growth during the green revolution period has come to the front as a great concern. In post WTO era Indian Agriculture has been witnessing structural changes, uncontrolled influx of agriculture goods and commodities from foreign countries due to open market nature. The gradual reduction in subsidies from internal production leads to increasing cost of production of agriculture produces at the farm gate. It causes gradual decrease in internal production as well as productivity and posing threats to small farm and stakeholders. 

Indian youth can choose political career which offers tremendous opportunities

By Sudhansu R Das  The Indian political sector is growing faster than any other sector in the world. This sector has been fully liberalised. Political career in India is open to any age group starting from 25 plus to 90 plus; people with any educational background, even an illiterate person can contest election in India. An old man or woman with multiple organ failure can become leader of a political party; they can control party workers from the hospital bed also. Social status, physical and mental ability seldom stand in the way of a political leader. Advanced age is not an issue which can be reversed with effortless ease. 

Commodification of road accident deaths: The hidden health hazard of motonormativity

By Chandra Vikash*  Jahnavi Kandula, an Indian student from Andhra Pradesh, studying in America was killed in a road accident by a police motor car in January 2023. Now, 8 months after the accident, a bodycam video of Daniel Orderer, who is the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, has gone viral on social media. He was laughing at her death and saying that “she was 26 years old, anyway… she had limited value… just give her $11,000 (ie Rs 9.13 lakh)”.