Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I am rising today on a question that I raised with the Minister of Public Safety on October 17. In that question I talked about the fact that while aboriginal peoples form only 3% of the population in Canada, they are 18% of the prison population. I also talked about the poverty that contributes to higher incarceration rates.
In his response, the Minister of Public Safety indicated that it was not a matter of discrimination in the prison system but a matter of personal responsibility being taken. The Office of the Correctional Investigator's annual report was a damning document outlining the problems with the corrections system in Canada and how it discriminates against aboriginal peoples. The problems are with the system, not the people.
There are a number of areas where discrimination occurs. For example, more native people than non-native people fail to get parole. There is discrimination before they even get into the system. First nations, Métis and Inuit peoples are more likely to plead guilty and to not receive legal advice. They are more likely to receive longer sentences. The statistics are incontrovertible.
The 2001 Speech from the Throne stated:
Canada must take the measures needed to significantly reduce the percentage of Aboriginal people entering the criminal justice system, so that within a generation it is no higher than the Canadian average.
We have seen the Liberals and the Conservatives back away from that promise.
The prisons are full of aboriginal people, not because they are crime prone but because they are much younger and much poorer than Canadians in general. Statistics show that poverty and youth very often lead to problems with the law.
There is also discrimination because many of the people who make the decisions, the guards, parole officers and wardens, use standards and approaches that are culturally inappropriate. This leads to misunderstandings and a breakdown in communication.
Canada cannot afford to neglect this problem. It will fester and worsen for generations to come. The jails and remand centres will become the residential schools of this generation and we know what they cost the aboriginal peoples and Canada.
The minister refused to commit to any program to end this discrimination. Will the parliamentary secretary tell us what plans the minister has to honour the promise made to reduce the number of aboriginal people in prisons to the Canadian average?