THUNDER BAY – “The Government’s inability to listen to Aboriginal people’s plea to reject the proposed amendments that limit the Gladue principle is a missed opportunity for the Government of Canada to follow through on its promise to work toward reconciliation,” states Betty Kennedy, the Executive Director of ONWA. “As Aboriginal peoples we know what our communities need to be safe and that is healing, meaningful dialogue and government accountability – not an iron fist approach”.
The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) strongly opposes the passing of Bill C-10, also known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act. ONWA states, “The imposition of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offences and the shift from rehabilitation to a focus on harsher punishments and incarceration within the Youth Criminal Justice Act will carry detrimental affects to not only Aboriginal women and youth, but to communities as a whole through the prolonged absence of their grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters and children”.
OWNA shares in a press release, “Currently, despite Aboriginal women accounting for less than 4% of women in Canada, they comprise 34% of the women’s federal penitentiary population while the number of Aboriginal youth in sentenced custody is 5.5 times greater than that of the general public. Bill C-10 will exacerbate the over-representation of Aboriginal women and youth within the justice system, curtailing community healing in the process”.
ONWA believes that Bill C-10 will undermine much of the work that has been pioneered to address this over-representation within the penal system; in particular the Supreme Court of Canada’s Gladue ruling. The Gladue principle states that alternatives to jail sentences should be opted for whenever possible and is pivotal to the creation of an equitable justice system in its consideration for the unique circumstances of Aboriginal peoples such as residential schools, involvement with child welfare, and violence and abuse, all of which are precursor to crime.
“The passing of Bill C-10 will act as an impediment of the Government’s fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of our Aboriginal women and youth. Bill C-10 will restrain a judge’s ability to review alternative sentencing options, such as education and support rather than incarceration. Resorting to an individualized, tough on crime approach when what is needed is a collective approach to end poverty and the inter-generational effects of colonization does not allow the justice system to stop the cycle of repeat offenders”.