Tough Crime Bill Unfair to Aboriginals, Leaders Say

The new crime bill C-10 will only put more aboriginals in prison and undermine efforts to rehabilitate them, indigenous leaders say.

Canada has passed crime-toughening legislation that aboriginal leaders say will further increase the overrepresentation of indigenous in the country’s prisons.

Bill C-10 is known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, aboriginal leaders say it will create anything but, at least when it comes to the indigenous population. With 20 percent of the prison population made up of aboriginals—even though they comprise just four percent of Canada’s population—it’s better to keep more of those wrongdoers in institutions run by aboriginals, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo told the Senate, according to Postmedia News. This would put them within reach of community elders and rehab plans rather than simply punish them.

“The direction that this is heading in does not support the notion of First Nations creating safe and secure communities,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn An-in-chut Atleo in videotaped testimony before the Senate in February. “Because the young people we are talking about right now, they are more likely to end up in jail than end up in school.”

The crime bill undermines the promises that the Conservative government has made on improving education, a lack of which contributes to the overabundance of aboriginal convicts, and higher unemployment rates, Atleo said, according to Postmedia News.

"I am very concerned with the direction this bill is taking us in," Atleo said.

Regardless, the House of Commons put the final touches on the measure and approved it on March 12, with a vote of 154 to 129, according to The Globe and Mail. It received royal assent the next day. The bill enables mandatory minimum penalties for “serious drug offenses” such as those connected to organized crime or that target young people, according to the government’s background information. It also increases penalties for child sex offenses and allow victims to testify in parole hearings, among other measures.

Other aboriginals also oppose the bill. The minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses “will undermine the provisions under the Criminal Code that allow for cultural sensitivity and will result in even more First Nation people in Canadian prisons,” the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians said in a statement in February.

Besides the AFN and other aboriginals, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers also say the law will not work. In addition, several provinces, including Ontario and British Columbia, have said it will hike their costs to an untenable level.