Friday, November 25, 2011

Justice Minister Vic Toews' Wilful Blindness to the Ongoing "Crisis" in Justice System

Please tell me that I am not the only one who is shocked by federal Justice Minister Vic Toews' idiotic comments tonight on APTN News. Did he actually say that there is nothing wrong with our justice system and that our justice system does not discriminate? I can't even think of a proper descriptor for his comments - ignorant, racist, wilfully blind, pitifully stupid, unprofessional, and irresponsible don't seem to convey the depth to which his comments are offensive.

It is as if he has ignored every single justice report, inquiry, and Supreme Court of Canada judgement that has found, based on overwhelming research and evidence, that our justice system does in fact discriminate, especially against Indigenous peoples. However, we all know that as Minister of Justice he knows about all these reports - he has simply chosen to ignore them because it suits the Conservative party's racist assimilatory policy towards Indigenous peoples.

I hardly know where to start.

The Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) published in 1996 is one of the most comprehensive studies on the situation of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

In the same year, they released a report entitled: Bridging the Cultural Divide: A Report on Aboriginal People and Criminal Justice in Canada was released which highlighted the numerous problems with the justice system as it relates to Indigenous peoples. Both reports found the fact of over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system to be due in part to ongoing discrimination.

Prior to that, in 1989, there was the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Prosecution which you will recall was brought about because of the wrongful imprisonment of Donald Marshall Jr simply because he was Mi'kmaq.

The inquiry found: "The criminal justice system failed Donald Marshall Jr., at virtually every turn from his arrest and wrongful conviction for murder in 1971 up to, and even beyond, his acquittal by the Court of Appeal in 1983." They further found that everyone involved, from the police, Marshall's lawyers, the judges, prosecutors, and appeal judges all failed Marshall because he was "native".

Minister Toews would be shocked to learn that their actions "amounted to a defence of the criminal justice system at the expense of Donald Marshall Jr., in spite of overwhelming evidence that the system itself had failed." Toews might also be gobsmacked to hear that this inquiry made recommendations to "reduce discrimination in the justice system".

There is also the Report of the Manitoba Justice Inquiry in 1999 which made significant findings in relation to the level of discrimination in the justice system as it relates to Indigenous peoples.

They found that there are two primary reasons why Aboriginal peoples are over-represented in the criminal justice system, and both are the result of systemic and ongoing discrimination against Aboriginal peoples. First of all, they found that Aboriginal peoples are more likely to be confronted by the justice system, not because they are culturally pre-disposed to criminal activity, but because of the long history of "discrimination and social inequality that has impoverished Aboriginal people and consigned them to the margins of ...society."

However, the Inquiry found that the more serious issue was the ongoing discrimination within the justice system that assumes all people are the same. A system which assumes equality exists "can't help but discriminate against Aboriginal people". Just in case there was any doubt about the fact of discrimination in the justice system (which Toews denies), the Inquiry further found that: "Discrimination against Aboriginal people has been a central policy of Canadian governments since Confederation" and "represents a monumental symbol of intolerance".

Aboriginal peoples have been, and continue to be victims of "the openly hostile bigot" and the victims of the systemic discrimination found in our justice system. For Minister Toews to say otherwise is an outright lie according to these legal inquiries, the Supreme Court of Canada and even the Office of the Correctional Investigator. This alone is cause for Minister Toews to submit his resignation because he obviously no longer represents the public interest if he can so openly deny the sickness within the justice system.

Most of you will recall the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Gladue.

The TOP COURT in our country found that in addition to Canada being "a world leader in putting people in prison";  the "serious problem of aboriginal overrepresentation in Canadian prisons is well-documented", the "excessive imprisonment of aboriginal people is only the tip of the iceberg" because "Aboriginal people are overrepresented in virtually all aspects of the system."

The Supreme Court of Canada goes on to explain (so READ carefully Minister Toews), that "there is widespread BIAS against aboriginal people within Canada" such that "this widespread RACISM has translated into systemic DISCRIMINATION in the criminal justice system." (emphasis added) They also highlight the fact that the drastic level of discrimination and overrepresentation should be considered "a CRISIS in the Canadian criminal justice system".

But, just in case numerous reports, inquiries and court cases from the top court in the land don't convince you, what about the research and observations of a federal official like the Office of the Correctional Investigator who has been saying for over 15 years that the discrimination at every level of the justice system against Aboriginal peoples is a full-blown CRISIS.

I invite anyone to read any report from any year and you will note that report after report highlights the discrimination, the suffering of Aboriginal peoples by discriminatory laws and policies and the fact that the problem is getting WORSE not better. These reports call the situation:

- "discriminatory" (2001);
- a "continuing crisis and embarrassment" (2003);
- it is a "grave" situation which prevents Aboriginal people from enjoying equality (2005);
- the "inequitable results" stem directly from federal policies (2008);
- the situation is getting much worse (2009); and
- "inequitable outcomes" are the direct result of federal policies and practices (2010).

What does this all mean in terms of numbers? Well, Aboriginal peoples are only 4% of the population, but in places like Manitoba Aboriginal men can make up 79% of the prison population. Aboriginal women fare even worse making up to 83% of all prison admissions.

However, the situation is getting much worse for Aboriginal women and are expected to have significant increases. In fact, over a 10 year period, the imprisonment of our Aboriginal women rose by 151%.

This of course, ONLY reflects what is happening in criminal justice. This does not include all the overt discrimination faced by Aboriginal peoples in the justice system by way of:

- murdered and missing Aboriginal women left to die without adequate police attention;
- our people who are taken on Starlight tours and left to freeze to death;
- our people who are shot to death, beaten to death or tazered unnecessarily; and
- the use of CSIS, RCMP, military and now INAC to spy on our people - even those of us who have never committed a criminal act.

No one in their right mind could stand before all Canadians and claim that our justice system is not broken and does not discriminate against anyone. Only a right-wing extremeist, drunk with "white privilege" and power would even have the nerve to say something like that and ignore all the evidence to contrary - including evidence that comes from the very justice system he defends.

This controversy all comes about over his defence of Bill C-10 - a massive bill that would make numerous amendments to numerous acts - many of which will have devastating consequences on Canadians. It will make minimum prison sentences mandatory and will take away the discretion of judges to find alternatives to prison.

It is widely opposed - by organizations like the Canadian Bar Association which represents lawyers in Canada. Their 100-page submission against the Bill highlights the speed at which this omnibus bill (one that makes many changes to many acts) is being considered, the lack of time for study and comment and the overall dangers of the bill.

The following link is to a radio interview where I first talked about Bill S-2 (matrimonial real property on reserve) and then Bill C-10 and how they both relate to the oppression and assimilation of Aboriginal peoples.

I know I ask a great deal of my readers - to read such lengthy blogs, access numerous links and write e-mails to express our concerns regarding endless bills, policies and actions against our peoples. But, most of us have the education, access to internet and computers and ability to do this. Think of all those who can't, but who will no doubt be the ones to suffer from this ongoing oppression and assimilation of our people. Please write to Minister Toews and tell him to get real, submit his resignation and NOT pass Bill C-10.

Thank you for all your support and for continuing the battle for real justice and equality. For rabble fans, see my blog on

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I am moved to write this blog because of Minister Duncan's outrageous remarks that residential schools were NOT cultural genocide. This has led to discussions about whether or not the murder, torture and abuse of Indigenous peoples in this country "qualifies" as genocide, given the more recent, and much more distant atrocities committed in countries like Rwanda. Rwanda gained international attention because upwards of 800,000 people died in less than a year by brutal means. The Srebenica genocide resulted in the murder of approximately 8,000 Bosnian men and women in 1995. The holocaust of millions of Jewish people is likely the most famous of all.

These events all took place far away from our shores in North America and allowed Canadians and Americans to point across the sea and shake their heads in horror and disgust. North Americans have been able to rewrite their own histories so that they don't have to face the atrocities committed here at home. They have the benefit of majority power which means that their teachers speak of peace and friendship with the Indians, their priests speak of saving Indians, and their politicians speak of things like reconciliation. Meanwhile, the horrors committed against our peoples, which resulted in the largest genocide in the planet's history is a story that never gets told.

As a lawyer, a professor and someone who does alot of public speaking about issues impacting our peoples, I am often faced with the question of whether genocide really happened here in North America (a place we call Turtle Island and includes Canada and the United States). When I answer unequivocally yes, the first reaction is usually - "You can't seriously compare colonization with the vicious murders in Rwanda"? I agree - there is is no comparison. It was a different place, at a different time, with different methods and results. What I am saying is that what happened to our people on Turtle Island fits EVERY criteria of the international definition of genocide.

In 1948, after the atrocities committed against the Jewish people in WWII, the United Nations passed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The Convention declared that genocide was a crime in international law regardless of whether it was committed during a time of peace or war. Any punishment is NOT limited by time or place and there is no immunity for public bodies, government officials or individuals. They defined genocide as follows:

"The Convention defines genocide as any of a number of acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group:

- killing the members of the group;

- causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group;

- deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

- imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and

- forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

That is not my definition - that is the definition by international law standards for which ALL nations are bound and Canada and the United States are no exceptions. Canada signed this Convention on November 28, 1949. The United States signed on December 11, 1948.

Thus, in order for an act to be considered genocide, it does not require that all components be present, nor does it require that the entire group be eliminated. However, in both Canada's case and that of the United States, ALL components of genocide are present. Specifically here in Canada:

(1) killing members of the group

- the deliberate infecting of blankets with small pox and sending them to reserves;
- the enacting of scalping laws which encouraged settlers to kill and scalp Indians for a monetary reward;
- the deliberate infecting of Indigenous children with infectious diseases in residential schools which led to their deaths;
- the deliberate abuse, torture, starvation, and denial of medical care to Indigenous children forced to live at residential schools which resulted in as many as 40% dying in those schools;
- the killing of our people by police and military through starlight tours, tazering, severe beatings, and by unjustified shootings;
- the killing of our people resulted in severely reduced populations, and some Nations completely wiped out;
- in the US, some groups were exterminated by up to 98%;

(2) causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to the members of the group;

- think of the torture and abuse inflicted on Indigenous children in residential schools like sexual abuse, rape, sodomy, solitary confinement, denial of food and medical care, and severe beatings for speaking one's language, etc;
- imagine the mental harm to Indigenous families and communities when their children were forcibly removed from them and left to die in residential schools;
- even when residential schools were starting to close, social workers in the 1960's onward stole children and placed them out for adoption in non-Indigenous families;
- the torture and abuse of Indigenous peoples in order to force them to sign treaties and agreements;
- the loss of language, culture, traditions, practices, way of life, beliefs, world views, customs;
- the imposed divisions in families, communities and Nations through the Indian Act

(3) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

- think of the deliberate and chronic underfunding of essential social services on reserve like housing, water, food, sewer and other programs fundamental to the well-being of a people like education and health;
- the theft of all the lands and resources of Indigenous peoples and their subsequent confinement to small reserves where the law prevented them from leaving and providing for their families and so were left to starve on the rations provided by Canada;
- or the relocations of Indigenous communities from resource rich areas to swamp lands where they could not provide for themselves;
- Indian Affairs who divided large nations into small communities, located them physically away from one another,
- the Indian Act led to the physical separation of Indigenous women and children from their communities through the Act's assimilatory registration provisions;

(4) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

- the forced sterilizations of Indigenous women and men, most notably in Alberta and British Columbia;
- the Indian Act's discriminatory registration provisions which prevent the descendants of Indigenous women who married non-Indian men to be recognized as members of their community thus keeping their births from being recognized as part of the group;
- the discriminatory INAC policy which prevents the children of unwed mothers from registering their children as Indians and part of their communities (unstated and unknown paternity);

(5) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

- the long history of residential schools which had an express stated purpose - "to KILL the Indian in the child" and to ensure that there were no more Indians in Canada;
- the 60's scoop which saw the mass removal of Indigenous children from their homes and adopted permanently into non-Indigenous homes;
- the prevention of children from being members in their communities due to the discriminatory Indian Act registration provisions;
- the current high rate of children removed from their families which out numbers residential schools and 60's scoop combined.

Unfortunately, I could provide many more examples, but there is no need to do so when what is listed above more than meets the definition of genocide. So, when the Minister of Indian Affairs says that residential schools were NOT a form of cultural genocide, he is not only undoing what good the public residential schools apology did, but he is denying all of the horrors committed by Canada on our peoples - in essence, he is denying our lived realities.

Watch the clips of Minister Duncan on APTN's InFocus show that we just did on Nov.4, 2011 on the issue of assimilation and genocide in Canada:

Part 1 of APTN InFocus:

Part 2:

I find it hard to believe that while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is going around Canada, that the Minister of Indian Affairs would be so disrespectful. Not only were residential schools "lethal" for some languages, cultures and family relations, it was literally "lethal" for almost half the children that attended. How much more lethal would he want it to be? 60%, 70%, 80%?

The Prime Minister should immediately remove Minister Duncan from his position. That won't happen of course, because the Conservative government STILL has a policy objective of assimilating Indians. The Indian Act's registration provisions are modern day evidence of that.

I invite you all to watch the documentary entitled: The Canary Effect. It is only one hour long, but is very difficult to watch. It hurts the spirit in so many ways and I imagine will be difficult for uninformed non-Indigenous people to accept. While it relates primarily to genocide against our Indigenous peoples in the United States, much of what is said applies equally in Canada.

We are in the fight of our lives and we need to turn the tide of this war around. We have to stop blaming ourselves and believing the lies that we were told. We are not inferior, we are not genetically pre-disposed to dysfunction, our men are not better than our women, and we certainly did not EVER consent to genocide against our people. All the dysfunction, addictions, ill health, suicides, male domination and violence is all the result of what Canada did to us. We are not each others' enemies. We have to forgive ourselves for being colonized - none of that is who we really are as Indigenous peoples.

Our people are beautiful, proud, strong, and resilient. We honour our ancestors by surviving. Now we have to honour our future generations by thriving. Our children carry our ancestors in their hearts and minds. They carry the strength, honour and passion of our ancestors in their blood. Our generation must find a way, despite all the barriers in our way, to love, support and nurture our children so that we can rise up and take back our sovereignty, our honour, and our future.

Our children will still go through the pain of knowing what has been done and is currently done to our people by Canada, and all the dysfunction that it has created, but maybe they will finally know where to direct the anger and stop turning it inward and hurting themselves. That anger can be focused into passion which can then be channelled into action for our people. 

Our future depends on our children loving themselves and having hope. We can't ever let them lose that. Canada may want us to disappear, but we don't have to let it happen.

All my relations...

P.S. In case you want to express your concern to Minister Duncan, his e-mail is