I am sitting here in my bedroom after a day of doing nothing when I should have been doing a lot. I am grateful for being able to have a day of doing nothing, however. I also just finished my last discussion question for my only online course for this semester. This course was related to young people in the criminal justice system. There was much discussion and mentioning of Aboriginal young people. Even last week it was interesting to read some of the perspectives of my peers. One particular peer, as with many others in this country, do not believe that young people especially young Aboriginal people receive preferential treatment in the justice system.
There is a section in the criminal code of Canada that states that offenders of Aboriginal descent should be given special consideration when it comes to sentencing. This decision was made in the case of R. v. Gladue (who also happened to be a young Aboriginal female, not a youth as defined by our justice system but still young). This decision also stated that Aboriginal people should not be given special treatment and that prison should only be considered as a last resort given that there is an overrepresentation of Aboriginal people (both adults and youth) in the system. Also, the decision was reaffirmed this year by the Supreme Court of Canada. What is strange for young Aboriginal people who enter the justice system as young offenders was that this statement was not included in the YCJA until recently. Even in youth facilities there was an overrepresentation of young Aboriginal people that mirrors the states of Aboriginal adults in adult facilities.
This whole course was eye-opening given that my first encounter with police was at the age of 13 and my last encounter was when I was 23. Yet, I did not receive my first formal laying of charges until I was 18 years old. Being a young person who frequently attempted suicide, not to die but to end the pain I was dealing with, I was sometimes placed on suicide watch while awaiting a bed in the local pediatric psychiatric ward. I was even sent away for an entire month to a youth psychiatric hospital in a much failed attempt to deal with my issues. Needless to say, I did not receive the help that I needed. I shared with my peers about my experiences in the justice system after reading the frustrating responses to last week’s discussion questions.
It is really frustrating as a young Indigenous women to read in the news or to over hear discussion on this supposed special treatment that Aboriginal people receive in the justice system. It is brought up on a continuous basis in other classroom discussions. It is such a complex issue that it makes me sad that it is not a requirement for people in my program to take a First Nations studies course. Most the stereotypical responses to these issues can be answered with more education.
One of the things I learned this semester is that I should just say what I feel. Consequently, I have spoken about my lived experiences more often. I can sometimes see the annoyance in my peers’ faces or in their responses when I talk about my lived experiences in the justice system. Often, my experiences are reflected in the textbooks or articles we read as a class: domestic violence, suicide, victimization, re-victimization, etc. Am I hurt that I can relate to the stereotypical image that many Canadians have of Aboriginal people? Sometimes yes. Other times I am very thankful for having experienced all that I have and that I am able to sit here today, free, no pending criminal charges, and share my experiences. The more I talk about these experiences the more people come up to me to share me their own experiences and that is the most humbling. Even if I can’t change the way the world views Indigenous women, I know that I can change the way I view myself. From my experiences I always share that if it weren’t for those “second chances” or “special treatment” then I probably would not be able to be here today and attend school.