London Free Press and First Nations Youth

This post is in response to an article titled Siblings Jailed After Fatal Stabbing..

When I first read this article, I was thinking to myself, “Why would a news source announce that these youth were First Nations?” Then I read the readers’ comments, and it made more sense to me now.

A bit of background information (This information is available through the LF press news articles): This occurred last year in August. Both offenders are First Nations. One is a 22 year old mother of three, the other is 18 years old. Both pretty young. One received 2 years (the mother) and the other sentenced to 17 months.

In the Criminal Code of Canada, Section 718.2(e) states the following:

718.2 A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

(e) all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.

The interpretation of this section was conducted during an Appeal to the decision made in R. v. Gladue. That decision can be read HERE.

It must be highlighted that this section of the Criminal Code of Canada does not give special consideration to Aboriginal peoples but in reality acknowledges the fact that many of them occupy prison systems. Harper’s Truth in Sentencing Act was seen as a step back because it failed to acknowledge this state of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. This Act removed the 2-4-1 sentencing, where time already served would not be acknowledged in final sentencing. Further exacerbating the rate at which Aboriginals populate prison systems.

Now, I won’t comment on the sentencing and the length that they received but it must be highlighted some of the factors that court’s consider when sentencing.

Some of these include:

  • First Time Offender?
  • Present Situation: education, family, employment
  • Social background: family life, childhood, etc.

In the case of these two individuals, they were both young, one was obviously drinking underage, and one already had three children before reaching the age of 25. This is what life is like in Canada for most Aboriginals. There is alcohol abuse, young parenthood, violent environments (Wasn’t one already carrying a knife…who carries a knife around if they are in a “safe” environment).

I am not promoting bad behaviour or violent behaviour among Aboriginal youth in any way. I am just attempting to address the comments some of the readers had in the article which can be read HERE.

They ask why was the term First Nations used? Why did that have to be mentioned? And one even states that using this term contributes to stereotypes in society. I thought the same thing.

But then I read a comment that said:

Look at the bright side, if you’re a white male, you’ll get at least 15 years for the same crime.

Hmmm, but race is not the case here. What is the case is that Aboriginals are over-represented in the Criminal Court system, including prisons. You say that still is dealing with race. No, it is dealing with the social situation that Aboriginals presently face. The decision in the appeal in R. v. Gladue highlights this.

Within this decision, it states:

  1. This section does not mean that judges should pay more attention to Aboriginal offenders, but attention to their unique characteristics.
  2. That Aboriginals are over-represented in prison systems.
  3. “The unbalanced ratio of imprisonment for aboriginal offenders flows from a number of sources, including poverty, substance abuse, lack of education, and the lack of employment opportunities for Aboriginal people. quoted @ para. 65.
  4. “It arises also from bias against Aboriginal people and from an unfortunate institutional approach that is more inclined to refuse bail and to impose more and longer prison terms for Aboriginal offenders.” quoted @ para. 65.
  5. Aboriginal people who suffer from systemic and direct discrimination are then both offenders to society and fall victim to society.

With the above, I tried my best to grasp the most important points, although this case is significantly important in every which way as it pertains to Aboriginals who enter the criminal court system. I guess by mentioning that the two offenders were First Nations, the news source may have been acknowledging the fact that Aboriginal people still face great disparities when it comes to society.

Relating to this LFpress article, this situation is nothing new to Aboriginal people in Canadian Society–violence amongst its young or its young going to jail, leaving behind futures and children. The thing that I am most annoyed with in this article is the fact that the comments just focus on “First Nations” and fails to acknowledge that some Aboriginal people face huge disparities in comparison to other groups within Canada. Not one comment, showed concern for the 3 children left behind or showed concern for young person who chose to throw their life away.

In the end, some people might respond to this post and say, “Well, who cares? That is their fault.” No, this isn’t their fault. Some Aboriginal people lag behind in education, employment, and some even live in poverty… despite having social supports. These are the inter-generational effects of colonialism, displacement of culture, loss of identity, and most importantly the effects of the Residential School system.

I hope more people begin to understand that Aboriginal people do not have it the best in Canada, and that we don’t get everything “for free.”

Read my post titled I get everything for free! and also my post titled Tax Exemption.

I hope this post changes one individual after reading it. Not everyone. I am content with one 🙂

Keeping Indianson the Reserve

Today I read an article on the Globe and Mail called Harper Dismisses Radical Moves on Abortion and Gun Laws.

This post isn’t about abortion or gun laws it’s about this quote here: Canadians, he thinks, are comfortable with his government, even when they disagree with it, and he wants to reassure them he plans no radical moves.. “He” being Harper.

The fact that he believes that citizens of Canada don’t really care about the government and the decisions the governments make is pretty bold. A book I read called “Ill Fares The Land” by Tony Judt relates to Harper’s statement. Judt basically said in his book that “young people” don’t care (not verbatim). He mostly wrote about EU and the US, but I could agree that what he says in that book can be applied to Canada. Just ask any young Canadian today about the Gun law Harper put on the back burner again and how it’s supposed to make it easier to catch people who use guns to commit crime. Do you think they could answer? Or would they much rather answer a question about Bieber, Hilton or a Kardashian?

I do believe this can be changed. As an Aboriginal Canadian, I believe that Aboriginal Canadians can be the one to change this. How? Well, it’s plastered all over Stats-Can: Aboriginals are the fastest growing population, with the greater number of them being aged 18-27.

Even though I am a huge advocate/supporter to initiatives that support and motivate young Aboriginals, I am kind of a hypocrite when I write this post. I have never voted in my life (well since I turned 18–the “voting age” in Canada). I wanted to vote, except when I lived in the city closest to my reservation and I walked up to the polling station for the first time to vote I was told, “you have to go to the polling stations on your reservation.” I didn’t have a car, and couldn’t find a ride to the polling stations on my reservation. Did that mean that I had to change my address to my city address in order to vote off my reservation? Yup, it sure did. So that meant I had to change my identification to reflect my new address change (and that would mean I would lose some of my tax-exemption rights because when I present my tax-exemption card to some businesses they ask for my “proof of reserve address.” I have to prove to them the product is going to be used on reserve land.) Another form of racism? Maybe. Marginalization? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just another effort to keeping “Indians” on the “reserve”? Maybe.

Since moving to a Southwestern Ontario city, I have never voted since that time. I wonder how many more Aboriginals living off-reserve are in the same situation? If there are many, just think of the changes that can be made if Aboriginals knew that they could vote off-reserve without changing their address (just so they don’t lose some of their rights). Imagine if all Aboriginals who could vote, did vote, whether they live on or off-reserve. Just think of the changes that can be made then.

Do you think Harper would be thinking along the lines of, “Even if they disagreed, they wouldn’t care.” I think not.