Incarceration of Indigenous Women

Criminalization of Indigenous People Part I – A Foreign System – Published on New Socialist, by Jules Koostachin, September 11, 2012.

… Justice for Incarcerated Women:

Elizabeth Fry was an English woman born in 1780 into a wealthy Quaker family. In 1812, she began visiting women in London’s infamous Newgate prison. Appalled by the squalid conditions of poor women incarcerated with their children, Elizabeth Fry began services such as school for children and work projects for women where they could earn money for their release. She also advocated with government and public for female guards and better conditions.  

In 1951 a group of Toronto women invited Agnes Macphail, Canada’s first woman of parliament, to meet with them and discuss recommendations made by the Archibald Report calling for change in the Canadian prison system. Agnes was a socialist who had helped to found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). Active in the struggle for improvement of penitentiary conditions and treatment of offenders, Agnes MacPhail’s enthusiasm was the spark for the formation of the Toronto Elizabeth Fry Society in 1952.

Elizabeth Fry Toronto recognizes that pursuit of justice and the fair and equal treatment for women in the criminal justice system is directly related to the pursuit of equal rights for all members of society.  Our staff and our volunteers are dedicated. We provide a wide range of programs for women who are and have been at risk of coming into conflict with the law. Our programs include homelessness and outreach services, residential programs, community programs and court services.

Poverty, Race, Gender Violence and Criminalization: … //

… Conflicting Notions of Justice:

I believe that the Canadian legal system is a very foreign and inappropriate system for the resolution of conflict in our communities. The difference in the Aboriginal notions of justice can lead to misunderstandings of our people. It is discrimination to expect people to act in a way that is contrary to their most basic beliefs. We have our own traditional ways in governing.

The gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders continues to grow. It is said that the rate of Aboriginal incarceration in 2008 was nine times the national average. It is imperative that CSC meet its statutory obligations to ensure that the rights of Aboriginal prisoners to effective assistance in reintegrating into community are respected.

We have faced the most racial discrimination of any group in Canada. Discrimination against Aboriginal people has been a central policy of the Canadian government since confederation, through measures such as the Indian Act, Bill C-31, the residential school system and the reserve system.

We have an aging Aboriginal population within the prisons who are survivors of the residential school system. When they are released they often times reoffend. There is a real gap in services there – how do we provide services for this population?

Impacts of Bill C10:

The mandatory minimum sentence provisions of Bill C10 will guarantee an influx of prisoners to our already overcrowded provincial prisons. It will create an even larger backlog at courthouses. This in turn will lead to a higher cost to our province and citizens.

A large number of our clients at Elizabeth Fry Toronto are Aboriginal women who unfortunately get caught up in the criminal justice system due to the repercussions of criminalization. Many of the women we serve are survivors of physical and sexual abuse. Our hope is to address these concerns through education, housing initiatives and programs. This would be far more effective than sentencing.

Bill C10 will lead to a dismantling of restorative justice programs that date back to 1974, including healing circles and family group conferences. So Aboriginal Canadians will be hit hard if Bill C10 is passed. Currently, Section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code enshrines a “Gladue Principle” by which a court is required to take into account all reasonable alternatives to incarcerations, with particular sensitivity to specific circumstances facing Aboriginal people. This will be compromised under Bill C10.
(full text).

(Jules Koostachin is Cree from the Attawapiskat First Nation. She ran the Anduhyaun women’s shelter in Toronto for five years, and went on to work at Earlscourt Family Centre (now the Child Development Institute). She is a media artist, and a court and volunteer program manager with Elizabeth Fry Toronto. PhotographerTammy Bird is Aboriginal Inreach Councillor, Elizabeth Fry Toronto. The presentation on which the following article by Jules Koostachin is based can be viewed on Youtube, 5.50 min. The complete webcast from the panel on The Criminalization of Indigenous People at Indigenous Sovereignty Week 2011 can be found here).


We Are at War, on war is a crime, by Johnny Barber, September 10, 2012;

Iluminating the Way: Antiwar veterans organize at largest military base in U.S., on War Times/Tiempo de Guerras, by Sarah Lazare, Sept. 9, 2012;

Master of Arts in Human Rights and Conflict Management, Scuola Sant’Anna 2012-2013;

CAS Human Rights Education / CAS Menschenrechtsbildung (in Lucerne, Switzerland, Paedagogische Hochschule);


Course 23E12: Children’s Rights (Foundation Course), 7 November – 18 December 2012:

  • Application form;
  • Application deadline: 1 October 2012;
  • Instructor: Dr. Angela Melchiorre;

Course 3S12-2: The Right to Education, 7 November – 18 December 2012:

  • Application form;
  • Application deadline: 1 October 2012;
  • Instructor: Bailey Grey;

Course 8E12: Introduction to Human Rights Education, 3 October – 18 December 2012:

  • Application form;
  • Application deadline: 22 September 2012;
  • Instructor: Felisa Tibbitts.

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