We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to work with Aboriginal communities to provide culturally relevant services to inmates on issues such as substance abuse, family and domestic violence, and overcoming the experience of having been sexually abused.

Indigenous Watchdog Status Update

Current StatusJan.10, 2022IN PROGRESS
Previous StatusDec. 5, 2021IN PROGRESS

Why “In Progress”?

The information on CORCAN, although interesting from an education and employment perspective in an Aboriginal Healing Lodge context is not relevant to this Call to Action. Two relevant Budget 2017 funding allocations were announced:

  • Assisting Correctional Services Canada (CSC) through its community reintegration initiatives to engage Indigenous communities and organizations through contracts to provide addictions treatment, trauma counselling, gang disaffiliation and life skills support.
  • Indigenous Community Corrections Initiative for Public Safety Canada supports the development of community-based and culturally-relevant projects with a focus on alternatives to incarceration and reintegration support for Indigenous offenders. as well as other specific initiatives.

The Correctional Investigator has also made numerous recommendations in his annual reports addressing the need for culturally relevant services for Indigenous inmates especially given the overrepresentation of Indigenous men and women in federal prisons.

Some Provinces and Territories are also addressing C2A # 36 directly.

Indigenous Community Corrections Initiative

The Indigenous Community Corrections Initiative (ICCI) supports alternatives to custody and reintegration projects responsive to the unique circumstances of Indigenous people in Canada. ICCI projects provide culturally relevant services that may include counselling, treatment, life skills coaching, family reunification, and addressing the effects of residential schools and involvement with child welfare systems.

The ICCI provides contribution funding to March 31, 2022 to eligible recipients to develop tailored approaches that are responsive to the concerns, priorities and unique circumstances of Indigenous people.


The objectives of the Initiative are:

  • To support the development of alternatives to incarceration; and/or
  • To provide reintegration support.

Funding Information

Total funds available for all approved projects over the course of five years (2017/18 to 2021/22) are broken down as follows:

2017/18 – $706,000;

2018/19 – $1,115,000;

2019/20 – $2,315,000;

2020/21 – $2,315,000;

2021/22 – $2,315,000.

Government Commitments to Culturally Relevant Services


Dec. 1, 2021: Nunatsiaq News – Jury recommendations to Correctional Services Canada after suicide of an Inuit inmate include:

  • Correctional Service Canada (CSC) should make the Anijaarniq Strategy, a holistic Inuit strategy to better understand the needs of Inuit in federal custody, publicly available and ensure CSC staff know how to implement it properly.
  • CSC should explore ways to better understand and meaningfully address barriers to recruiting Inuit elders.
  • With mental health practitioners, including Indigenous health practitioners, CSC should identify whether suicide prevention tools should be updated to take into account Indigenous social realities.
  • Orientation training should be provided to Inuit elders and Inuit liaison officers … [including] how to review entries to the inmate management system to ensure that events and interactions are accurately reflected.
  • Conflict resolution, healing circles and elders should be considered before an increase to security classification and or a transfer recommendation is made.
British Columbia

Indigenous Justice Programs deliver programs and services in 34 communities throughout BC. The programs work to reduce victimization, crime
and incarceration among Indigenous people by offering individualized programs such as diversion, alternative measures, community work service, sentencing input, restorative justice and reintegration services. As part of this program, BC Corrections and the Justice Institute of British Columbia collaborate to train independent Indigenous justice workers to deliver:

  • Domestic violence programs;
  • Substance abuse programs; and
  • Training in alternative measures.

At our custody centres, Indigenous service providers offer spiritual leadership and culturally relevant programming to inmates. Several custody centres have dedicated spaces for sweat lodges, smudges, healing ceremonies and talking circles. Aboriginal Liaison Workers provide counselling and crisis intervention, and connect Indigenous inmates and offenders with groups that help them reintegrate into their communities. Elders and spiritual advisors also deliver cultural awareness programming to inmates from other ethnicities to help foster peace and understanding. (A Profile of BC Corrections, 2017)


May 3, 2018 – The Correctional Services and Reintegration Act, 2018 was passed today and will result in improved conditions, increased transparency, and will apply a consistent and evidence-based approach to rehabilitation and reintegration to better prepare those in custody for a successful and well-supported return to their communities. Specific to the Indigenous population:

  • Ensuring incarcerated individuals have access to appropriate health care services, including treatment of disease or injury, health promotion, disease prevention, dental care, vision-care, hearing care, mental health and addictions care, and traditional First Nation, Inuit, or Métis healing and medicines.
  • Better supporting rehabilitation and reintegration through individualized assessments completed for every admission. As part of an evidence-based approach to incarceration, case management plans will be tailored to address the unique needs of inmates to guide their rehabilitation.

Enhanced culturally-responsive programming will be implemented to meet the diverse and unique needs of Indigenous individuals and other over-represented groups to achieve successful reintegration.


Sept. 18, 2018 – Committed to work with Yukon First Nations to develop culturally relevant correctional programming and alternative environments for those with addiction or mental health issues and emphasized need for the entire justice system to improve its response to victims of sexualized violence – significantly and soon.”

Office of the Correctional Investigator

Annual Report 2019-2020

I recognize that many of the causes of Indigenous over-representation reside in factors beyond the criminal justice system. However, when I issued the statement, I noted that consistently poorer correctional outcomes for Indigenous offenders (e.g.)

  • more likely to be placed or classified as maximum security
  • more likely to be involved in use of force and self-injury incidents,
  • less likely to be granted conditional release

suggests that federal corrections makes its own contribution to the problem of over-representation. For example, a recent national recidivism study shows that Indigenous people reoffend or are returned to custody at much higher levels, as high as 65% for Indigenous men in the Prairie region within five years of release. A higher rate of readmission to custody (revocations or reoffending) suggests shortcomings in the system’s capacity to prepare and assist Indigenous offenders to live a law- abiding life after release from custody.

In the coming year, my Office will be launching a series of in-depth investigations examining
a selection of programs and services in CSC’s Indigenous Continuum of Care. The Office’s review of Indigenous Corrections will also include a deeper probe of the over-involvement of Indigenous offenders in use of force incidents including comparative data and findings on the causes, frequency, type and severity of force used. Preliminary and previous work in this area (e.g. An Investigation of the Treatment and Management of Chronic Self-Injury among Federally Sentenced Women, September 2013) suggests that specific attention needs to be paid to the circumstances and social histories of Indigenous women, particularly those who present with serious mental health issues, as they appear to be vastly over-represented in use of force incidents among federally sentenced women.

Annual Report 2018-2019

Feb. 18, 2020 – Annual report tabled in House of Commons. The following are ten key recommendations common between two parliamentary committees (the House of Commons Standing Committees on Public Safety and National Security [SECU] and Status of Women [FEWO]) as well as recommendations my Office has made, and continues to call on federal corrections to implement:

  1. Increasing the number of Section 81 and 84 agreements and the ability of Indigenous inmates to access Healing Lodges.
  2. Validating existing risk assessment and classification tools and/or developing new tools that are more relevant to the realities of Indigenous peoples in the correctional system.
  3. Increasing access and availability of culturally-relevant correctional programming for Indigenous peoples.
  4. Increasing the number of Indigenous staff and providing training on Gladue and Aboriginal Social History to all staff to increase cultural competence, as well as enhance the relevance and effectiveness of services for Indigenous inmates.
  5. Improving and increasing engagement with Indigenous communities to provide reintegration services for Indigenous offenders being released back to the community.
  6. Increasing the availability of appropriate and relevant employment and educational programming and training that is informed by labour market needs.
  7. Improving screening, assessment and diagnosis of mental health issues, specifically Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
  8. Providing trauma-informed therapeutic approaches to programming and interventions, particularly for Indigenous women.
  9. Facilitating access to appropriate identification and health cards to all Indigenous offenders prior to their release.
  10. Appointing a deputy commissioner for Indigenous affairs within federal corrections.

Investigator Comments on CSC Response

Given the overall lack of details and commitments in the Government’s response to the above, it leaves me questioning how the Government (particularly, CSC as it relates to federal corrections) intends to address the specific recommendations made by the Committees. Furthermore, if the government intends to make good on the FEWO Committee’s recommendation of “eliminating the over-representation of Aboriginal people [and youth] in custody by 2025,” there will need to be coordinated and intentional strategies put in place. The focus needs to shift towards creating and utilizing alternatives to incarceration, increasing access to effective and culturally relevant services for incarcerated Indigenous inmates, and a considerable reallocation of resources to effective community reintegration efforts.

Incorporating Indigenous Specific Risk-factors

I recommend that in 2019-2020, CSC should:

  • publicly respond to how it intends to address the gaps identified in the Ewert v. Canada decision and ensure that more culturally-responsive indicators (i.e., Indigenous social history factors) of risk/need are incorporated into assessments of risk and need; and,
  • acquire external, independent expertise to conduct empirical research to assess the validity and reliability of all existing risk assessment tools used by CSC to inform decision-making with Indigenous offenders.

CSC Response

For Indigenous offenders, CSC has developed an Aboriginal Social History (ASH) tool that provides guidance on how to consider ASH in case management practices, recommendations and decisions for Indigenous offenders.

As part of CSC’s Research Plan for 2019-2020, we will also be further considering the design of a case management assessment tool specifically for use with Indigenous offenders.

National Aboriginal Advisory Group

I recommend that CSC, in consultation with the National Aboriginal Advisory Committee and the National Elders Working Group, implement an action plan with deliverables for clarifying the role of Elders and reducing Elder vulnerability within CSC and report publicly on these plans by the end of 2019-2020.

CSC Response

CSC has been addressing the topic of Elder vulnerability on an ongoing basis and in 2017 published Elder Vulnerability within CSC: A Summary of Discussions with Elders, Recommendations and Action Plans.


CSC will continue to facilitate ongoing extensive collective discussions and consultations with the NEWG on improvements for CSC Elders and Elder vulnerability at the upcoming NAAC and NEWG meetings. Additionally, as part of CSC’s ongoing commitment to improving results for Indigenous offenders, Elder Orientation was developed in consultation with the NAAC and the NEWG, and was implemented across the regions as Elders commence their contract with CSC. The Elder Orientation is now integrated into the onboarding process for newly contracted Elders. The Orientation provides information on working within CSC, key expectations and avenues for support. The Elder Orientation was rolled out early in fiscal year 2018-19. All Elders currently under contract with CSC have received Elder Orientation.

Annual Report 2017 – 2018

It has been nearly three years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued its final report Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (December 18, 2015), to which the Government of Canada committed to implementing all of the recommendations. Little practical progress has been made on the TRC’s ‘Calls to Action’ impacting federal corrections:

  • Eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal people and youth in custody over the next decade
  • Implement community sanctions that will provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders and respond to the underlying causes of offending.
  • Eliminate barriers to the creation of additional Aboriginal healing lodges within the federal correctional system.
  • Enact statutory exemptions from mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment for offenders affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
  • Reduce the rate of criminal victimization of Aboriginal people.

The Correctional Services Investigator recommendations include the following specific to Indigenous populations:

  1. that CSC creates and appoints a Deputy Commissioner level position for Indigenous Affairs to ensure that corporate attention and accountability remains focused on Indigenous issues in federal corrections.
  2. that CSC re-allocate very significant resources to negotiate new funding arrangements and agreements with appropriate partners and service providers to transfer care, custody and supervision of Indigenous people from prison to the community. This would include creation of new section 81 capacity in urban areas and section 84 placements in private residences. These new arrangements should return to the original vision of the Healing Lodges and include consultation with Elders. To honour the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s ‘calls to action,’
  3. that CSC spending, budget and resource allocation should better reflect the proportion of Indigenous people serving a federal sentence. Over the next decade, re-allocation of resources and delegation of control to Indigenous communities should be the stated goals of CSC’s contribution to reaching the TRC’s ‘calls to action.’
  4. that the CSC develop a National Gang and Dis-Affiliation Strategy and ensure sufficient resources are allocated for its implementation, inclusive of (core and cultural) programs, employment and services. Special attention should be paid to Indigenous-based street gangs. This strategy should:
    • be responsive to the unique needs of young Indigenous men and women offenders, including education and meaningful vocational opportunities;
    • ensure that non-gang affiliated young adult offenders are not placed where there are gang members who may attempt to recruit or intimidate them;
    • facilitate opportunities (e.g. workshops, seminars, public speakers, etc.) where young adults can engage with their culture and/or spirituality, and age-specific activities;
    • incorporate best practices and lessons learned from other jurisdictions and other public safety domain

Click to access annrpt20172018-eng.pdf

Annual Report 2016 – 2017

I recommend that CSC review its community release strategy for Indigenous offenders with a view to:

  • increase the number of Section 81 agreements to include community accommodation options for the care and custody of medium security inmates;
  • address discrepancies in funding arrangements between CSC and Aboriginal-managed Healing Lodge facilities, and;
  • maximize community interest and engagement in release planning for Indigenous offenders at the earliest opportunity.
Annual Report 2015 – 2016

I again recommend that CSC appoint a Deputy Commissioner for Indigenous Corrections.

I recommend that the Service develop new culturally appropriate and gender specific assessment tools, founded on Gladue principles, to be used with male and female Indigenous offenders. I recommend that CSC’s National Aboriginal Advisory Council (NAAC) review gaps and barriers to increased participation of Elders in federal corrections and publicly release its recommendations by the end of the fiscal year.

Canadian Bar Association

Responding to the TRC Calls to Action March 2016

The Canadian Bar Association endorses Call to Action # 36 (See above Call to Action 30)

Official Federal Government Response: Sept. 5, 2019

As part of its overall commitment to partnership in addressing the over representation of Indigenous peoples in custody and fostering the participation and engagement of Indigenous peoples in achieving public safety results, through the federal Budget 2017, the Government of Canada is providing $55.2 million over 5 years starting in fiscal year 2017 to 2018 and $10.9 million per year ongoing to Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). The 2017 federal Budget allocation is assisting CSC through its community reintegration initiatives to engage Indigenous communities and organizations through contracts to provide addictions treatment, trauma counseling, gang disaffiliation and life skills support.

In addition, CORCAN, a special operating agency of CSC is working closely with Indigenous communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan to enhance Indigenous offender access to employment opportunities in the community through offering additional on the job training in construction services, in particular as it relates to modular construction. This includes implementing CORCAN employment programs to develop offender’s skills in construction related areas at the CSC operated Healing Lodges and institutions in the Prairie Region as well as having opened 2 community industries in fiscal year 2018 to 2019, with 1 in Saskatoon and another in Edmonton. These community industries provide transitional employment, on-the-job and vocational training to offenders being released from federal correctional institutions. In fiscal year  2019 to 2020, implementation will commence in both British Columbia and Ontario to provide additional opportunities for Indigenous offenders in those regions, culminating in the opening of community industries in Ottawa and Vancouver.

Budget 2017 also provided $10 million over 5 years to Public Safety Canada for the Indigenous Community Corrections Initiative to support the development of community-based and culturally-relevant projects with a focus on alternatives to incarceration and reintegration support for Indigenous offenders. A call for proposals was launched at the end of 2017 and selected projects began before the end of the fiscal year.