We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth in custody over the next decade.

Indigenous Watchdog Status Update

Current StatusAug. 17, 2020IN PROGRESS
Previous StatusJune 15, 2020IN PROGRESS

Why “In Progress”?

“Bill C-75 “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code, Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts” received Royal assent on June 21, 2019. Bill C-75 includes amendments “that seek alternatives for administration of justice offences, revisions to conditions imposed at bail or sentencing stage and limit the use of custodial sentences”. Federal government has identified a number of other initiatives. The provinces and territories are initiating their own reforms as well.

Indigenous Youth represent approximately 8% of the population but 47% of youth in custody.

Significant Deletions from federal government response

  • Deleted reference to “undertaking a broad review of Canada’s criminal justice system”.
  • Deleted reference to “supporting youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder” from list of the webinars topics
  • Deleted specific reference “for people who work with Indigenous youth involved in the criminal justice system” from webinar target audience.
Admissions of youth to custody, by Aboriginal identity, sex and jurisdiction, 2015 – 2018

Incarceration of Indigenous Youth
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Breakdown by Province of Youth in Custody

A Statistics Canada report says 47 per cent of all incarcerated youth across Canada were Indigenous in 2016-17 despite making up only 8% of the population. Here is a breakdown by province of admissions to custody of Aboriginal youth during that time (in per cent):

Province/Territory% Male% Female
Newfoundland and Labrador6%0%
Prince Edward Island13%0%
New Brunswick11%15%
Ontario10%15%
Manitoba81%82%
Saskatchewan92%98%
British Columbia44%60%
Yukon74%100%
Northwest Territories94%60%
Nunavut100%100%
Total47%60%
Justice Canada National Roundtable on Over-representation of Indigenous Youth 

Participants at the March 2017 Justice Canada National Roundtable on over-representation of Indigenous Youth emphasized that Administration of Justice Offences (AOJO’s) needed to be addressed on a priority basis, suggesting that:

  • too many conditions are imposed on youth and are often unrelated to the young person’s offending behaviour;
  • youth need to be better supported to comply with conditions;
  • non-charge options, such as extrajudicial measures or sentence reviews, would be more appropriate responses to breaches of conditions in most cases; and,
  • the law should further limit discretion to impose custody in relation to (AOJO). Some participants questioned the social utility of having a breach offence and expressed support for non-criminalization of breaches.
Correctional Services Investigator Report 2017-2018

Recommendation # 15
I recommend 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 domains.

Aboriginal female youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are incarcerated at a rate that is six times greater than their proportion in the general population (2015 – 2016).

Youth Justice Fund

The Youth Justice Fund provides grants and contributions to projects that encourage a more effective youth justice system, respond to emerging youth justice issues and enable greater citizen and community participation in the youth justice system. As of Sept 5, 2019, the government website states that the fund currently provides close to $4 million for 11 Indigenous youth-focused projects.

Jan. 31, 2019 – The Youth Justice Fund is no longer accepting funding proposals. Please check this web site periodically for updates.

Objectives
Projects must meet at least one of the following objectives: 

  • Establish special measures for violent young offenders; 
  • Improve the system’s ability to rehabilitate and reintegrate young offenders; 
  • Increase the use of measures, outside the formal court process, that are often more effective in addressing some types of less serious offending; 
  • Establish a more targeted approach to the use of custody for young people; and 
  • Increase the use of community-based sentences for less serious offending.
National Crime Prevention Strategy
  • Northern and Aboriginal Crime Prevention Fund (NACPF) 
    Provides time-limited grant and contribution funding that supports culturally sensitive crime prevention practices for Indigenous, Inuit, and northern populations.
  • Youth Gang Prevention Fund (YGPF)
    Provides time-limited grant and contribution funding for initiatives in communities where youth gangs are an existing or emerging threat and supports initiatives that clearly target youth in gangs or at greatest risk of joining gangs.
Canadian Bar Association

The Canadian Bar Association endorses Call to Action # 38 (See Call to Action # 30)         

Official Federal Government Response: Sept. 5, 2019

The Government of Canada is pursuing a range of policy and program measures to address overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in custody.

To better respond to the needs of Indigenous youth who are in conflict with the law, it funds non-profit organizations, Indigenous organizations, provincial and territorial governments and others who work to improve the youth justice system. For example, our Youth Justice Fund currently provides close to $4 million for 11 Indigenous youth-focused projects.

In addition, the National Crime Prevention Strategy provides funding for projects that support innovative, culturally sensitive crime prevention projects. These projects support at-risk Indigenous youth, reduce offending and help build stronger, healthier communities.

In March 2017, the Department of Justice held a National Roundtable on the overrepresentation of Indigenous Youth in the criminal justice system. This roundtable brought together individuals from across the country with expertise in youth and Indigenous justice to discuss the problem  and identify ways to reduce overrepresentation.

Participants identified administration of justice offences as a significant contributing factor to the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in custody.

These offences consist of violations of court orders. This offence category can result in behaviour that would not otherwise be criminal being treated as an offence. For example, failures to attend in court when ordered or the breach of conditions on a court order are administration of justice offences.

On June 21, 2019, Bill C-75, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code, Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, received royal assent. Bill C-75 will make amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act to:

  • further encourage the use of alternatives to charges for administration of justice offences, such as extrajudicial measures and judicial reviews
  • ensure that the conditions imposed on a youth at the bail stage or at sentencing are only those necessary to address the offending behaviour and are required for criminal justice purposes
  • limit the use of custodial sentences for administration of justice offences

It is anticipated that these proposed amendments would contribute to a reduction in the number of Indigenous youth incarcerated due to administration of justice offences.

In March 2019 2 roundtables were held with Indigenous youth from across the country to discuss their experiences and their thoughts regarding how best to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in the criminal justice system. These roundtables provided a forum where Indigenous youth were able to articulate some of the key challenges they face in navigating the justice system. The resulting information from these engagement sessions will be used to support efforts to reduce Indigenous youth overrepresentation and better respond to the needs of Indigenous youth who are in conflict with the criminal justice system as both offenders and victims.

In addition, to support information sharing with subject matter professionals, a series of webinars were held featuring various guest speakers on topics related to the criminal justice system, such as, culturally appropriate programming, restorative justice, and Gladue reports.

As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognized, many of the ways to reduce the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth will be found outside of the criminal justice system. Work being undertaken in response to many other calls to action, such as those relating to child welfare, health services and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, will further contribute toward achieving Call to Action 38.

Significant deletions:

  • Deleted reference to “undertaking a broad review of Canada’s criminal justice system”.
  • Deleted reference to “supporting youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder” from list of the webinars topics
  • Deleted specific reference “for people who work with Indigenous youth involved in the criminal justice system” from webinar target audience.