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 StatusSept. 5, 2021IN PROGRESS
Previous StatusJune 14, 2021IN 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.
Indigenous Youth Incarceration Rates, 2011 – 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%
Programs to Improve Access to Justice for Aboriginal Youth

Federal

March 2, 2021 – Approx. $2.5M over 5 yrs. from from the Youth Justice Fund Support to Ryerson University for its “National Indigenous Courtworkers: Indigenous Youth-Centered Justice Project (IYJP)“. The goal of this project is to improve outcomes for Indigenous youth who are involved in both the child welfare and youth criminal justice system. In partnership with Indigenous Courtworkers in various parts of the country the IYJP will pilot innovative community-based projects over five years, in multiple jurisdictions. The IYJP will conduct individual casework with Indigenous youth with both youth criminal justice and child welfare involvement.

With the goal of reducing recidivism and the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the youth and mainstream criminal justice systems, this work will promote healing, reparation and reintegration of Indigenous youth offenders. Funding for this project will help reduce or eliminate custody for Indigenous youth, reduce time spent in the youth criminal justice system, and prevent youth from moving to the adult system.

Manitoba

Nov. 19, 2019 – Government will engage with Indigenous leaders and communities to identify proactive programs, such as the Outland Youth Employment Program, that could provide restorative justice opportunities for youth. Doing so will ensure that young offenders are held accountable while enabling them to receive an education, work experience, and learn critical life skills.

A cross-government hub of expertise will be developed, to direct youth in trouble with the law to appropriate community programs and services, including mental health and addictions. The objective is to ensure that the justice system is a last resort for youth in care.

Dec. 21, 2020 – Identified a joint working group with the department of Families and Justice that is reviewing the intersections between these two systems and the pathways that lead children and youth from one system into the other. Also included in this work is piloting successful approaches from other jurisdictions that have drastically reduced the number of youths ending up incarcerated, improving outcomes for these children in favour of therapeutic supports and providing an overall reduction in Children in Care files.

June 15, 2021 – The Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth (MACY) is renewing her call for more mental health and cultural supports for youth in custody in the interest of improved rehabilitation and public safety in Breaking the Cycle: An Update on the Use of Segregation and Solitary Confinement in Manitoba Youth Custody Facilities, a special report released today. To date, only one out of six recommendations (from a 2019 report on solitary confinement and use of pepper spray) — increasing oversight of pepper spray use — has been deemed fully compliant by MACY.

Ainsley Krone, Acting Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth. “As established in our 2019 report, research is clear that segregating and isolating youth, particularly for extended periods of time, and regardless of the reason, is harmful and may have lasting impacts on their mental health and on their abilities to transition safely back into the community.”

94% of youth in segregation identified as Indigenous.

“Today I am reiterating the call made by my office in 2019 to the Manitoba government and Manitoba Justice to shift their response by investing in a youth justice system that is based on effective therapeutic programs,” Krone said. “The youth and service provider perspectives shared in this report make it clear that change is needed.”

Ontario

2017 – Law Foundation of Ontario is providing $104,083 in one-time funding the Winkler Institute at Osgoode Hall Law School and Ryerson University’s Legal Innovation Zone to examine the roles technology and innovation can play to improve access to justice for young people.

Yukon

Dec 10, 2018 – Funding of $11,000 per day through Yukon College for the “Yukon Phoenix Pilot Project Training Initiative” a project to bring together First Nations youth, aged 12 to 14, and Whitehorse-based RCMP officers to participate in an immersive two-day workshop. The pilot aims to foster mutual understanding and respect between police and First Nations youth while constructing a safe, collaborative space to create “a muscle memory for future, positive interactions.” A\J, or Alternatives Journal, Dec. 10, 2018

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

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.