Just under nine per cent of the 147 offenders in federally run healing lodges last year self-identified as “White” rather than North American Indian, Metis or Inuit.
And factoring in those who self-identify with other races, the total number of non-Indigenous offenders in those healing lodges last year was 11 per cent.
Those numbers come after public outcry about the transfer and subsequent reversal of convicted child-killer Terri-Lynne McClintic‘s move from prison into a healing lodge last year. The figure also raises questions about whether the placement of offenders who do not identify as Indigenous in those facilities is taking away space from the people that healing lodges were created to help — and why Indigenous communities aren’t being given a stronger voice in the evaluation process.
Documents obtained by Global News under access-to-information laws provide new insight into exactly who makes it into the four healing lodges operated by Correctional Service Canada.
They show a statistical breakdown of offenders by race and citizenship at the Kwikwexwelhp Healing Village, Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, Pe Sakastew Centre and Willow Cree Healing Lodge dating back to 2011-12.
The documents also show that on average, 15 per cent of offenders who have been placed in the healing lodges during the last seven fiscal years have self-identified as non-Indigenous.
According to the data, the overwhelming majority of offenders in the four federal healing lodges self-identify as what is listed as “North American Indian.”
For the 2017-18 fiscal year, that includes 111 out of a total of 147 offenders in the four healing lodges.
During that same period, 18 others identified as Metis, while none identified as Inuit.
Self-identified “White” offenders made up the next largest demographic chunk, with 13 offenders identifying as such and making up 8.8 per cent of the total.
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Another five are listed as “neither.” Of those five, one offender identified as East Indian, one as multi-racial/ethnic and one as a race “other” than the 13 options provided. Two are listed on the spreadsheet provided to Global News as “not entered.”
Also in 2017-18, two offenders with non-Canadian citizenship were listed as being in the healing lodges.
Another three with what is listed as “unknown citizenship” were also in the facilities last year.
The new data also shows both the number and proportion of “White” offenders in healing lodges is at its lowest point since 2011-12.
That comes after a high point in 2015-16.
In the fall, the Liberal government came under heavy scrutiny after it was revealed that McClintic had been transferred out of prison and into the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in Saskatchewan.
McClintic is serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford in 2009.
Two family members of McClintic, who spoke with Global News on condition that they not be identified, said she was making up claims of being Indigenous in order to get out of the medium-security prison facility where she was being housed.
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Following public outcry, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced new rules that officials must follow when assessing offender applications for transfer into healing lodges, which include sentence length and what kind of behaviour an offender has displayed in prison.
Immediately after that change was announced, McClintic’s transfer was reversed.
She has since been transferred back to federal prison.
Healing lodges were first created in Canada in 1995 to address two core challenges: first, that Indigenous communities argued mainstream prison programs did not work for Indigenous people and second, that there is a drastic over-representation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons.
WATCH BELOW: Stafford says McClintic is out of healing lodge and back in prison
Offenders do not have to prove that they are Indigenous in order to be transferred to a healing lodge. Instead, they can self-identify.
As well, Correctional Service Canada says offenders who do not self-identify as Indigenous or Aboriginal can still be approved to come to a healing lodge as long as they “choose to follow Aboriginal programming and spirituality when they live at a healing lodge.”
That has raised questions about whether allowing people who do not identify as Indigenous to access facilities meant to specifically address the unique challenges facing those communities is taking away resources from the people who need them most.
“It’s really important that they be able to access these institutions so if non-Indigenous folks are accessing them then it means that those spaces are being taken away from those people they were originally designed for,” said Vicki Chartrand, an associate professor of sociology focused on Indigenous justice at Bishop’s University in Quebec.
Chartrand pointed to statistics from the Correctional Investigator of Canada that show healing lodges are not even operating at full capacity despite consistent increases in the number of incarcerated Indigenous people.
She argued that is a sign that there are already severe challenges for many Indigenous offenders when accessing healing lodges, while offenders who are not Indigenous may have an easier time.
Specifically, Chartrand notes Indigenous offenders are routinely classified at higher baseline levels of security when they come into the correctional system.
That means they often face a longer wait and a harder time getting their security classification downgraded to the level required to access a healing facility.
“We know through these classification and rating scales that Indigenous people are being overclassified or significantly classified at higher levels of classification, maximum security … It’s these kinds of practices that are going to make it harder for Indigenous people to access a minimum-security institution like the healing lodges,” she said.
“Others might be more amenable or conducive to cascading through the system. It might just be a little bit easier for them to cascade through the system.”
Reports by the Correctional Investigator of Canada note that Indigenous offenders are classified as minimum-security at half the rate of non-Indigenous offenders.
Eighty per cent of Indigenous offenders are classed as maximum- or medium-security, whereas the same is true of 66 per cent of non-Indigenous offenders.
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Michael Spratt, a criminal defence lawyer at Abergel Goldstein & Partners in Ottawa, acknowledged that the original goal of healing lodges was to have them focus on Indigenous people.
But, he argued, denying non-Indigenous offenders the chance to use programming that is now proven to help rehabilitation would be unconstitutional.
“We don’t want to start having segregated jails and specific jails for specific religions. That’s not a road I think Canada wants to move down,” he said.
“When these facilities were first designed, it was contemplated that they’d be filled entirely by Indigenous people, but we’ve progressed a long way since 1990.”
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In 2016-17, 17 “White” offenders made up 12 per cent of the population in healing lodges.
In 2015-16, 22 of them out of 131 offenders made up 16.7 per cent.
That marked a high point in the seven fiscal years of data included in the spreadsheet.
In the three fiscal years prior, the percentage of self-identified “White” offenders out of the total in the four federal healing lodges was 12.8 per cent, 12.7 per cent and 12.8 per cent again.
That meant that in 2013-14, there were 18 “White” offenders out of 140 total, as well as one offender who identified as Arab/West Asian, one who identified as East Indian and one who identified as Filipino.
In 2012-13, there were 22 white offenders out of 173 total. One other offender identified as Asian-South, while another identified as Asiatic and one as Latin American.
In 2011-12, there were 23 “White” offenders out of 180 total, as well as one who identified as Asiatic.
WATCH BELOW: Child murderer Terri-Lynne McClintic moved from prison to healing lodge
While Chartrand said she did not fault anyone trying to access the more rehabilitative environment of a healing lodge, she said there are important questions that need to be addressed about why Indigenous communities are not playing a more prominent role in helping determine who is allowed to come there.
But that would require the political and institutional will to make a change.
“Corrections has a very strong, set criteria and tools they like to use so any kind of what they might consider informal community feedback doesn’t necessarily fall into that criteria,” she said, calling the need for that kind of consultation with Indigenous communities “absolutely vital.”
“I think it goes back to the question of elders and communities and about them deciding who gets access to the opportunities and access to those kinds of ceremonies and traditions, to participate in those ceremonies and traditions,” she added.
“Those are the people who should be deciding that.”
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