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Canada: nearly half of youth incarcerated across the country are Indigenous
Nearly half of all youth who end up in custody across Canada are Indigenous, a statistic that a Manitoba activist says shows unacceptable and systemic racism.
Data released by Statistics Canada shows Aboriginal youth made up 46 per cent of admissions to correctional services in 2016-17 while making up only eight per cent of the youth population.
“It’s not actually surprising to me to hear those numbers,” said Michael Redhead Champagne.
“As a member of the Indigenous community, with First Nation, Metis and Inuit people around me, I see the overrepresentation of Indigenous people going into the justice system,” he said.
Champagne founded Aboriginal Youth Opportunities in Winnipeg’s North End neighbourhood in 2010 to support Indigenous youth. Working with kids in the inner city area, he has seen how “Indigenous people often get the short end of the stick.”
“I see Indigenous and non-Indigenous people literally doing the exact same crime and not experiencing the same amount of jail time, probation, etc.“
Incarceration of youth generally across Canada has declined slightly each year since 2012. But the Statistics Canada data from 10 reporting provinces and territories also showed the proportion of Aboriginal youth in custody has steadily increased.
It was 21 per cent in 2006-07, but 10 years later Aboriginal boys made up 47 per cent and Aboriginal girls accounted for 60 per cent of correctional admissions.
In the provinces, the numbers of Indigenous youth in custody were highest in Saskatchewan (92 per cent for boys; 98 per cent for girls) and Manitoba (81 per cent for boys; 82 per cent for girls).
Howard Sapers, an independent adviser to the government of Ontario on corrections reform, said the increasing numbers, particularly for girls, carries through to adulthood.
“We are getting so dangerously close to half of all adult women in custody being Indigenous,” he said in a phone interview from his Ottawa office.
Aboriginal men accounted for 28 per cent of admissions, while Aboriginal women accounted for 43 per cent. At the same time, they represented about five per cent of the Canadian adult population.
“There is little way to escape the conclusion that there are some systemic biases built into the system that are contributing to this overrepresentation,” Sapers said.
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