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Monday, June 21, 2004

A disappointing report 

Commission on First Nations and Metis Peoples and Justice Reform
Apparently the FSIN isn't happy with the Commission's final report. Now, I don't know what the FSIN will say -- they're having a press conference tomorrow -- but in skimming through the report, I think there are two main flaws. From the FSIN perspective, the report doesn't acknowedge First Nations governments and their role in the justice system. From my own perspective, the report only reluctantly acknowledges that the problems have been caused primarily by racism.
For example, here is the section of the FSIN brief to the Commission which lays out simply and eloquently the present situation for most Aboriginal peope:
The everyday life of a First Nations person involves accepting the fact that he\she will eventually have contact with police. Those individuals on the street such as addicted people and youth have a greater chance of negative police contact because they are lower on the socio-economic scale and thus more vulnerable. This reality impedes First Nations people from attaining their goals in life. Put simply, it is a crime to be First Nation. Many First Nations people, particularly those who are socially marginalized, have had to deal with clashes with police. Although there have been inquests and analyses of the deaths of two men on the outskirts of Saskatoon in 2000, many First Nations people believe the truth has not come to light. It is difficult to be confident in a system that does not use transparent and accountable procedures through its own policies and practices. It has been cited in many documents, that police hide behind the “Blue Wall”, primarily in investigating alleged misconduct of each other. This practice severely hinders the chance of uncovering any wrongdoing by officers, which cumulatively erodes any existing confidence in the current accountability mechanisms. The fact that the police force is so untouchable leads to a multitude of problems for the overall structure and daily operating rocedures designed to ensure safety within First Nations communities.
In response, the Committee report comes across as patronizing, denying responsibility. For example, there is this:
The justice conditions faced by First Nations and Metis people in Saskatchewan today are both a crisis and a tragedy. Yet, no amount of intervention, however well intentioned, will return First Nations and Metis people to the well-being they once enjoyed. What external forces cannot bring about, however, First Nations and Metis people can achieve for themselves. Developing First Nations and Metis leadership is essential in bringing about the major improvements that are required.
And the reports's recommendations are namby-pamby. No targets, no performance measures, no management expectations, just blather like this one: Recommendation 6.32: This Commission recommends that the options of alternative measures, bail, probation and conditional sentences be employed instead of the use of remand and incarceration wherever possible.
After a lengthy discussion of police violence against Aboriginal people, the Commission can come up with only two recommendations:
Recommendation 5.9
5.9.1 This Commission recommends the increased use of video recording equipment by RCMP and municipal police services.
5.9.2 This Commission recommends that an Aboriginal liaison worker or volunteer individual be available for First Nations and Metis people upon their arrival at a police station or detachment office.

Note that rather than being the responsibility of police management, the prevention of racist violence in police stations is somehow the responsibility of Aboriginal people, volunteers even, who will have to hang around police stations 24/7 - yeah, who wouldn't want to do that?
Then, at the end of this section, which should be the strongest section of their report, the Commission appears to say that "vision", rather than good management and good policy, will be enough to turn the tide:
Many individuals, organizations and government leaders have said that this Commission was created in response to the actions of police officers in Saskatoon. The Commission acknowledges this fact. The Commission also acknowledges that in order to transform the justice system a new vision must be put into place in Saskatchewan, not singling out police, but including them. The focus of this vision must be on justice as a means of providing healing, compensation and understanding, instead of the traditional goals based on punishment and retribution. In this way, a focus on returning justice to the community will benefit all citizens of Saskatchewan, including First Nations and Metis people.
Sorry, folks, but the police have to be singled out -- they've been the problem and there is no way around that.

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