May 27, 2022 – More needs to be done to address systemic discrimination against Black and Indigenous women in Canada’s criminal justice system, says the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF).
In their recent submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, LEAF, the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC), and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) support the enactment of Bill C-5. However, they also call on the government to make several key amendments to better advance racial justice and reconciliation.
Bill C-5 would amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in three key ways. First, it would get rid of certain mandatory minimum sentences. Second, it would allow for the greater use of conditional sentences, which are similar to house arrest. Third, it would suggest that police consider alternatives to criminal charges for people accused of simple drug possession.
“This government rightly recognizes that the criminal justice system discriminates against members of marginalized communities,” says Pam Hrick, Executive Director & General Counsel of LEAF. “Through only a few targeted changes to Bill C-5, this government can do even more to fight systemic racism and champion gender equality.”
BLAC, CAEFS, and LEAF’s submission calls for changes to remove more mandatory minimum penalties, further increase access to conditional sentences, and fully decriminalize simple drug possession.
These changes would allow Bill C-5 to better address the staggeringly high rates of incarceration faced by Indigenous women in Canada. Currently, over half of all women in federal prisons are Indigenous, up from 30% in less than two years. Indigenous women make up only 4% of the female population in this country.
The changes would also more meaningfully address systemic discrimination faced by Black women in the criminal justice system. In many cases, these women receive lengthy prison sentences for drug offences committed as a result of poverty and threats of violence.
“Mandatory minimum sentences fail to deter crime, but succeed in increasing the incarceration and over-policing of Black and Indigenous women,” says Hrick. “It is time to face that reality, and remove them from our criminal justice system.”
Read the full submission or a summary of the submission (also available in French).
For inquiries, please contact:
Executive Director & General Counsel, LEAF