September 6, 2019 7:42 pm
Updated: September 9, 2019 8:33 am

Feds announce almost $1M for project supporting indigenous people in justice system

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale announced almost $1 million towards a U of R led initiative on Friday, which aims to provide indigenous people in the court and justice system with supports, as well as when they're in the community.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
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Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in correctional facilities in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, 27 per cent of offenders in 2018 were of Indigenous ancestry while making up four percent of the Canadian population.

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To address the ratio, the federal government announced $978,272 in funding for the University of Regina to implement “Navigator-Advocates: Integrated Supports for Justice-Involved Indigenous Youth and Adults with FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder).”

Its goal is to find alternatives to custody and reintegration projects for indigenous offenders.

“We have a justice system that’s over-prescribed by individuals that have FASD and who do not have the appropriate supports they need in those systems,” said Michelle Stewart, associate professor in the Faculty of Arts, University of Regina.

Studies cited by the government show 60 per cent of FASD-affected individuals come into contact with the criminal justice system and 90 per cent live with mental health problems.

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale made the funding announcement Friday morning at the U of R and said the disorder is complex and severe.

“It’s a huge challenge,” he said. “What [judges] can do from a justice point of view, is impose a sentence, but is a sentence going to actually make a difference correct the problem? That’s the issue.”

READ MORE: Experts say FASD-focused court could be game-changer for Manitobans

It will allow for the hiring of advocates and “navigators,” in Regina and Whitehorse. Those people will assist offenders as they go through both the court and justice systems, and after they get out and are integrated into the community.

Goodale said the results of the study will direct offenders to support services needed, “to actually make a difference in the lives of these offenders and as a consequence make all of our communities safer.”

The initiative will aim to fulfill Canada’s proposed commitment to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report’s calls to action.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 34th call to action was an invitation to rethink how justice is done in Canada. This funding allows the University of Regina — and our partners at Kwanlin Dun First Nation and the FASD Network of Saskatchewan who will be delivering evidence-based programs at the local level — the opportunity to do just that,” said Stewart.

The money comes from the Indigenous Community Corrections Initiative (ICCI).

taylor.braat@globalnews.ca

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