Once again – women in the NWT travel second class


Yellowknife under a full moon


NWT Supreme Court Justice Louise Charbonneau wasted her time making a “strong recommendation” that Beverly Villeneuve be permitted to serve her sentence in the NWT.  And the reason is that the NWT doesn’t care about women enough to make it happen.


The GNWT had to be embarrassed into providing proper arrangements for female prisoners on remand in Yellowknife.  Now, once again, it is clear that women come second.


Correctional Services Canada (CSC) pays the GNWT to offer programming to federally sentenced offenders (i.e. those who are sentenced to more than 2 years in jail).  That programming is delivered to men but the GNWT has nothing for women. CSC requires that its offenders take this programming as part of their sentence.  NWT corrections staff are trained to offer this to men – why not women?


In addition, even if Ms. Villeneuve takes the CSC programming in Edmonton and applies to return to Fort Smith, changes in GNWT corrections policy mean that she will not be eligible for release before her statutory release date.  And at her statutory release date she will be set up to fail.


The Parole Board, because this is the trend in modern corrections (and particularly important in the case of aboriginal offenders), wants to see a transition phase between custody and liberty.  Since the 1970s, re-integration has been seen as fundamental to offender success (which is why is “re-integration” gets 477 hits on the CSC website) because transition / re-integration means that offenders have a chance to practice their programming lessons in reduced-stress circumstances and learn what it takes to stay out of jail.  This is old news!


The new NWT Corrections policy is that ANYONE with any history of violence will not be eligible for temporary absences or work absences which will mean that no one with this kind of background has a chance to get employment experience or trade skills or even volunteer in the community prior to release.  The vast majority of NWT offenders have a history of violence in one form  or another, meaning that the vast majority of aboriginal prisoners will not have any help transitioning from jail to home.


The Parole Board believes that transition / re-integration is critical to keeping offenders out of trouble and, so with no transition plan, Bev Villeneuve will be unlikely to qualify for parole.  Even if she elects to stay in Edmonton so that she can take advantage of temporary absence opportunities there, she will still not be a successful parole applicant because she will no positive connections with Yellowknife where she lived on the street.


Even when she is ultimately released, she will be required to live in Yellowknife on parole so that she can meet with local parole/probation workers, and she will be set up to fail.  She lived on the street in Yellowknife and she is going to go back to living on the street.  Without any integration into a Northern community, she will likely return to what she knows.


Ironically, at least two of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations relate directly to these issues.


30) We call upon  federal, provincial and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports that monitor and evaluate progress in doing so.


31) We call upon  federal, provincial and territorial governments to provide sufficient and stable funding to implement and evaluate community sanctions that will provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders and respond to the underlying causes of offending.


The Commission noted: “A failure to provide sufficient and stable resources for the community and treatment programs that are necessary to implement Gladue and Ipeelee helps explain why those [court] decisions have not slowed down increasing Aboriginal overrepresentation in prison.”


So if re-integration is seen as critical to success upon release, you have to ask yourself – why are the vast majority of offenders in GNWT are going to be denied re-integration?  You have to ask yourself – why is the GNWT going backward in its corrections policy?  Everyone else is trying to reduce the number of aboriginal inmates – why is the GNWT doing what it can to increase those numbers?


And finally, you really have to ask yourself – when a Supreme Court judge is, effectively, ignored like this?  Exactly what does the GNWT have against women?