UPDATE Jan 23/10: Dr. Frances Widdowson, author of ‘Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry,’ has posted an interesting article on this topic:
- Offended by Offence, Dec 29/09: “Aboriginal over-incarceration” continues
This post was inspired by a comment sent by ‘Rob’ who expressed his belief that – based on Stats Canada info – Aborginals were over-represented in our prison population. (I’ve already addressed his other points in my reply to his original comment.)
With all due respect, I would like to put an alternate viewpoint to you in regards to Native people receiving different treatment under the Canadian Judicial system. I firmly believe that they do receive different treatment than members of the dominant society, but it is in a punitive fashion. Stats Canada provides some interesting figures to support this idea:
1. Although aboriginal people make up 4.4 percent of the adult population of Canada, they represent over 18 percent of the incarcerated population of Canada.
2. In the Praries, Aboriginal inmates account for between 40 and 60 percent of the inmates.
3. Many individual cases of injustices perpetrated against Aboriginal people exist in Canada….Donald Marshall, Helen Betty Osborne, Niel Stonechild and the “Starlight Tours”. There has been a systemic abuse of Aboriginal people by the justice system.
I am white, but I have lived on isolated reserves. I have observed racial profiling by police. I am in full agreement with you that the “special treatment” of Aboriginal people by the justice sytem needs to stop. They have been subjected to poor treatment for far to long.
I personally feel that your acts are inflammatory. I think the low turnout for your protests should tell you that your opinion is not widely shared. Land claims exist and are recognized by all levels of government, and over time usually get settled.
Rob (highly doubtful that you will post this)
VoC REPLY: Hi Rob. O ye of little faith – I’ll post anything that isn’t hate-oriented and actually tries to make an argument. Heck, yours is the most on-point email I’ve ever received from people who disagree with me, and I thank you for sending it!
As promised in my private email earlier this week I will respond to your statistics now that I’ve had a chance to locate a very important and interesting document that seems to not only support your Stats Canada data, but offer some possible explanations for them. Thanks very much for your patience and for taking the time to write. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
The report I’m referring to is called POLICE USE OF FORCE IN ONTARIO: An Examination of Data from the Special Investigations Unit. It was prepared by Scot Wortley, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Centre of Criminology at the University of Ontario, and Terry Roswell, MA, Caribbean Studies, Department of Sociology, Ryerson University, Ph.D. Candidate at the Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto. According to the title page, it was a ‘Research Project Conducted on behalf of the African Canadian Legal Clinic for Submission to the Ipperwash Inquiry.’
This report attempts to address the lack of Canadian information regarding police use of force incidents and how they relate to race. Although it was commissioned by an African-Canadian organization, data on Aboriginals is included. I have included a selection of quotes below.
Rob, I’d like to ask that you download the report yourself, review it in detail and get back to me with your comments if you would, please.
Highlights from ‘POLICE USE OF FORCE IN ONTARIO’
Page 19: “…while Aboriginals are only 1.7% of the provinical population, they represent 7.1% of all civilians involved in SIU investigations.”
Page 20: “While Black people and Aboriginal Canadians are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than White people, White people are actually more likely to be stopped and searched than Asians or South Asians.”
Page 20: “…police did not directly cause the civilian injury or death in 371 (47.3%) of the 784 cases reviewed…” [the report is saying that even though the civilian was injured, the actual causes of injuries were things like car accidents; suicides; self-inflicted injuries; accidents; drug/alcohol abuse; pre-existing health issues, etc.]
Page 20: “…although Aboriginals represent 7.1% of all SIU investigations, they represent 7.7% of all investigations in which injury or death was directly caused by police.”
Page 21/22: “…Aboriginal civilians are 6.2 times more likely to become involved in a SIU use of force investigation than their White counterparts.”
Page 22: “Although Aboriginal people represent only 1.7% of the provincial population, they represent 6.8% of all civilians involved in SIU shooting investigations.”
Page 26: “…the results presented…strongly indicate that…Aboriginals are grossly over-represented in police use of force statistics in general – and police shooting incidents in particular.
Page 26 (Summary: The Numbers in Context): “It appears that when the police in Ontario do decide to use force, they use it much more frequently against African Canadians and Aboriginals than any other racial groups.”
Page 27 (Criminal History): “…in police shooting investigations, only 45% of the black civilians had a criminal record, compared to 72% of Whites and 80% of Aboriginals.”
Page 27 (Intoxication at the Time of the Incident): “Only 13% of Black civilians involved in police use of force incidents were intoxicated, compared to 40% of Whites and 66% of Aboriginals.”
Page 28 (Mental Health at the Time of the Incident): “…78% of Black civilians showed no signs of mental health problems, compared to 62% of White and Aboriginal civilians” [use of force investigations]
Page 28 (Civilian Behaviour at the Time of the Incident): “…79% of White civilians and 80% of Aboriginal civilians had actually assaulted or threatened the police (or civilian bystanders) before being shot.”
Page 28 (Weapon Use During the Incident): “…22% of Black civilians were in possession of a firearm at the time of the incident, compared to 14% of Aboriginals and 7% of Whites.” [In other words, Aboriginals were twice as likely to have a firearm as Whites.]
VoC SUMMARY: I don’t know the reasons behind these statistics – I’m not a social worker. What I do know is that no one should be allowed to escape the consequences of violent behaviour simply because our government and OPP want to improve the optics associated with having a disproportionate number of Aboriginals in prison.
I do share Rob’s concern about wrongful convictions – I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in jail for something you didn’t do. Still, you don’t fix that problem by allowing anyone in Canada to propagate violence to achieve political goals. Or do we?
What do you think, Rob?
An interesting study, thanks for providing me the link. I would maintain that the study is pointing me toward a conclusion which would proably be different from your interpretation. However, given your current beef with the OPP, I think that we might be in agreement on some points.
For instance, much of the study focused on police culture and the closed nature of that society. It also gave several sociological explanations for the high rates of violence used against minority groups, many of them focusing on a concept that could be generally termed “Group Justice”. The credo of this system is that it does not matter which particular member of a minority group is arrested, or shot, because they are all guilty of something anyway.
It is this objectifying of a particular group which leads to increased levels of contact with the police. There is much to be said here, but it needs to be put into a national context, as opposed to Toronto, where only 20,000 Aboriginal people live.
There are no denying the statisitics…it is the interpretation of “why” which will draw people into opposing lines. My interpretation is that the practices of cultural genocide enacted on the First nations of this country over the last 150 years have left many communities reeling. The process has also led to an objectifying of native people in general, so that some white’s tend to believe it is OK to do just about anything to them. This includes police driving young men 20 miles outside of town at 30 below and leaving them there to freeze to death.
At this time you are involved in a particular situation in a given moment that has crystalized an opinion within you about a two tier system of justice. I am not naive enough to think that there is not a two or three tier system of justice in Canada…..it is exactly that system that sentences an aboriginal man to jail for public mischief but allows a white man to pay a fine, or actually never be charged for the same act. The stats back that up too.
There are many injustices going on in Canada at the moment, especially in First Nation Territory. They could sure use a man of your passion to give them a hand!
1. Thanks for your very thoughtful and timely reply; I’m impressed that you actually read the study because it does, indeed, address the issue of police ‘culture.’
2. I don’t know if one can extrapolate any conclusions from the statistics in the SIU study that could be applied to another part of the country; my only real point is that there are other possible explanations as to why Aboriginals are over-represented in prison that have absolutely nothing to do with racism or bias on the part of the police or the legal system.
3. I think you put it very elequently when you said, “There are no denying the statisitics…it is the interpretation of “why” which will draw people into opposing lines.” Why – indeed – are Aboriginals more likely to have a firearm or to be intoxicated during an SIU incident? As I said in my summary, however, I do not believe that the solution to those issues is to make Aboriginal criminals untouchable.
4. With respect to “cultural genocide,” you have – obviously – first hand knowledge that I can’t hope to obtain. I do know that terrible things have been done to native peoples that need to be taught to us in a rational, thoughtful manner such as you’re doing for my readers through this post.
Unfortunately, to everyone’s detriment, the only native voices that are being heard in connection with the Ipperwash/Caledonia agony belong to bombastic, dogmatic radicals who are acting as mouthpieces for the criminals at DCE. When I read their writings they bear an eerie similarity to the white supremacist hate language that I had the misfortune to read yesterday when checking a commenter’s URL.
One day, I’d like to know more about what happened to native peoples in Canada, but it’s not relevant to the issue of whether or not some of them should be allowed to use violence to achieve their political ends. As I’ve mentioned in past posts/comments my parents were witnesses to the Nazi treatment of Jews in Holland. My father actually escaped from a German work camp. If I were in Germany and a bunch of Jewish people decided to organize violent occupations that were allowed by police and government to continue I’d be protesting against them, too. Guilt from what was done in the past should not prevent us from doing what is right today.
All we have to do is look to the Middle East (I spent 6 months there with the U.N. and have driven through Gaza on a number of occasions) to see what the result is when the Rule of Law is abandoned by a peoples’ leaders in favour of using violence. Just Google the words ‘PALESTINIAN CIVIL WAR’ to find out. The Palestinians are turning on themselves after electing leaders from a group that is committed to using violence. I do not want that for my country.
Let’s all of us – natives and non-natives – come together and call the DCE occupiers what I believe they are – a small group of organized criminals and terrorists who do NOT represent the native population. Let’s hear native leaders across Canada speak out against these thugs who are bringing disrepute on honest native peoples.
5. Re the mistreatment/objectification of natives by whites & police: As I said earlier, I haven’t been witness to this personally, but I believe that it has occurred and I am ashamed that my country would do any of those things to one of its citizens. People may find this hard to believe, but I would like you to know that in all the time I have spent with Gary McHale and his supporters I have never heard a single person say anything to objectify or devalue native peoples as a group – the hate that the DCE criminals and their supporters accuse him/us of having is simply not there.
6. With respect to your final paragraph, which may turn out to be the most important one of all, and NOT because of your compliment, which I do very much appreciate. Let me share some personal insight, if you’ll indulge me a little…
For most of my life I have tried to figure out what my purpose for being was. I thought that all I had to do was find the ‘right job’ or make some money in a business, and then I could be free to follow my passion for fighting injustices. You see, I’ve always been willing to risk my own well-being to stand up for what I thought was right.
I once left a job as a Bus Mechanic because I was ordered to simply wash off and re-install oil-soaked brake linings on a passenger coach instead of installing new ones. I refused and quit.
On another job, I stood up for a manager who was unjustly removed from his position because management decided it was easier to give in to a group of unmotivated employees – one of whom had issued an anonymous death threat against the manager – than to address the real issues of disciplining the troublemakers. The result was I was harassed personally by the new manager and quit my job. They even falsified an harassment investigation to cover up the fact they didn’t even try to investigate my claims! I fought this government agency for more than a year to get the money they owed me.
More recently, I have been assisting a man (for free) in his fight to obtain justice against the real estate agent who – in my opinion – cheated him out of $50,000 by failing to disclose that the house had extensive damage despite advertising to the contrary. The next stage of the fight will involve exposing just how little protection the average consumer has, and how the real estate licencing body in Ontario seems to impose heavy fines for minor technical violations that have little or no impact on the public while imposing light or even, zero discipline on agents whose actions have disastrously affected people’s lives. The real estate agents I know in Ontario live in fear of this body, yet I haven’t met any of them willing to speak up and make themselves a possible target. Hmmm, sounds familiar.
Despite my willingness to stand up against injustices at certain times in my life, I have never thought of myself as an ‘activist.’ I felt that my ’causes’ – including Caledonia – were not much more than important distractions. That changed on Saturday, December 16/06.
While I was in the OPP jail cell in Cayuga I had my head resting against the bars and I suddenly had a moment of unbelievable clarity. (God didn’t talk to me, and I didn’t have a ’vision’ or see lights or anything.) In that instant I realized that my entire life had prepared me to be in Caledonia at that day at that time to give that (unplanned & unrehearsed) speech to those people on that hill by that road in front of those police officers. I ‘knew,’ without a doubt, that the purpose of my life is to play whatever small part I can play to destroy Two Tiered Justice in Ontario and to oppose all who would use violence to achieve their political goals. It was a strange and wonderful moment and I cried afterwards in happiness. (Unfortunately, my moment of clarity did not include any illumination as to how I was going to fund my new career.
It took you about an hour to realize what took me a lifetime – that I should be following my passion for fighting injustice.
So, here’s the thing, Rob…
You said that the people in First Nations Territory could use someone with my passion to help fight their injustices. Right now, I’ve got to fight a battle to keep the OPP and my government from destroying the everything I believe in due to their insane refusal to enforce the law against a bunch of thugs who are hijacking native claims issues as an excuse for their lawlessness and violence.
Since you seem to be closely connected, well-reasoned AND passionate yourself with respect to native issues, how about doing what you can to convince them to join this fight with us so all of us – including me – can focus on the real injustices in our country and live in peace with one another instead of under thuggery and lawlessness? I promise you that once this battle is won, I’ll be looking for someone else who needs a voice to speak for them, and if that happens to be a native, I’ll fight for them with the same passion you’ve seen.
A final request for Rob…
When people write in to offer criticism of what I or Gary McHale are doing, I often ask them to answer 4 questions for me. So far no one has. Maybe you can give it a try. Give them some thought and I’ll do a new post with your answers.
Q2: If yes, why do you believe in using violence?
Q3: What makes you think that violence won’t one day be turned against YOU by the thugs using it today?
Q4: Why would you want to live in any nation – no matter who owns the land – where the Rule of Law does not exist?
Thanks for writing, for responding and for listening, Rob.
Rob answers the 4 questions: Rob was kind enough to take the time to answer the 4 questions posed above, and since he is the first to do so, I put his answers – and my response – in a separate post called, “Does past oppression justify present violence? VoC gets ‘real’.