They say lady justice is blind, for her blindfold represents objectivity, the ability to allocate justice without the fright of bribe, without the influence of money, wealth, power and identity. But is my justice a reflection of lady justice’s virtues?
A while ago I was reading a Maclean’s article which compared Canada’s prisons to residential schools. It truly pointed out some of the more astonishing statistics regarding the unfair treatment of indigenous people on their own land. Even though indigenous people only make up about 4% of the Canadian population, they are 36 percent of women and 25 percent of men. The likelihood of indigenous people getting incarcerated is 10 times higher than non-indigenous people. In my province Saskatchewan, if you are indigenous, you are 33 times more like to be incarcerated.
There are many who firmly believe those who commit crimes ought to be punished but it is essential to understand that our eurocentric justice system is by design discriminative towards minorities of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and class.
The requirements of becoming a Senate are one example of power and privilege. To be considered for a position in the Senate, one must have a net worth of at least $4,000 and have a minimum of $4,000 worth of property. In today’s economy that amount of money does not hold much immunity, but 100 years ago, only the wealthy could have afforded a seat.
Women were excluded from decision making and it was only in 1916 when provinces across the country started to grant women the right to vote. It was only 50 years ago when indigenous people were given the right to vote. The federal Civil Marriage Act came into force and allowed nationwide same-sex marriage a mere 13 years ago. Just one look at history proves our existing power dynamic has been discriminative all along.
Living in a province that has one of the highest crime rates in the country, it is easy to say we need a stronger law enforcement. In reality, it is much more than just a crime issue, it is a concern of racism. Yes, racism.
Like I have already mentioned before, in Saskatchewan, indigenous people make up a majority of the inmates in the prison system. There is also a history of police profiling in this area. One of the more cruel examples that come to mind are the “Starlight tours”. It was a practice where police personnel would leave indigenous men and women at the edge of the city in the middle of harsh winters. There have been deaths from this cruel practice.
On the other side of the table, our local police lack in diversity. So much so that Saskatchewan Human Right Commission at one point outlined a recommendation to employ at least 14 percent indigenous populations, 11 percent visible minority, 12.4 percent individuals with a disability and 46 percent women.
One of the many first steps to solving crime issues is to have more diversity in positions of power such as police forces, RCMP, municipal, provincial, and federal government, and the judicial bench. Though this improvement to our existing systems would decrease crime rate, it is not enough to heal the indigenous population’s intergenerational effects of residential schools and genocide.
The current justice systems see punishments to be the consequence of crimes but such punishments are not only destructive on the “criminal’s” lives but also detrimental to the health of our society. Prison sentences and solitary confinements have health effects on inmates. Also, prisons and solitary confinements are a mere purpose of punishing those who did wrong but rarely do they give these people the chance to right their wrongs. These sentencings don’t recognize some of the hardships that these people might have had to go through.
The first flaws in our criminal justice system are that it first doesn’t give convicts a chance to grow as human beings and instead, a prison sentence ends up punishing individuals for life. Think about it, we don’t provide facilities for people where they can get help and see how to do things differently. Our system is not correctional, nor is it holistic.These unerasable marks on the criminal record mean that this person will have to carry the weight of this their whole life even though they have already served their sentence. Job markets will look down upon these people who have possibly missed time for schooling and are going to face criticism from society.
The second flaw is that it targets certain groups of people in the society who do not have as much privilege. As I have explained earlier, there is an over-representation of minorities in prisons yet they are under-represented in the government. Make no mistake, this imbalance is not coincidental in any way. Powerfully privileged people designed this system to keep perpetuating the cycle of privilege and oppression.
The system is not broken, it is functioning the way it was designed to, but it is the time we intervene and make sure justice serves everybody.