By Lauren Golosky
Saskatchewan has one of the lowest population densities among Canadian provinces. Yet, despite its relatively low population, Saskatchewan also has the highest crime rate in the country. Why? And are the current methods of addressing crimes, primarily through incarceration, even working?
These are some of the questions that the Saskatchewan Justice Institute is aiming to answer at their Inaugural Lecture and Symposium on October 4 at the University of Regina. The Saskatchewan Justice Institute, a type-one research institute at the U of R, opened its doors in May 2011, and the board currently consists of 10 members.
The Institute was created to address justice issues, primarily in Saskatchewan, but also in Canada,” explained Hirsch Greenberg, who is chair of the board. “Our mission is to look at more collaborative and coordinated responses to justice.”
And that is exactly what the institute is aiming to do on October 4. An all-day event, the symposium will bring together an array of speakers, from government officials to First Nations leaders. The day is divided into themes, with the morning focusing on crime legislation, particularly the federal government’s omnibus, and much-debated, crime bill – Bill C-10.
Dr. Ken Montgomery, Director of the Saskatchewan Justice Institute, explained that because “much of [Bill C-10] is very, very contentious” they decided to bring in an expert to relay the facts, as well as other people that would make up a discussion panel.
“One of the concerns that comes up with the crime legislation is that there will be more pressures exerted on the prison system: more prisons, more prisoners. We know that the already most marginalized are probably the ones who will experience the worst consequences when it comes to these kinds of changes.” -Dr. Ken Montgomery
There’s certainly lots of contentiousness around mandatory minimum sentencing and what we’re hoping is that the folks we’re bringing in will come and offer up some different perspectives and get people thinking,” Montgomery explained.
The afternoon discussions will revolve around issues of reintegration, particularly as they relate to the First Nations and Métis communities.
“There’s [disproportionally] high numbers of First Nations men and women, but men in particular, incarcerated across this country,” Montgomery explained. “How might we support those men and women once they’ve been released from prison? How might we collectively endeavour to make it possible for these folks to integrate in a safe manner and in a way they don’t reoffend, so that their own communities aren’t harmed by their arrival?”
The evening component of the symposium will feature Chief Willie Littlechild, a commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As a former parliamentary delegate, he also has an extensive background in rights of indigenous peoples. Saskatchewan Justice Institute board member, Jan Turner, from the provincial Ministry of Justice, expressed what an opportunity it is to have Chief Littlechild speak at the symposium.
“He’s a leader for social justice in so many ways,” Turner exclaimed. “He is someone who is quite tireless in advancing social justice.”
As for Saskatchewan’s high crime rate, it is something the symposium will attempt to address. In terms of the latest crime legislation, Montgomery and Greenberg both question Bill C-10’s ability to effectively tackle crime.
“One of the concerns that comes up with the crime legislation is that there will be more pressures exerted on the prison system: more prisons, more prisoners,” Montgomery said. “We know that the already most marginalized are probably the ones who will experience the worst consequences when it comes to these kinds of changes.”
“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” Greenberg added. “Just building more institutions and incarcerating more people won’t solve the issue. We need to look for more alternatives.”
One example Montgomery gives as an alternative is restorative justice, in which the offenders are rehabilitated to avoid becoming repeat offenders.
“Much of the evidence will say [we should be] addressing poverty, providing real, tangible services for those affected by mental health problems…taking alternative measures to rehabilitate offenders are the things that actually make a difference,” he said. “It’s contended that Bill C-10 doesn’t allow for that…that it’s simply building bigger prisons.”
Montgomery hopes that the conference will be an annual event, where multiple perspectives can be brought together.
“We want to foster a meaningful dialogue that then, perhaps, will lead to collaborative attempts to positive justice transformation.”