Behind “On the Line”

“On the Line” is the story I wrote for this year’s Crow magazine. It looks at the tradition and revival of trapping.  Drop everything and read it.  And the rest of the stories, because damn, it’s a fantastic collection of journalism.

 

I have never spent so long on one item. It was labourious. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word was carefully researched before it was crafted. Multiple sources to back up even the smallest of facts. I spent hours dissecting the smallest details, searching the ends of the earth (okay, the Internet) for that second or third source to triangulate what I was trying to say. At times, it was exhausting. But I am prouder of it than I am anything else I’ve written so far.

It was something I felt a connection to. Trapping is a tradition that is being lost in my own family. In fact, I am the first generation NOT to trap or hunt. So I see in Mikaela someone I could have been… someone I still could be. But it’s not just my interest or connection to the matter at hand.

Namely, selfishly, it was fun to write. I travelled to Prince Albert, Sask., for a two day northern trappers’ convention. No one knew what to make of me. I knew what to expect. These were men and women who lived largely in the bush. Their faces showed the hardships of the bush – the tough conditions, the hard work, the survival. Some could barely speak English, butwere fluent in their native Cree or Dene. Many glanced at me suspiciously… the stranger, the outcast.

Someone had me sign a piece of paper, saying who I was, where I was from. That paper was then read out, and my name was listed off with the various dignitaries that were there.

“She’s a journalist,” they announced. “She’s here to tell our stories!”

I was no longer a stranger or outcast, no longer eyed at suspiciously. From that point forward, I couldn’t get a moment to myself. People wanted to tell me their stories. Many of them were startling – sad stories of an endangered way of life. It was also telling how the north is an untapped resource of stories.

I took my time talking to people, to fully hear and understand their stories. At this point in my writing, all I had was research and statistics — the rich history of trapping, how many trappers there were, how many were left, and the implications of things like fur bans. The numbers outlined the crux of the story — it was a way of life that was at risk of being extinct. But I didn’t have characters to illustrate the facts. That’s what I set out to find at the convention. And there were many people that almost fit the bill. But the crowd demonstrated another point —  that when this generation dies, there is a risk that trapping will die with it.

Then Rose approached me. And then the rest unfolded from there.

My trip to Prince Albert is easily one of the highlights of my academic career. I met a lot of good people, who are fighting the good fight to hold onto their traditions. Many reminded me of my grandfather. Everything smelt smoky, like moose hide. I felt at home there, in a place I’d never been. Many people asked me my story and I told them, how my motives for telling this story were inherently selfish, how I wanted to tell a story I felt was being lost in my own family. I proudly showed them photos of my grandfather.

“He looked very kind,” one FSIN vice-chief told me, putting a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. “Kind eyes.”

Moments like that stick out the most. The acceptance into a community of which I was an outsider. The trust and eagerness in which they told me their stories. I haven’t forgotten many of them. I just don’t know how to tell them yet.

Click here to see photos from the Northern Saskatchewan Trappers Association Convention. 

Supporting country women

NOTE: THIS IS AN ARTICLE I WROTE FOR A JOURNALISM SCHOOL PROJECT. WE TRAVELLED TO THE COMMUNITY OF STRASBOURG, SASK., TO FIND STORIES. WE CREATED A NEWSLETTER AND BLOG: “THE 220.”

By Lauren Golosky

When Rita Kerr walked into the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool’s pancake breakfast with a girlfriend, she noted they were the only women there. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary – they always seemed to be the few token women at agricultural-related events in the area.

The absence of women – who make up about 20 per cent of all farmers in Saskatchewan – bothered Kerr and motivated her to create the Country Women’s Network under the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.

“All the women that work on the farm and stuff, we need to do something for them so that they feel like there’s something that they can claim ownership to and they feel like they are welcome to come to,” explained Kerr.

Since CWN was formed in 1997, it has evolved. The group no longer focuses solely on agriculture, instead extending the focus to the interests of all women in the community. They have also severed their ties with the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, now called Viterra.

CWN has become popular among the older women in Strasbourg, who make up a significant majority in the community. On coffee row, some women chatter about it excitedly.

“That is what we are trying to do – pamper women.”

– Rita Kerr

One woman, Gwen Yung, regards CWN as an “awesome group.” She enjoys the organization’s annual activities: the Ladies’ Day in April and the bus trip in June. The two events strive to meet the group’s goal: to encourage, educate, and empower women.

And the goal seems to be accomplished. The Ladies’ Day provides the women with guest speakers with a variety of subjects, from the entertaining to the informative. The women are then served a catered supper.

“That is what we are trying to do –  pamper women,” said Kerr. “The whole purpose of that, too, is to make sure we serve them supper, otherwise they have gone and had a really relaxing, wonderful afternoon and then they have to rush home and make supper. We wanted to make sure we included supper in the day so it was still part of their relaxation.”

“This group is to get the women away from the farm for a day to be pampered,” said another member, Verlyn Cameron.

The success and popularity of the group is confirmation to Kerr that CWN is needed and appreciated.

“Country Women’s Network is so successful because it addresses women and we have a lot of them in Strasbourg,” she said.

Kerr explained that her two daughters often question her involvement, wondering why she is passionate about the organization.

“It serves such a need in our area,” she said. “We have no problem selling our tickets to either of our events. It’s easy to sell them because people want to do stuff to be pampered or get educated.”

While Kerr sees CWN filling a void in the Strasbourg agrea, Amber Fletcher says rural women across the province need a sense of belonging in the industry of agriculture. Fletcher is a doctoral candidate at the University of Regina and her research focuses on agricultural policy and the future of rural women in Saskatchewan. Fletcher’s research has found that farm women have a wide scope of responsibilities, from work on and off the farm to childcare and volunteer work. She explained that this excessive workload has dire repercussions.

“The things that I found to be most pertinent and most salient, in my discussions with farm women, is workload going back to all those different areas and the extension of their work,” said Fletcher.

Despite increased stress and potential health repercussions, there are few resources and outlets for women in rural areas.

“If you’re going through something and you don’t have anyone that you can talk to about it, whether it be formal structure such as mental health services or informal structure like neighbours you can talk to, it has health consequences,” said Fletcher.

While CWN has allowed rural women to be a part of something, Fletcher wonders if more should be done within agricultural organizations, such as Viterra, to improve the rate of women participating at their events. Fletcher grew up on a farm and recalls agricultural surveyors calling and exclusively asking to speak with her father, even though her mother was a farmer, too. This fails to foster a feeling of importance and inclusion among farm women.

“There’s this stereotype that farming is a masculine profession, therefore women don’t feel welcome in those spaces,” she said. “Due to this intangible stereotype, there is a concrete lack of inclusion.”

Farm women are also undervalued and underrepresented, claims Fletcher. While their work, on and off the farm, is necessary for the farm to function, farm women rarely get the proper recognition they deserve, as much of their work appears to be more domestic in nature, such as feeding workers or washing laundry.

“All work that women do is seen as not central, but peripheral work,” she explained. “It’s not seen as crucial to farm operation, but it is. You can’t have seven or eight workers without food.”

“There’s this stereotype that farming is a masculine profession.”

– Amber Fletcher

Fletcher wonders if more effort could be made to make women feel more welcome in the agriculture industry.

“For example, are meetings held at times that work for women, especially those working off the farm or commuting?” Fletcher said. “Is childcare available at meetings? This is important since women, particularly farm women, still tend to do an overwhelming amount of childcare.”

The overwhelming majority of CWN’s members are senior women, much like the makeup of the town of Strasbourg, who are 56 years old or older. Kerr, one of CWN’s youngest members, has acknowledged the lack of younger women within the group.

“We just don’t get younger women involved,” she said. “We have more younger women moving back now, so maybe it’ll get easier.”

Kerr is still adamant that the group serves an important function for the older demographic. She believes the group will continue to be a success as it serves a vital need in the community.

“It will change as the needs of women in the area change,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll ever have trouble getting membership.”

Growing pains addressed in provincial budget

by Lauren Golosky
Finance Minister Ken Krawetz and NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon speak about the recently tabled budget to local radio. Photo by Lauren Golosky

Finance Minister Ken Krawetz and NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon speak about the recently tabled budget to local radio. Photo by Lauren Golosky

“Balanced growth” was the theme as the Government of Saskatchewan released its 2013-14 budget.

The province is growing and Premier Brad Wall has set a population target of 1.2 million people by 2020. But with growth comes growing pains.

The challenges associated with a growing province include increased pressure on the healthcare system, infrastructure, and the education system.

With its recent budget, the government is allocating 96 per cent of its total expenses on health, education and post-secondary education. This includes $3 billion to be spent on healthcare, including $29 million to be given to the health regions to deal with population growth.

“We’re providing $11.6 billion dollars in a whole host of areas,” said Finance Minister Ken Krawetz. “We’re dealing with greater utilization in healthcare because of population demand; we’re providing over $17 million to the education system to deal with increased enrolments. When you look across all ministries, we’re meeting the challenge of a growing population”

The government also increased spending on infrastructure projects, totalling $847.5 million, the most since the 2009-10 budget.

“One of the very real challenges of course is infrastructure,” said Krawetz. “With a decaying infrastructure, and then the need to rebuild that infrastructure plus to create new infrastructure, that’s the pressure.”

However, the opposition NDP is calling the budget a “credit-card budget,” alleging that it will have serious implications on future generations.

“(The budget) really fails to support Saskatchewan’s growth,” said finance critic Trent Wotherspoon.

Wotherspoon stressed that the budget fails to sufficiently support the education system.

“We see nothing meaningful on this front to alleviate the strain and pressure that’s in our classrooms, on our students, and we need to do a better job of making sure we’re making education a priority, understanding what it means to the future of students, but what it also means to the future of our province, economically, socially and otherwise,” he said.

Saskatchewan School Boards Association President Janet Foord was also disappointed with the government’s budget in respect to education.

“It’s a status quo budget. It does not represent the premier’s growth agenda,” she said. “It allows us to continue doing what we’re doing, but there’s not enough money in there to address the aboriginal/non-aboriginal achievement rate or the graduation rate.”

 

Students want voices heard during time of cuts

by Lauren Golosky
U of R Students' Union president, Nathan Sgrazzutti, speaks to a board member before University Council meeting begins. Photo by Lauren Golosky

U of R Students’ Union president, Nathan Sgrazzutti, speaks to a board member before University Council meeting begins. Photo by Lauren Golosky


Universities across North America are going through turbulence and Saskatchewan’s universities are no exception.

Both universities are currently facing deficits. The University of Saskatchewan is projecting a deficit of $44.5 million, while the University of Regina is facing a three per cent cut across all departments.

Each university is reacting to these budgetary challenges differently, with the U of S instituting TransformUS, a prioritization program that includes two taskforces that will review academic programming and support services. The budget cutting program is hoping to save the university $20-$25 million dollars annually.

As the universities are now challenged to cut their budgets, some student groups are concerned their interests are getting lost in the business side of post-secondary education. At the U of S, the TransformUS task forces include three students. Students’ Union president Jared Brown is content that the university allowed some student membership on the task forces.

“I don’t think the university would have allowed us to have 51 per cent of the members,” he said. “I think we understand that, but would I have liked more? Absolutely. But I am happy we do have people on the task forces.”

However, students at the U of R are less pleased with student representation at the University Council meeting on March 6. Bart Soroka, the U of R Students’ Union LGBTQ director, was disappointed they were only able to fill some of the spots mandated for student representation on the council.

“The administration was actually supposed to do council elections every year in the fall and they never did them so we actually ended up coming into the council meeting with five members instead of 50, which we were supposed to have,” he explained. “I spent about a week desperately, desperately trying to get up to 50, but the administration, and at the end of the day, myself as well, realized that the language of the document would not let us appoint councilors.”

URSU president Nathan Sgrazzutti was also unhappy with student representation at the council meeting, adding that “we were caught by bylaws and rules that we feel weren’t very fairly administered.”

Although a student representative put forward an amendment asking for non-member students to be allowed to comment during the meeting, the amendment was rejected. Sgrazzutti and Soroka are concerned students will continue to be underrepresented, especially in relation to a motion that recommended a separate budget committee be created.

“I just want to make sure when we do have these breakout committees, when we do have these other groups if they end up being formed, that we still do have student representation on them because, as important as faculty and administration are to the university, without students the place couldn’t run,” said Soroka.

One student representative requested an amendment that would require 10 per cent of student representation on a separate budget committee, but it was rejected, as the committee’s composition had not yet been defined.

For Sgrazzutti, it is crucial that U of R students remain engaged during these tough times.

“We need to make sure that our voices continue to be heard and then listened to because the things that make sense for administration and make sense for government aren’t necessarily going to be things that make sense for students,” he said.

A midwife crisis

by Lauren Golosky
New mom Colleen Book feeds her daughter, Charlotte. Book was unable to deliver Charlotte the way she wanted to. Photo by Lauren Golosky

New mom Colleen Book feeds her daughter, Charlotte. Book was unable to deliver Charlotte the way she wanted to. Photo by Lauren Golosky

Saskatchewan is experiencing a baby boom right now, but some women aren’t able to have the births they want.

The province is currently facing a midwife shortage, leaving some expecting mothers on a wait list for a midwife, who assists during and after the birth.

This was the case for Colleen Book. When she was four months pregnant, Book turned to the Midwifes Association of Saskatchewan to find a midwife, only to discover Regina has just two midwives. She was put on a wait list.

“I was definitely shocked that there was not only such a demand for it, but such a wait list for it,” Book said.

Currently, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region has a wait list of 114 women hoping for a midwife. Some, like Book, won’t be lucky and their birth plans then have to change.

“I was really disappointed I couldn’t have a midwife,” said Book. “The hospital experience is so medical that it was definitely off-putting and I didn’t expect it to be quite so cold. It kind of would have been nice to have a midwife who could guide you through it and act more of a guide than just a doctor who tells you what you have to do. There’s not that personal touch.”

Midwifery services are relatively new to the province, with the Midwifery Act only being passed in 2008. The provincial government first implemented its midwifery pilot program in Saskatoon in 2009. Although the service has spread to two other health regions – Regina Qu’Appelle and Cypress – there has been a struggle to fill midwife positions.

Brenda Collacott, a program consultant with the Ministry of Health, said the program is still in its developmental stages, but the province hopes the program will attract more midwives.

One of the challenges Saskatchewan faces is the lack of midwifery training programs in the province. Currently, there are only seven midwifery programs across the country. The closest one is at Mount Royal University in Calgary, but it is a new program; previously, would-be midwives had to relocate as far as British Columbia or Ontario.

This is problematic for internationally-trained midwives such as Debbie Vey, who came to Canada from the U.K.

Vey is the lone midwife at the Women’s Health Centre in Fort Qu’Appelle. Her clients come from as far as Yorkton, Melville and Regina. Her caseload includes up to 35 clients a year, in addition to 90 prenatal clients.

“I take on more than I should,” she said, adding that she had to turn away 12 clients last year. “That’s four a month who wanted midwifery care, but I couldn’t physically take them.”

Vey expalined that internationally-trained midwives are required to undergo a yearlong assessment process. This process means the midwife has to leave Saskatchewan for B.C. or Ontario. However, Vey thinks the process is necessary.

“All midwives have to have the same standards,” she said. “Every midwife across Canada should be at the same level.”

However, Book thinks the province should be doing more to bring midwives to the province, especially as the population increases.

“To have a population boom in Saskatchewan right now, to have our population growing so fast, yet to only have two midwives…it seems like they’re not doing all they can,” she said.

Book said the province needs to institute some kind of midwifery program.

“Where are midwives going to come from if Saskatchewan Health isn’t setting up training programs for them?” she said.

Vey agreed.

“We do have homegrown students that want to do midwifery but can’t because you have to leave the province,” she said.

For any future pregnancy, Book hopes to have a midwife and plans on getting on the wait list earlier.

“I hope that there is some change so people can have the birthing experience that they want because it’s very personal; it’s very scary,” she said.

Getzlaf tackles pet overpopulation problems

  by Lauren Golosky

It’s off-season for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and many players are escaping the cold for a warmer climate.

But it’s not just fun in the sun for everyone.

On Jan. 12, Saskatchewan Roughriders slotback Chris Getzlaf went south to Cancun, Mexico, to work with Cats and Dogs International.

CANDI is an organization that sterilizes stray cats and dogs in Mexico and the Caribbean, both areas with large stray animal populations.

Getzlaf, who is also a financial consultant in Regina, usually spends his off-season working, volunteering for the Red Cross, and making appearances with the Riders. But when Winnipeg Blue Bomber Chris Cvetkovic approached him about CANDI, Getzlaf got involved.

“It’s a great way to get out of the cold and help a really good cause down here,” Getzlaf said via Skype from Mexico. “I think dogs outnumber humans two-to-one down here and it’s an eye-opener when you’re driving around up and down the streets and you see dogs walking everywhere.”

Tourists can relate. Vacationers often complain of mangy strays wandering the streets outside of their pristine resorts. It is estimated that Cancun has over one million stray dogs.

At CANDI’s sterilization clinic in Bonfil, Mexico, Getlzaf has been helping the veterinary technicians prep the dogs for surgery and using his football size and stature to help carry dogs in and out of surgery.

For Getzlaf, who owns a seven-year-old pit bull in Regina, the experience of “seeing everyone come together” has been rewarding.

“You see a lot dogs come in that are in pretty bad shape and after they come in and they go through their spay or neuter, and they go through recovery where they get all cleaned up, you see how they can actually turn out if they have some proper care and attention.”

Although Getzlaf said it is gratifying to see the transformation of stray dogs into healthy ones, some of which are even adopted, not all stories he has to take home are happy.

“We had to go and try and rescue a dog that had been hit by a car and we got her back to the clinic,” he said. “But she had to be put down. That part is real sad.”

Despite the challenges of working in impoverished areas, lifelong animal lover Getzlaf is enjoying the journey.

“I didn’t know it was going to hit home as much as it did to be honest,” he said.

More information about CANDI can be found at http://www.candiinternational.org.

What’s going on?: Trying to understand the epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women

By Lauren Golosky

At a young age, girls are taught about safety. They are taught that there are threats everywhere, especially at night. They are discouraged from going out in the dark, sometimes even forbidden from going out alone.

These dangers escalate for Aboriginal women, who are five-times more likely to die as a result of violence than any other women in Canada. In 2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada found that almost 600 Aboriginal women and girls have gone missing or been murdered over the past 20 years.

This problem haunts Aboriginal communities across the country. Mothers are worried about their daughters; sisters are worried about their sisters; friends are worried about their friends. Everybody seems to worry.

Brenda Dubois is an example of a worried woman. She was only a teenager when her grandmother was murdered in the 1970s, a mere two blocks away from her home. A young impressionable teenager at the time, Dubois learned a lesson about safety and security from her grandmother’s death.

“It made me aware that if you go [out] at night, you may not come home,” she said.

Now a mother of five, she finds herself worrying about her own children, and she isn’t alone. Although it isn’t an unusual phenomenon for parents to worry about their children, Aboriginal mothers have an extra lesson to teach their daughters: the daunting statistic that puts Indigenous women at a significantly larger risk of violence and crime.

How does a woman explain to her daughter that she is five times more likely to be in danger than her non-Aboriginal friends?

It isn’t easy.

Jacqueline Anaquod, lead organizer of the Sisters in Spirit Vigil in 2012, is one mother burdened with such a task.

“It was hard explaining to my teenage daughter,” she said. “She would ask me why I get so worried. I had to explain to her some of the issues around her being a target. She’ll be a target because she is visibly a young First Nations girl and the way that society views our women … it makes them vulnerable to predators.”

There are all too many cases to illustrate the reality of such danger. The murder of Regina resident Pamela George in the late 1990s is a disturbing example; as it emphasized elements of sexism and racism, both subtle and overt.

George, a 28-year-old mother of two was sexually assulted and beaten to death by university students Steven Kummerfield and Alex Ternowetsky. In court, George was portrayed as a prostitute who consented to the sexual assault. The judge residing over the case, Ted Malone, claimed George was “indeed a prostitute.”

Kummerfield and Ternowestsky were sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prision, each for manslaughter. George never got her justice.

Kim Karpa, executive director of the University of Regina Women’s Centre,
is researching the issues of missing and murdered indigenous women, particularly  the families’ experiences with the criminal justice system. She explains what the Pamela George case represents.

“You’ve got racism and sexism clearly operating within that trial. [Judge Malone] tries to justify the actions of the young men involved in her murder, the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude. This idea that she was disposable and that her life actually didn’t matter, but the lives of these two university students who had bright futures ahead of them, that’s what mattered.”

The judge’s words still haunt the Aboriginal community to this day. Sue Deranger, a volunteer involved with the Sisters in Spirit vigils, remembers bringing her youngest daughter, only eight or nine years old at the time, to the trial.

“That’s when the judge said, ‘keep in mind she was only a prostitute,’ and we all stormed out of the courtroom,” she said. “My daughter started crying. She said why do they do that? I said, in Canada, an Aboriginal women’s life means nothing and we cried together.”

Racism and sexism are not exclusive to the Pamela George case. For many people, these two issues are the root of the problem.

“It’s almost like the whole case of Pamela George … reeked of racism, sexism, and classism,” said Deranger. “If you know a system is really not going to do anything to you, than why not target those people?”


“That’s when the judge said, ‘keep in mind she was only a prostitute,’ and we all stormed out of the courtroom. My daughter started crying. She said why do they do that? I said, in Canada, an Aboriginal women’s life means nothing and we cried together.” – Sue Deranger


It appears that the system has slowly improved in some ways. The Sisters in Spirit vigil has grown in number and recognition, as more people become aware of the issue effecting Indigenous populations in Canada. The relationship between the Aboriginal community and the judicial system has also improved since the days of the Pamela George trial.

“The judicial system has made [an] effort,” Anaquod said. “They’ve built special taskforces and they do more work in the community.”

The historically rocky relationship between the Aboriginal community and the police has also improved.

“From what I understand, the police services are starting to address this issue much better, I think because [of] some of the comments from family members about the difficulties they’ve experienced,” explained Karpa. “I know for a fact that Chief Clive Weighill, with the Saskatoon Police, from what I’ve heard, this issue is at the top of his agenda. He has taken measures to really address this.”

But this doesn’t appear to be the case for everybody. Deranger has heard mixed reviews from friends and family about the police.

“I think it is on an individual basis,” she explained. “I’ve heard people say yes, they’ve been wonderful and I’ve heard people say, no they aren’t. I think it is luck of the draw.”

While the police and the judicial system have made some efforts to end the epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, many people think that the government should do more.

“I would say the government has made no effort at all,” said Anaquod. “They proved that when they pulled the funding to the Sisters in Spirit organization.”

Sisters in Spirit was an initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. It had previously received funding to operate the missing and murdered Aboriginal women’s database. Without the funding, the database could not be sustained. Brenda Anderson, a Women and Gender Studies professor at the University of Regina, explains the fate of the database.

“It is going to be part of the RCMP’s database, but the RCMP are not going to look for race as a determinant, therefore you aren’t able to evaluate the intersections of racism and sexism. You’re not able to look at the racialized and sexualized violence against Aboriginal women.”

While many people are disappointed by the government’s lack of efforts, they count the increased awareness in the community as a success because many believe the only way to end this epidemic is to educate people and change their attitudes towards Aboriginal people.

“Society and Canadians need to change their attitudes and their views of Aboriginal people,” said Anaquod. “It will take a transformation of an entire country to make these changes. If we were able to do that, that would be something that, as Canadians and as people, we could [be] proud of.”

Anderson agrees. “This isn’t just an Aboriginal issue. This is an issue for all Canadians.”

Justice issues tackled at symposium

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.”