03/11/2013 10:20 EDT | Updated 05/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Prison Watchdog Calls On Public Safety Minister For Help


Canada's prison watchdog is calling on Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to intervene after receiving an "insufficient" and "dismissive" response to his special report on the spike in numbers of aboriginals behind bars.

Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers sent a letter directly to Toews Monday asking him to step in and demand a better response to his report flagging an alarming 43 per cent jump in aboriginal inmates in federal custody in the last five years. He also cited "systemic discrimination" against First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in the justice system.

The watchdog first delivered his special report to Correctional Service of Canada last October but only received a response from the department late last week.

Speaking on CBC News Network's Power & Politics Monday, Chris Alexander, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, said the government is concerned about disproportionately high crime rates in regions with high numbers of aboriginal Canadians like Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. But he said the government is focusing on policing and prevention rather than adding to the bureaucracy, and rejected Sapers' key recommendation to create a deputy commissioner for aboriginal corrections.

"As of now, the government certainly doesn't see another senior level official in Ottawa focusing on these issues as a solution to these problem. We want to be much more pragmatic. We want to be much closer to the communities," Alexander told host Hannah Thibedeau.

"We've invested in front-line policing, we've invested in front-line prevention programs. And that's where we see the value for taxpayers' dollars coming."

New Democrat MP Jack Harris said it makes sense to have someone in a leadership position dedicated to addressing longstanding, systemic problems.

"It's not a layer of bureaucracy, it's a point person in leadership in corrections services who's given the responsibility to make sure all the things that are being suggested here in terms of negotiations with aboriginal elders, making sure the system actually works, providing the kind of training that correctional officers need, making sure the system inside actually responds to the needs of aboriginal people," he said.

Harris said successive Liberal and Conservative federal governments have ignored the special rehabilitation needs and the racially based over-representation of aboriginals in Canada's prison system.

Liberal MP and public safety critic Francis Scarpaleggia says the position could be created by redistributing existing funds without increasing the overall CSC budget.

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