Organizing with Anti-Oppression in Mind
As organizers for the event we were cognizant of the fact that our speakers should be representative of those most likely to be impacted by the conservative crime agenda. We wanted to ensure that we heard from women, aboriginal peoples, and other people of colour, as well as those who have already been criminalized and have “done time”.
While I had my concerns along the way about how successful we would be in this part of our endeavour. Tuesday was a testament to, I believe, our success.
Tuesday night was a success. All our speakers turned up, had important points to make and engaged the audience (of 225 people) by answering their questions directly. In this way our format was a little different than many speakers forums I have attended. The audience had a chance to submit written questions which were then passed to our moderator and put directly to the speakers.
We heard from a really lovely, intelligent, young, aboriginal woman named Krysta Williams from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Krysta reminded us about the optimism many felt when we as a society made the progressive and extremely warranted move to institute what became known as Gladue courts. Gladue was intended to ensure that sentencing judges take the context of vulnerable, usually minority persons lives into account. One of the main intentions for its use is to reflect the ongoing effects of colonization in sentencing aboriginal men and women.
Unfortunately Gladue is not being used nearly as frequently as it should be and only a few cities have instituted separate Gladue courts. Krysta warned that Bill C10 will be at serious conflict with Gladue particularly where mandatory minimums are concerned. If a judge must give a minimum sentence that fact in and of itself conflicts with the stipulations in Gladue and how they are to be considered.
The Native Youth Sexual Health Network www.nativeyouthsexualhealth.com
For Information on Gladue: http://www.turtleisland.org/news/news-gladue.htm
The Native Women's Association of Canada at www.nwac.ca
National Film Board Native Canadian Projects http://www3.nfb.ca/enclasse/doclens/visau/index.php?mode=theme&language=english&theme=30662&film=16933&excerpt=612109&submode=about&expmode=2
The Revolving Door of the Drug War
Greg Simmons has spent 14 years of his life traversing the dark corridor's of Canada's prisons. He is a survivor of the drug war. Greg like most of us who have used drugs in a manner disruptive to our lives, did what many of us do to support our habits...he sold drugs to other drug users. Greg had an interesting take on the effects of longer, tougher sentences on the choices law breakers will make. He suggested that many will become more reckless. This is not the first time I have heard this refrain from so called career criminals. My ex of 13 years spent many years in and out of the system as well. I recall hearing that sediment from him and from other guys with similar histories as his. “If the sentence is going to be harsh then I will avoid it at all costs and if they are to take me out, I will go down with a vengeance.”
Greg also expressed repeatedly his concern for victims of violent crime and championed restorative justice programs as opposed to prison or in addition to at sentencing. He spoke of the need for healing on both sides of the equation. The victim or survivor and the prisoner.
Greg is both client and volunteer at PASAN – the Prisoner HIV/AIDS Support Action Network. www.pasan.org
Giving Victims a Voice?
We also heard from Steve Sullivan, the inaugural Federal Victims Ombudsman from 2007-2010. Steve began by noting the unlikeliness of the panelists sitting together Tuesday evening. He went on to say that in beginning the ombudsman position he felt the way many Canadians do – lock em up and throw away the key – Restorative programs are soft on crime and have no place in addressing violence. If the conservatives had their way we would all believe that victims and their advocates want nothing more than to see law breakers, especially those committing violent acts locked away forever with no rehabilitation or treatment. However many victims feel excluded, even silenced by traditional justice practices. Many don't want to see anyone jailed in their name, particularly without any voice in the matter. And most victims are never provided the support they need to move forward.
What changed Steve's mind was what he was hearing from the victims who had gone through a program of restoration. They were talking about healing. This was far different from what he was accustomed to hearing from those who had gone through a traditional court process. Many of those victims felt unheard and when they did feel included it was satisfying that someone was being held to account but healing was never mentioned.
Despite what some believe, restorative justice unlike traditional justice, promotes the need in people to accept true responsibility and to hold themselves to account. In fact what could be more real than facing the person you have hurt. One to one, face to face, confronting how you have impacted their life.
While I don't agree with everything Steve has to say about what we must do to stop victimization I do believe he is on the right track. Most importantly he uses his brain and seeks the truth as opposed to ideology.
Steve's blog can be found here. http://advocateforvictims.blogspot.com/
To learn more about restorative programs in Canada go to http://www.sfu.ca/cfrj/
HIV and HCV - Coerced Contraction
We also heard from Pat Allard, Deputy Director of Research and Policy at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. The Network has long championed the plight of those with HIV/AIDS or at risk of contracting the virus. This includes those drug users who in Canada are sentenced to jails and prisons which refuse to provide harm reduction services and equipment. This stance ignores the fact that people are addicted and not in complete control of addictive compulsions. These two pieces combined leave people in a position where they are vulnerable to sharing scarce injection paraphernalia and more likely to contract HIV and/or HCV.
This in fact was my situation. I have HCV and am lucky not to have contracted HIV. There are everyday consequences which are ongoing in my life and that of my children. From health to financial to emotional.
Prisoners and Family
Pat reminded us to remember that those people we lock away are assets to their families, both financially and emotionally. The vast majority of them are parents, whose children also need to be considered.
I would ask you to consider too that most children which to remain with their parents. Separating them causes the most severe trauma. And later consequences often far outweigh any harm the parent may have caused society initially.
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network: www.aidslaw.ca
Families and Corrections Canada Resource http://www.cfcn-rcafd.org/text/cfcn.html#story1
Sensible Drug Policy - Youth
We also heard from Caleb Chepesiuk from Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Caleb and I have collaborated and/or run into one another around a number of similar events which seek to educate others around drug policy, harm reduction, and this crazy conservative law and order agenda. I've come to know Caleb as a thoughtful and intelligent activist who is quick to realize the connections between the anti drug war, and anti poverty movements.
Caleb is a true advocate for the young. He knows many are at risk of being caught up in certain elements of this Bill C10. The conservatives claim that C10 will protect our kids from drug dealers but in reality it will actually transform the act of sharing a joint or passing a pill into trafficking, thus transforming our kids into drug dealers. Convictions of this sort will see them doing prison time.
Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy http://www.cssdp.org/
Sensible Drug Policy – Expert Analyst’s
Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer, professor, and founder of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy agreed with Caleb about the effects this Bill will have on students. Eugenie’s expertise is in policy around issues such as privacy, human rights, illicit drugs, national security, and criminal justice. Eugene told us that Bill C10 will potentially see as many as 80% of his students criminalized, with 10-20% of them at risk for imprisonment.
He used the example of a group of college kids at a party. He told us that those who share a tab of Ecstasy or Ketamine (special K) could see up to two years in prison under provisions targeting those who “traffic” (which includes sharing or passing drugs). Particularly if this occurs near a school, or in a place normally frequented by youth. Those most likely to be targeted by these provisions which could in some cases see mandatory prison terms of 3-5 years are other youth. Youth associate with youth. The dark stranger on the corner wont be the guy dealing to our kids, the best friend from grade school very well could be.
Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy. www.cfdp.ca