Dignitaries from across the province assembled in Prince Albert to discuss the justice system and initiatives that are benefitting Saskatchewan’s northern residents.
Saskatchewan Liberal Senator Lillian Dyck kicked off the justice symposium, which is being held at Plaza 88 in Prince Albert between May 15 and 17. Her speech encompassed a number of topics, including her own bill, S-215, Missing and murdered Indigenous women and Girls, and peremptory challenges during jury selection.
Dyck said she hopes northern leaders understand racism is very real, and the challenges faced by Indigenous women in Canada need to be addressed. She sees her bill, S-215, as a tool which can help make an immediate change. The bill calls on judges to consider the victimization of an Indigenous woman as an aggravating factor during sentencing.
“If an Aboriginal woman is physically assaulted, sexually assaulted or murdered, then if a person is found guilty of that, then a judge will have to say ‘this woman is as valuable or as important as a non-aboriginal woman,” Dyck explained. “With an Indigenous victim, the charges were downgraded more often.”
She said her proposed bill is making the rounds, but it’s something she wants to see implemented immediately to bring about positive change in the justice system.
While Dyck acknowledged that Indigenous offenders' backgrounds must play a role during sentencing, she said the trauma Indigenous victims go through in life also needs to be addressed.
“In my mind, it’s not fair to only focus on the offender and not the female victim; she should have as much consideration as a male offender,” Dyck said.
Dyck acknowledged that the bill could potentially lead to harsher sentences for Indigenous offenders, who are already disproportionately represented in the justice system, but she said corrections must start looking at rehabilitation rather than simply locking up offenders until they’ve served their time.
On the National Inquiry
The leaders of National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls haven't done enough to earn Dyck's confidence. She said she wasn’t sure if an extension, which the inquiry's commissioners have asked for, would reveal any new details or information.
“I haven’t seen anything so far that really makes me think there’s been a big change,” Dyck said. “Unless a miracle happens ... I don’t have a lot of confidence.”
On the topic of violence against Indigenous women, Dyck said police spend too much time focusing on domestic violence when investigating a missing or murdered woman.
“I think it’s sort of standard police procedure; you interview the people that are closest to the victim,” Dyck said. “It’s their way of thinking. They haven’t got out of that box yet."
Northern leaders respond
Matt Heley, CEO of New North, said he was happy to have someone of Dyck’s position speaking at the symposium.
“The senator’s remarks were exactly what we were expecting to see,” Heley said. “It was a perfect keynote address to get the crowd wound up.”
This year’s symposium drew a large crowd, Heley said, and the main hall at Plaza 88 was relegated to standing room only. Residents from at least 70 different communities came to Prince Albert for the event.
Bruce Fidler, the mayor of Creighton, said Dyck's speech was eye-opening.
“It doesn’t really hit home until you sit down and let it sink in,” Fidler said.
The northern mayor said he hopes to bring information from the symposium back to his council and community and work find ways to participate or partner with different groups in Creighton to address the issues his community faces.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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