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Prison psychological tests must be fair to Indigenous inmates: high court

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OTTAWA — The federal prison service has failed to ensure its psychological assessment tools are fair to Indigenous inmates, the Supreme Court of Canada says in a ruling that could open the door to a wholesale examination of the techniques.

In a 7-2 decision Wednesday, the high court accepted prisoner Jeffrey Ewert’s challenge of five assessment tools the Correctional Service of Canada uses to gauge the risk of reoffending and potential for violence.

It effectively means the Correctional Service must review the tools to make certain they are free of cultural bias, or stop using them altogether.

“For the correctional system, like the criminal justice system as a whole, to operate fairly and effectively, those administering it must abandon the assumption that all offenders can be treated fairly by being treated the same way,” a majority of the court said in its reasons.

The decision comes as the Liberal government grapples with the over-representation of Indigenous people in the federal prison system.

In 2015-16, Indigenous offenders represented almost one-quarter of the total federal offender population. A government report also noted a lower percentage of Indigenous offenders benefited from gradual release from custody than non-Indigenous ones.

Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, welcomed the court ruling. “Today’s decision is a step forward in the fight to reduce the over-incarceration of our people.”

The Correctional Service is reviewing the decision and “will determine next steps,” said prison service spokeswoman Stephanie Stevenson.

Ewert, who identifies as Metis, alleged the prison service’s assessment techniques were not proven to be reliable for Indigenous inmates because they were developed and tested on predominantly non-Indigenous subjects.

He claimed that reliance on the tools violated the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which requires the prison service to “take all reasonable steps to ensure that any information about an offender that it uses is as accurate, up to date and complete as possible.”

Ewert, 56, also contended that use of the tools violated constitutional guarantees of equality and liberty.

Born to a Metis mother and a British father, Ewert was adopted as a baby by a Caucasian family in Surrey, B.C.

Court documents describe his adoptive father as an alcoholic, and his adoptive mother as psychologically unstable and abusive. Ewert was subjected to racism and discrimination both at home and at school.

He has been locked up for more than 30 years in maximum- and medium-security institutions, serving two concurrent life sentences for second-degree murder, attempted murder and escape from custody.

Ewert became eligible for day parole in 1996 and full parole three years later. However, he has waived his right to each parole hearing.

A Federal Court judge found the prison service had breached the corrections act and infringed Ewert’s charter right to liberty, but the decision was later overturned — prompting his appeal to the Supreme Court.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said the Correctional Service must base its decisions about inmates on sound information if it is to ensure the safety of other prisoners, staff members and the general public.

The high court stopped short of concluding Ewert’s charter rights had been breached.

However, the court found the Correctional Service “fell short of what it is required to do” by “disregarding the possibility that these tools are systematically disadvantaging Indigenous offenders and by failing to take any action to ensure that they generate accurate information.”

The court said that if the prison service wishes to continue using the tools, it must conduct research into whether — and to what extent — they apply differently to Indigenous offenders.

Depending on the outcome, the service may need to modify the tools or stop using them on Indigenous inmates, the ruling said.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press


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Woman and her dog lost for 72 hours in B.C. woods are found safe

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INVERMERE, B.C. — A 52-year-old woman and her dog are both safe and unharmed after wandering lost for 72 hours in the thick woods in southeastern B.C.

RCMP Sgt. Chris Newel says Louise Baxter hopped off a rescue helicopter Wednesday, hugged her husband and was talking and laughing with her rescuers.

Baxter went out for a hike with friends in the Jumbo Pass area on Sunday, but she disappeared after taking her leashed dog out for what she said would be a short walk.

Newel says Baxter appears to have become disoriented shortly after leaving her friends and then heading down the mountain, moving “west when she probably should have been heading east.”

The dog, a golden poodle named Maverick, was with her the whole time and Newel says the animal is also in good health. 

At the height of the search, there were three helicopters, four search dogs, a drone and 35 search and rescue volunteers looking for the woman in the difficult, mountainous terrain.

Newel, who was the incident commander for the search, said Baxter saw the search helicopters and tried to flag them down, but no one saw her.

“But if anybody’s every been in a helicopter, trying spot a person in forested area is extremely difficult and a lot harder than you would think,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “I can’t imagine the emotion that would have gone through her seeing these helicopters and not be able to signal them in some sort of way.”

Baxter is an avid hiker, Newel said, adding the general rule of thumb for those who get lost in the woods is to stay put. Baxter did stay in one place for a while but proceeded down the mountain because she thought help wasn’t coming, he said.

“But she was working further and further out from the primary search area.”

He said she found water along the way and ate berries, but didn’t have anything else to eat.

“I couldn’t believe when she walked off that helicopter and practically ran to her husband,” Newel added.

 

The Canadian Press


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Greens won’t run candidate in Burnaby South as ‘leader’s courtesy’ to Singh: May

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VICTORIA — The Green party will not run a candidate against NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in the riding of Burnaby South.

Green Leader Elizabeth May says the decision is an extension of a “leader’s courtesy,” a long-standing Canadian parliamentary tradition that facilitates a newly elected party leader’s entry to the House of Commons in an unopposed byelection.

She says in a statement the Greens believe it is right to step aside to allow the leader of “an important part of the political spectrum” to serve in Parliament.

Singh announced his candidacy for the federal riding after New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart indicated he was stepping aside to run for mayor of Vancouver.

The Liberal and Conservative parties have not announced candidates in the riding, but the Liberals have said they will contest the byelection.

May received the leader’s courtesy in 2008 when then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion chose not to run a candidate against her in Central Nova. She extended the same gesture to Dion.

In 2002, the Liberals and Conservatives stepped aside for Stephen Harper when he ran in a byelection held shortly after he became leader of the Canadian Alliance.

No date has been set for a byelection.

Singh sat in Ontario’s legislature and served as the provincial NDP’s deputy leader before he replaced Tom Mulcair as the federal leader.

The Canadian Press


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