(April 28, 2020, Ottawa, ON): The federal government must act quickly to protect Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people from COVID-19, says the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in federal and provincial correctional institutions, the time to act is now.

“Federal and provincial correctional institutions are COVID-19 hotspots,” says NWAC President Lorraine Whitman, due to overcrowding combined with inadequate access to proper hygiene, sanitation and personal protective equipment. “These conditions place Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people at high risk of contracting COVID-19.”

The Office of the Correctional Investigator’s February 2020 annual report highlighted the fact that this population group is especially vulnerable, as Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people are over-represented among the youth and adult populations currently in custody. It not only confirms that Indigenous women now represent 42% of the federal female prison population, but also reinforces findings by Statistics Canada that Indigenous women are being institutionalized at a much higher rate than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

NWAC is calling on the early release of Indigenous offenders: “Releasing Indigenous female offenders will reduce the gross over-incarceration of Indigenous women. This will also help to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on this vulnerable population, as well as mitigate the impact in the overall federal prison system,” says Ms. Whitman.

Additionally, because Indigenous women are disproportionately classified as medium and higher security offenders, NWAC is also urging for a reassessment of their security level. Reassessment should be done in partnership with Indigenous governments, organizations and communities. NWAC points to the independent findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, whose Calls for Justice #14.3, 14.4 and 14.5 call on an assessment of risk level that considers the Indigenous experience of colonialism and racism.

“We must protect the health and safety of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people, and to support them on their journey of healing and reintegration. I am afraid that the time to act is quickly closing,” says Ms. Whitman.

NWAC, which is the national voice of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people, is urging its members to write to their Member of Parliament.

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For more information contact: Joan Weinman, joanweinman@rogers.co.  613.294.5679

Att.: Backgrounder