The Native Women’s Association of Canada marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence by drawing attention to the threat of COVID-19 to Indigenous women in Canadian prisons. As the second wave of the pandemic strikes, an NWAC research paper released today looks at how the interplay of COVID-19 and systemic racism in the justice system will compound the harm to these incarcerated women.
“Indigenous women represent over 41 per cent of federally incarcerated women, despite just representing four per cent of the total female population. They will be over-represented among pandemic casualties as well, unless we shine a light on this important human rights issue,” says Lynne Groulx, NWAC CEO.
The NWAC study, entitled Minimizing COVID-19-related Risk Among Incarcerated Indigenous Females Through Transparency and Accountability, focuses a COVID lens on serious issues raised by the Correctional Investigator of Canada in January. In addition to being over-represented in prisons, Indigenous women are more likely to be classified as high risk, which means they are less likely to be granted day or full parole compared to their non-Indigenous female counterparts. As a significantly higher number of Indigenous women spend more time behind bars, the more likely they are to be exposed to COVID-19.
The pandemic poses additional threats beyond the risk of contracting the disease. Access to culturally safe services is essential to the mental and physical health of Indigenous women in prison, as well as their ability to heal from the traumas and social issues that led to their incarceration so they can successfully rehabilitate and reintegrate into their communities. By shutting down prison programs the pandemic has exacerbated already inadequate access to these culturally safe services.
NWAC calls on the Government of Canada to significantly improve transparency and oversight of Canadian prisons to help address these issues – including ratification and implementation of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on Torture.
“Violence against Indigenous women takes many forms, including discrimination that threatens the health of women in our prison system. The 16 Days of Activism is a time to take action on all these issues as we seek to fulfil the 231 Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry on MMIWG,” says Groulx.
Read our report “Minimizing COVID-19-related Risk Among Incarcerated Indigenous Females Through Transparency and Accountability” on our web site: www.nwac.ca