OTTAWA — The federal government has appointed a deputy commissioner for Indigenous corrections in a move towards tackling the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada's criminal justice system.
Correctional Service Canada announced Monday that it is promoting Kathy Neil, a Métis official, to serve in the role beginning May 1.
The hiring of such a position was a call to justice in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which released its recommendations in 2019.
Neil is currently the corrections agency's assistant deputy commissioner of correctional operations in the Prairies, was previously the warden of Saskatchewan Penitentiary and has also served as a community health worker.
"Through my personal and professional experience, I have seen first-hand the challenges and opportunities we have before us to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples in our care and custody," Neil, who has 27 years of experience in corrections, said in a statement Monday.
"I believe in the importance of meaningful partnerships and engagement with Indigenous communities, and will work hard to ensure that together, we achieve positive outcomes."
In a mandate letter, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino directed the Correctional Service Canada commissioner Anne Kelly to "continue to combat systemic racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system," including the overrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and racialized Canadians in the justice system. That included hiring a deputy commissioner for Indigenous corrections.
“We take the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in our criminal justice system very seriously. We need to ensure that Indigenous offenders have the supports they need so they can safely and successfully reintegrate into communities as law-abiding citizens," Kelly said in a statement.
"To achieve this, we must work closely with elders, Indigenous communities, groups, volunteers, staff and other partners."
Despite accounting for about five per cent of the adult population, Indigenous Peoples continue to be vastly overrepresented in the federal correctional system, accounting for 28 per cent of all prisoners and nearly one-third of all individuals in custody, the Office of the Correctional Investigator said in its 2021-22 annual report.
Black inmates are the second-most overrepresented population in the agency's care and custody, the report found, representing about nine per cent of the prison population despite making up less than four per cent of the Canadian population.
Neil's career experience includes developing policy and training within the federal justice system.
The correctional service says that Neil helped eliminate the practice of "administrative segregation," or solitary confinement, following several court challenges.
In 2019, the agency implemented a new system of "structured intervention units." But these, too, have been criticized, with the correctional investigator finding that Black and Indigenous prisoners experienced more and longer stays than white prisoners. Correctional Service Canada data show that as of August 2021, nearly 50 per cent of such units were occupied by Indigenous people.
"Walking the road of reconciliation means reforming all of our institutions, including Canada’s correctional system. The new role of deputy commissioner for Indigenous corrections ... is a major step on this path," Mendicino said in a statement.
"I want to thank Ms. Neil for agreeing to take on this important position, which will ensure appropriate attention and accountability towards Indigenous issues and address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2023.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press