Canada  

Native jail numbers secret

The government of Alberta is being lambasted in a review of Canada's justice system as the only province to keep secret the number of Indigenous people it has locked up over the last five years.

The criticism comes as part of an annual report card released Monday by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute that ranks the provinces and territories in terms of access to justice, efficiency, cost, public safety and support for victims.

Alberta is the only province that doesn't make public its disproportionately high Indigenous incarceration rate, said report co-author Benjamin Perrin.

"It's unconscionable to keep secret the number of Indigenous people who are being sent to jail in that province every year," said Perrin, who is a law professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

"We flagged this as a problem in our first report in the fall of 2016. We expected (Alberta) would start giving this data, but it hasn't."

Alberta's Justice Department said in a statement late Monday that it missed last year's Statistics Canada deadline because of a software turnover and would provide the information moving forward.

"Due to the transition to the new system, gaps in reporting (including indigenous-related data) occurred," the statement said. "This was communicated to Statistics Canada and other agencies and is reflected in footnotes in reporting documents where appropriate."

But Perrin said the explanation is "a bit like 'the dog ate my homework' kind of excuse."

"This comes at a time of very serious concern about the treatment of Indigenous people by the justice system. People have a right to know," he said.

While Indigenous incarceration rates are disproportionately high everywhere in Canada, they are especially high in Alberta, B.C., Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the report noted.

The overall justice system received a mixed grade in Monday's assessment, following last year's inaugural review, which concluded the country suffered from a large and growing "justice deficit."

The 2017 report card celebrated a notable drop in crime rates and a boost in legal aid funding relative to the previous year, but those improvements were overshadowed by a spike in costs, lengthier court delays and the persistent over-representation of Indigenous people in prisons.



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