Prison system failed to ensure security tests aren't racially biased against Indigenous inmates

Posted
June 13, 2018

Canada's prison service is using security tests that may discriminate against Indigenous offenders and keep them behind bars longer and in more restrictive environments, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a 7-2 decision, the court found that Correctional Service of Canada failedto take steps to ensure that risk assessment tests used for deciding such things as penitentiary placement and parole eligibility are valid and accurate for Indigenous offenders.

The case involves Jeffrey Ewert, a Métis inmate who was convicted of the murder and attempted murder of two young women. His lawyer argued the risk assessment tests were unreliable for Indigenous offenders, and that CSC had been aware of concerns about the tests since 2000 but had failed to confirm their validity.

The decision says that if CSC wants to continue to use the "impugned tools," it must conduct research into "whether and to what extent they are subject to cross-cultural variance when applied to Indigenous offenders."

"Any further action the standard requires will depend on the outcome of that research," reads the majority decision, written by Chief Justice Richard Wagner. "Depending on the extent of any cross-cultural variance that is discovered, the CSC may have to cease using the impugned tools in respect of Indigenous inmates, as it has in fact done with other actuarial tools in the past."

While the ruling found CSC breached its legal obligation, it did not find that Ewart's constitutional rights were violated. There was no evidence that the assessment had no rational connection to the government objective of public safety, the decision states.

CSC has not said whether it will stop using the test as a result of the ruling.

"The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is reviewing the decision and will determine next steps. It is important to note that culturally appropriate interventions and reintegration support for First Nations, Métis and Inuit offenders is a priority of CSC," spokeswoman Stephanie Stevenson wrote in an email.

Read more: Prison system failed to ensure security tests aren't racially biased against Indigenous inmates