'There is a serious problem here,' Supreme Court justice says in Indigenous inmate security test case

'There is a serious problem here,' Supreme Court justice says in Indigenous inmate security test case
From CBC - October 12, 2017

Correctional Service Canada is violating the rights of Indigenous inmates by using culturally biased tests that keep them behind bars longer and in more restrictive environments, the Supreme Court of Canada heard today in a case that could have sweeping ramificationsfor the federal prison system.

The high court heard arguments in thecase ofJeffrey Ewert, a Mtis inmate who claims the tests that determine prison security leveland parole decisions discriminate against Indigenous offenders.

He is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder and attempted murder, and has been in the federal system for 30 years in prisons across the country.

Ewert's lawyer Jason Gratl argued that while the tests are statistically valid and legitimate for the general population, they donot take into account the significant linguistic and cultural differences of Indigenous inmates. He said Correctional Service Canada (CSC) failed for decades to ensure the integrity of its assessment processand has thereforebreached fundamental justice.

Gratl said CSC must take "all reasonable steps to ensure that any information about offenders that it uses is as accurate, up to date and complete as possible."

Federal government lawyer Anne Turley saidstandard assessments are used around the world, including in prison populations withIndigenous offenders in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. They have proven to be "reliable predictors" of risk, she said.

Professional psychologists take a number of steps in a "multi-faceted approach,"including an in-depth interview, in addition to the tests that are now under scrutiny.

"They are not the only tool in the tool box," Turleysaid.

No 'causal connection'

Suggesting the trial judge erred in finding a "causal connection" between the use of the tool and the loss of liberty, Turley said in Ewert's case, decisions on security classification were based also on clinical assessment, discussions with parole officers and a review of behavioural pattens and treatment plans.

Justice Malcolm Rowe said he is "quite sympathetic to the fact that there is a serious problem here," but suggested Gratl was using a constitutional argument to force federal action withoutlaying out a clear argument.

Consider cultural values


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