Statement made on 11 December 2009 by Senator William Rompkey (retired)
Hon. Bill Rompkey:
Honourable senators, I want to make some comments in support of Senator Watt's amendment. Senator Watt spoke with experience, passion and knowledge about the situation that applies in the North, which is an unequal situation.
It seems to me that we have crafted a system in the South that we have tried to apply in the North, without much flexibility, and flexibility is what is needed. Yes, we need one system across the country, but it requires flexibility in application because we are dealing with a completely different culture. I am talking about Inuit communities. I am not talking about the communities of Oka and those who are nearer to urban centres. I am talking about remote Northern communities where the nearest community is miles away and inaccessible. I am talking about, in many cases, unilingual people.
A court may or may not prosecute a certain case, weather permitting and the docket permitting. It can be days or weeks before the judge arrives in the community. In many cases, the judge will be a unilingual judge. In some cases, the judge may have interpretation services.
I had the honour of teaching the first Inuk judge in Canada. James Igloliorte, from Hopedale, Labrador, was the first Inuk judge in Canada. He is no longer on the bench. We are now back to unilingual judges again.
We are trying to apply a system with people who speak a different language. There may or may not be an interpreter present, but that unilingual judge has to depend on the person who is interpreting. The person charged also has to depend on the interpretation, which in some cases may be perfect, and in some cases may be imperfect. Does the individual charged have access to a lawyer? In many cases, the individual does not. Does the individual have access to other services?
Senator Watt spoke about the drug addiction services that exist or do not exist, and Senator Carstairs gave a good presentation on the lack of those services across the country.
We have taken a system in the South and have tried to transpose it to the North. Senator Carignan talked about "cut and paste." I think he was talking about the inability to apply what was in Portugal to what we have in this country. Honourable senators, I think we are cutting and pasting. We are taking a system that we have devised and we are trying to paste it into communities that cannot respond to that system. The evidence is that all across this country we have, as Senator Carstairs said, nine times the amount of Aboriginal people in jail that we have from other cultures.
I do not think we can keep on building those jails. If a person is convicted in Naim, Labrador, there is no federal jail in my province.
Senator Cools: That is right.
Senator Rompkey: A person who is convicted in Naim, Labrador, has to go to Dorchester Penitentiary. As Senator Campbell has pointed out, that is one of the best universities that we have, where you learn how to be a better criminal —not how to be a better person, how to heal, or how to contribute, but how to be a better criminal.
Honourable senators, we should not be building more jails but more schools. If we had Aboriginal teachers who would stay, if we had curriculum in the Aboriginal language, if we had lower class sizes we could actually teach people; that is the answer to our problem, not mandatory minimum sentencing. It seems to me that we are going at it from completely the wrong end. We need to start at the other end if we are to solve this problem. The program must start in the schools. It must start with Aboriginal people controlling those schools with Aboriginal people in Aboriginal languages. That is where it must start. If we do that, I think we can solve that problem, but it will not be solved by mandatory minimum sentences. Let the judgment be in the hands of the judge.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
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