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Native Rights Investigation Underway

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1988      p07  
Discrimination against Native inmates in provincial correctional centres and federal penitentiaries is going to be the focus of an investigation being conducted by a Vancouver based Prisoners' Rights Group. The investigation, which is being headed by prisoners' rights author, Claire Culhane, will look into discrimination against Native inmates being denied Escorted Temporary Absence (ETA) passes from prisons across Canada.

ETA's are generally granted to inmates for medical, humanitarian, resocialization or administrative purposes, in accordance with a Commissioner's Directive of the Correctional Service of Canada. Prisoners are permitted to apply for an ETA pass to attend the funeral of an immediate family member or to return to their homes to visit a family member who is terminally ill.

Culhane, a long time advocate of prisoners rights and author of "Still Barred From Prison - Social Injustice in Canada", has found through her correspondence with inmates, that a growing numbr of prisoners are being denied ETA's. She has also found that a number of those denied these passes appears to be disportionately higher amongst Indian, Metis and Inuit prisoners.

Saskatchewan Native courtworkers have expressed their concern about Native inmates being denied these passes, as have the Native Counselling Service of Alberta, the Native Clan of Manitoba, and the Allied Indian and Metis Society (AIMS) in B.C.

Part of Culhane's mandate will be to collect statistics from prisons across Canada to verify the discrimination against Native inmates. She will also contact potential litigants among the Native prison population against the federal government for discrimination under Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In a letter to the "Saskatchewan Indian" Culhane states that often, the problem lies in the definition of "family", because the meaning changes at times. Culhane says that a grandparent or aunt or uncle who has actually brought up the prisoner, in some cases, is not considered immediate family by authorities. Culhane also says that another block for a number of Native prisoners is that inmates are required to pay their own way, as well as the escort's way to funerals, and often the money just isn't available to the Native prisoner.

Culhane would like to hear from any Native prisoner who feels he has been discriminated against in an application for an ETA. Prisoners may contact her by writing:

Claire Culhane
c/o: Prisoners' Rights Group
#303-2075 East 12th Avenue
Vancouver, B.C.