The percentage of inmates over the age of 50 in federal penitentiaries is growing at an alarming rateand Correctional Service of Canada is struggling to keep up with the healthcare and mobility needs for aging offenders.
Known as the “grey wave”, every year older offenders are making up a larger share of the incarcerated population according to Offender Profile data from Correctional Service Canada. The percentage of inmates over the age of 50 has nearly doubled since the early 2000s from 13 per cent to 25 per cent today, according to statistics from the CSC watchdog.
Michel Gagnon, executive director for Maison Crossroads — a men’s halfway house in Montreal that provides services targeted for older offenders, says the explanation for this phenomenon can be partially explained by the abolishment of the death penalty in 1976.
“People who had committed a crime or murder before the 70s would usually be sent to prison for 10 to 12 years.” After the death penalty ended that changed. “Suddenly a life sentence could go from 15 to 25 years in jail,” Gagnon said.
A report by David Hooey, director of policy and research with the CSC watchdog gives a few reasons for the increase. Longer sentences have resulted in a “stacking effect” of long-term offenders who are aging behind bars. One out of four inmates in federal penitentiaries are serving indeterminate or life sentences which carry on average a 15 or 25-year punishment.
“What we know about these (older) offenders is they are more likely to be a vulnerable population. More likely to be: exploited by other inmates, bullied, forced to hand over their food or medication; they have serious chronic health conditions,” Ivan Zinger said, executive director and general counsel for the Correctional Service Investigator.
“The system is not very good in terms of providing routine and regime that are responsive to their life status.” Zinger adds that CSC has a lot of work to do in order to improve the infrastructure and programming for aging offenders.
In the Correctional Service Investigator’s annual report for 2015-2016 the top two complaints from offenders were healthcare related and conditions of confinement.
“Suddenly we are asking personnel in the prison to have some sort of geriatric expertise,” Gagnon said.
60-year-old Karol Frimmel Jr., a recent parolee, recalled assisting elderly inmates with showering and dressing while he was in prison in Quebec.
Gagnon is hoping to work with Corrections Services Canada towards an intervention model that would allow for a faster release of inmates who are suffering from health issues that are aggravated by imprisonment, and no longer pose a threat to the community.
Terminally ill and other inmates suffering from poor health have only two real mechanisms for seeking release: either they apply for a parole by exception (based on certain criteria) or a Royal Prerogative of Mercy. Neither has proven to be effective for releasing inmates requiring palliative care.
In the Correctional Investigator’s annual report for 2014-2015 none of the 28 requests for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy were granted. Zinger examined a sample of 94 in-custody deaths and found nearly 60 per cent of the inmates had been receiving palliative care inside CSC facilities. Of those cases, there were only four instances where parole by exception was granted between 2011 and 2014.
“There are no issues around risk when people are in palliative care under last breath and I think there is a significant case to be made in terms of human dignity,” Zinger said.
“It serves very little purpose to have someone in prison if there is no risk, instead of in the community, hopefully surrounded with family and some sort of support.”
Carlington’s public housing complex is a place where people land if they need to get back on their feet. The problem is getting out of the highly concentrated social housing complex built in the 80s. You have two options: one you either manage to improve your socioeconomic status and move out of the area or you apply to transfer to another subsidized housing unit.
The wait times for social housing in Ottawa can be up to five years, and according to Ray Sullivan, executive director for Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation – a community-based non-profit housing corporation for low and moderate income people – 20 per cent of those requests are from people seeking transfers to other types of social housing.
Joanne, 60, lived in one of the high-rise apartment buildings on Caldwell Avenue for 18 years with her daughter Sarah. She recently received a transfer to move to another subsidized housing unit after a domestic incident. Domestic violence and overcrowding are two circumstances that are given priority if you are on a waiting list.
“The reason why it’s hard is because once you’re in a community like this – low income – to put your name on a transfer list, it’s very hard to get out of here unless you have a valid reason. You can’t just up and go because you don’t like the area.”
Joanne says when they first moved to Caldwell it was fine until the social problems and issues with the living conditions began to emerge.
“Everything was okay until the alarms would start, but there was a drug-house right across from us, other problems in the building like drug dealers and prostitutes.”
“The fire alarms would go off any old time, sometimes that would be if it was for a fire, but very rarely, more because people were just pulling the alarms. As a lot of us knew sometimes it was being pulled by some drug person who was wanting to get in (the building).”
According to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Survey, the Carlington neighbourhood has five times more social and affordable housing units in the City of Ottawa at 1,200, compared to the average and is one of the least socio-economically advantaged neighbourhoods in the city.
Another long-term resident Andrea Terry is the first to admit the public housing complex has issues, but she wants people to see how vibrant the tight-knit community is.
“The biggest problem with areas like this is people just assume, they don’t know people’s situation. For the longest time I couldn’t tell you where I lived because of the stereotyping and because of the bad reputation this area has,” Terry said.
“Now I come out and say ‘yes I do live on Caldwell’, ‘yes I live on ODSP’…I am not embarrassed by any means, because you know what home is where the heart is.”
The crime and social ills are only one aspect of the neighbourhood which has a strong community presence united by a desire to support each other. Resources like the chaplaincy, foodbank, clothing depot, community centre and family centre are located inside the community. In the middle of the day residents descend on the family centre for a free big breakfast offered or to take part in the language lessons that are offered next door.
Cst. Kevin Williams with the Ottawa Police Service is a community police officer who offers support to the Carlington community and occasionally helps out at the foodbank.
“I’ve sat on committees with Andrea and it’s awesome the dedication that they have and it’s great and it just makes you want to be involved and be a part of this. It’s refreshing to see that,” Williams said.
“It’s too bad because Carlington is a great place and sure there might be one or two incidents that might happen and it doesn’t reflect what this community is, it’s a great community.”
The election of President Donald Trump is unsurprising and anyone who thinks it isn’t deserves a smack in the head.[i] Wake up America, and you too Canada.
The two-party system will always result in one side coming out the loser.[ii] The subsequent whining of the centre-left in the wake of the election has me wondering whether democracy will succeed. The inability of people to accept democratic outcomes and differing political opinions, only serves as an erosion of democracy.
While more Americans voted Democrat in the popular vote, the Republican's had the edge in the House and Congress; business mogul Donald J. Trump as the president-elect, is what they got. You don’t have to like it.[iii]
As anti-Trump protests in major cities across the United States extend into the fifth day, the behaviour of the people protesting continues to unravel. In a video shot on the streets of Los Angeles, adults on the perimeter of the circle cheer each time the child – wielding a bat –
successfully connects with the Donald Trump-inspired piñata dangling by its head. Smash, tear, rip – the harder they hit, the more it rips.[iv]
Deep fissures have emerged among the American people and reconciliation appears unlikely at this time. Party politics are meant to polarize, isn’t that the strength of a democracy?[v]
After desecrating traditional American politics, the president-elect – in his victory speech – espoused a very different rhetoric: “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; we have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.”
The damage has been done. It was a paltry attempt to sew together the wounds of his words[vi] that served to ignite the disaffected and villainize marginalized groups. Hillary Clinton’s concession speech wasn’t much better, an artificial appeal to her supporters to accept the outcome of the election. In the same breath encouraging them to keep “fighting for what’s right” and “keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.” They certainly have, except their fight is with democracy.
To borrow from the book of Ecclesiastes: A racist president is better than a dead democracy.[vii]
*Opinion piece written for my advanced print journalism class at Carleton University.
In January 2016, Rev. Anthony Bailey and the Parkdale United Church community were preparing to celebrate the church’s 85th anniversary. A few days after advertising the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. service, the community was shaken by an attack of hate-motivated graffiti.
“On the side of our church…scrawled in big red letters was ‘n--gers’, there was also another recognizable tag sign, on huge letters they had sprayed ‘Tupac’,” Bailey said.
“There was outrage and shock initially because this is an obvious attempt to intimidate our congregation and what we stand for.”
Graffiti is one of the most common forms of hate crimes in the city. In 2015, hate graffiti accounted for just over 60 percent of reported hate crimes in the city. According to Constable Stephane Quesnel with the Ottawa Police Service, “hate crimes in general could be threats or assaults, but are almost always graffiti.”
Hate graffiti can seriously affect a community or individual. “Whatever the intention was it doesn’t really matter, it’s the impact of using language like that, against people who have been victimized over the years, with such racial epithets.” Bailey has reached out with support for local Imams and Rabbis in Ottawa who have been victims of hate graffiti.
311 data from the City of Ottawa in 2015 shows that 1 in 5 calls regarding graffiti were reports of hate graffiti, that doubled from the previous year. However, that number may not be reflective of the actual number of hate graffiti incidents. Sometimes victims avoid reporting them out of fear.
“Not as reported as much by marginalized groups because they fear the backlash from publicity,” said Bailey.
“Every incident of racist graffiti is not reported in the media because of a fear of a copycat.”
Results from the 2009 General Social Survey on Victimization support this. Two-thirds of people who said they had been victims of hate-motivated incidents did not report them to police.
Quesnel offers other reasons why victims of hate graffiti might not be reporting it to police, “…because some people may not think that it is a hate crime and also because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves, if it was on a private residence for example,” he said. “Reasons for reporting are so that police are aware of it because it affects the whole community, and also, by doing so, we can hopefully catch the person doing it.”
Even if the hate graffiti incidents are reported they are often difficult to investigate. The OPS is currently investigating several reported incidents of swastikas appearing on OC Transpo buses. It can often be difficult to pinpoint when the hate graffiti first occurred and even harder to find the suspect(s). In the Parkdale United Church incident, the case remains open.
Hate graffiti is considered a serious offence under the Criminal Code of Canada and carries an increased penalty for assault or mischief motivated by bias, prejudice or hatred toward a particular group.
Although it’s rare to hear of someone being convicted of hate graffiti, a Calgary man was sentenced to eight months in jail and issued a $5,000 fine after he spray painted hateful graffiti targeted towards Syrian refugees on a light rail transit station.
According to Quesnel the number of hate graffiti incidents often fluctuates. “It can go in spikes based on world events. For example, if there was a religious group that was a victim of an attack, the whole community becomes victimized, so there could be a local surge of hate graffiti towards them.”
Although the year isn’t over, 2016 is one of the lowest reported years for hate graffiti incidents in the City with only 26, which is very low compared to the previous year.
Interactive: Foodborne illness associated with recalled food products steady despite more federal food inspectors
Interactive piece produced for Capital News - Carleton's Master of Journalism online publication
In the next 20 years the aboriginal population categorized by First Nations, Metis, and Inuit is projected to increase dramatically as more people begin to report themselves as being aboriginal.
According to data from the 2006 Census and 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) over the course of five years the aboriginal population as a whole increased by 20 per cent. While high fertility among aboriginal women is one factor in the population increase, the largest factor driving the growth has to do with an increased number of people identifying themselves as aboriginal.
Aboriginal identity has been a point of confusion at the legal, political, and personal level. Legislative changes to the Indian Act and most recently the Supreme Court recognition of Metis peoples in April, have sought to legally define aboriginal peoples. For the Metis population, recognition of their identity has been especially difficult in the face of discrimination.
“Metis identity is a very confusing thing to a lot of people, mainly because there’s two major aspects of our identity; not only do you have to be of mixed ancestry: European and aboriginal, but you also have to have that connection to a historical Metis settlement,” said Kelly Douquette, a Metis law student at the University of Ottawa.
Douquette thinks more people will identify themselves as Metis after the Supreme Court decision.
“Now that our rights are recognized and we are legitimized by the government, a lot of people don’t feel as afraid to come forward, and really be proud of who they are.”
In the Statistics Canada report Projections of the Aboriginal Population and Households in Canada, 2011 to 2036, the Metis population is estimated to experience the most growth from ‘ethnic mobility’ the formal term for self-identification.
“Self-reported identification is more important for the Metis population and the non-status Indian population, because even within the aboriginal population you have differences of main factors of growth,” Stephanie Langlois, senior analyst for Statistics Canada demography division, said.
“Someone in the past might not have identified themselves as an aboriginal person and five years later they self-identify with an aboriginal group.”
Annie Turner, a statistician with Statistics Canada, said the drastic increase can be attributed to a number of factors.
“We know that fertility rate is higher for aboriginal people compared to non-aboriginal people but there are many factors that we need to take into account when comparing the aboriginal population between 2006 to 2011, so there could be slight differences in the wording of the questions, differences in methodology between the 2006 Census and NHS, some legislative changes for example Bill C-31 in 1985 or Bill C-3 in 2011, which could affect these concepts of aboriginal identity or registered Indian status, as well as the definition of reserves.”
The 2036 projections estimate that the aboriginal populations could rise even higher if certain growth characteristics such as fertility and ethnic mobility continue their trends. In the western provinces such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, aboriginal populations could make up one in five people in this provinces by 2036. Meanwhile in the territories like the Yukon, Nunavut, and the North West Territories, Inuit hold the highest share of the total population although of a much smaller total population.
Compared to the non-aboriginal population, the aboriginal population is growing at a much faster rate. The non-aboriginal population is increasing less than one per cent a year, mainly due to immigration, while the aboriginal population is averaging 1.1 to 2.2 per cent.