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Correctional Investigator of Canada Dr. Ivan Zinger holds a news conference to discuss the 2021-22 annual report, in Ottawa, on Nov. 1.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal prison service is hiring an executive to address soaring rates of Indigenous incarceration, yielding to 18 years of demands from prisoners’ rights advocates.

The job posting for “Deputy Commissioner, Indigenous Corrections” at Correctional Service Canada appeared on the government’s job site in recent days and calls for applicants who can “champion Indigenous Corrections and ensure the appropriate attention and accountability towards Indigenous issues, including the overrepresentation of Indigenous offenders, and help CSC to implement the many calls for justice.”

Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger reiterated demands to create the position as recently as Tuesday, with the release of a report excoriating Correctional Service Canada for what he called a decade of inaction on Indigenous issues.

“I am happy it’s finally happening, but it’s regrettable that it took so long,” Dr. Zinger said Friday in response to the job posting.

“Again, the CSC has not been proactive and appeared to have been coerced into responding not only to my office’s many recommendations but others which have endorsed it,” he added.

The Correctional Investigator’s office, which acts as an ombudsman for federal prisons, has prodded the prison service to create the position almost a dozen times over the past 18 years.

Other groups and committees have endorsed the idea, including the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and parliamentary committees on the status of women and public safety.

Even so, the CSC told Dr. Zinger in January that it had “no plans” to create the position.

In the spring, however, the incarceration rates of Indigenous people in Canada and the experiences of prisoners in federal penitentiaries came into sharper focus after The Globe and Mail reported that, for the first time, Indigenous women accounted for half the female population in prison.

Within weeks, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino directed CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly to establish a new deputy commissioner role dedicated to Indigenous issues.

“To my mind, this work is urgent. It is long overdue,” he told The Globe at the time.

The new position is classified as Executive Group 3, with a salary range of $152,506 to $179,348.

CSC spokeswoman Marie Pier Lécuyer confirmed that the new hire will sit on the prison service’s executive committee and report directly to the Commissioner.

Dr. Zinger’s 2021-22 annual report found that CSC facilities established specifically to meet the needs of Indigenous prisoners, called healing lodges, are sitting half-empty. Construction of new healing lodges has stalled, with just one built in the past decade, he said.

The report highlighted several other problem areas, including the overrepresentation of Black people in the prison population and a pattern of discrimination against Black prisoners.

It also noted the emergence of conditions similar to solitary confinement – three years after Ottawa formally abolished those practices.

Auditor-General says corrections authorities not preventing systemic racism in federal prisons

“Every time we receive reports of the discriminatory and unjust treatment of Indigenous prisoners in Canada, hope rekindles that it will be the wake-up call leading to change,” said Carol McBride, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. “But, after decades and decades of wake-up calls through damning reports like the one issued by the Correctional Investigator of Canada, we have run out of optimism.”

In a detailed response to the annual report, Ms. Kelly said the CSC alone cannot reverse Indigenous incarceration trends. “The overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system is a serious and complex issue with many root causes, including systemic discrimination and the legacy of colonialism,” she said.

“CSC is committed to accelerating work to improve outcomes for Indigenous offenders in federal corrections in meaningful ways and is applying heightened efforts to address the systemic factors that led to this issue.”

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