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Conservative crime bill 'regressive' for natives, Manitoba chief says

Images inside the Toronto Jail on Feb. 24, 2011.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The Conservative omnibus crime bill represents a step backward for aboriginal people in Canada, Manitoba's chiefs say.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill Wednesday, Manitoba Regional Chief Bill Traverse called the bill "regressive" and asked Canadians to join the chiefs in opposing it.

"[This]is going to create more problems for our children," he said. "Canada, as a whole, should be ashamed."

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Bill C-10 passed through the House of Commons earlier this week and will go to Senate for approval. It includes provisions to add new mandatory minimum sentences and overhaul the pardon system, among other changes, and is expected to significantly increase the number of people in Canada's provincial and federal prisons.

About 17 per cent of inmates in Canadian federal prisons are aboriginal, according to 2007 figures from the Correctional Service of Canada, but aboriginal people make up a little less than 4 per cent of the total population in Canada.

The chiefs said they worry the bill could further increase the proportion of aboriginal people in prison. They are also concerned it could undermine Gladue Courts, which offer alternative sentencing for aboriginal people, often by connecting them with community organizations.

The government has estimated the federal portion of the bill will cost $78.6-million over five years.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said he wants to see more investment in treatment and prevention, rather than in prisons.

"We want to feel safe in our communities every bit as much as everybody else does," said Mr. Nepinak.

"Are we going to be a compassionate Canada and look out for one another, or are we going to criminalize one another and send each other to jail? That's the fundamental question that has to be answered."

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