The BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) has made a number of policy changes in an attempt to combat the over-representation of Indigenous people in the Criminal Justice System.

The changes come as part of the Indigenous Justice Framework, which was introduced by the BCPS back in April of 2019 in an attempt to move towards reconciliation with the Indigenous population.

“The criminal justice system is really failing Indigenous people and when we say that we look at statistics that really back this up,” explained Dan McLaughlin, Communications Counsel for the BCPS.

Indigenous persons account for only 4% of Canada’s population but 30% of the federal, provincial and territorial adult prison population.

According to the Canadian Department of Justice, Indigenous people tend to be jailed younger, denied bail more often, granted parole less often and released later in their sentence.

As a result, this has created an over-representation of Indigenous people in remand custody and in are more likely to be classified as higher risk offenders.

Policy changes focus on the following:

  • Charge Assessment Guidelines
  • Alternatives to Prosecution – Adults
  • Youth Criminal Justice Act – Extrajudicial Measures (EJM)
  • Resolutions Discussions
  • Sentencing – Adults
  • Vulnerable Victims and Witnesses
  • Bail – Adults

“In terms of prosecution, the policies have been significantly revised to require Crown Counsel to consider all reasonable alternatives to prosecution with the general population but with specific references to the circumstances of Indigenous persons,” explained McLaughlin.

Some policies related to the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) have also been revised.

The use of Extrajudicial measures, which are measures that provide means other than judicial proceedings, such as cautionary letters, has been extended for the YCJA.

This extension means that Crown Counsel will pay particular attention to the circumstances of young Indigenous people when considering the use of an EJM.

“It’s also increased the number and types of offences that can be considered for an alternative to prosecution,” added Mclaughlin, “formerly, more serious offences particularly involving the death of victims were precluded from considering alternative measures but we’ve opened the door for that in certain exceptional circumstances.”

The policy on bail has also been revised to reflect the recent decision from the Supreme Court of Canada regarding judicial interim release, to consider all grounds equally when justifying a detention order.

Mclaughlan added that while these changes aren’t going to be the only determining factors in decreasing the representation of Indigenous people in BC’s Criminal Justice System, they are a step in the right direction.

“We can only deal with the forces that we can control,” said Mclaughlan, “but we need to take into account the unique historical and cultural circumstances of Indigenous persons in all the decisions we make as prosecutors.”