Good Sunday Morning!
I just spent some time in jail.
Along with friends and colleagues Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Senator Pao Woo and Senator Kim Pate, on Friday morning I visited the William Head prison outside Victoria. In the evening, we toured a hell-hole of a detention centre in the basement of the Vancouver airport. It has served for decades as the “temporary” facility for people on their way out of Canada under deportation orders. It is about to be closed and replaced with a much more humane facility to open soon in Surrey.
Greens work on more than any one issue at a time. Restorative justice and humanity in our correctional facilities really matter. Before being a senator, Kim Pate worked her whole life for the rights of the incarcerated and fairness in our justice system. So she is making it a priority to get parliamentarians to tour jails.
The William Head facility is a model for the world. In the words of one prisoner we met, the place “re-humanizes people who have been dehumanized by maximum and medium security prisons.” Sadly, isolated as it is on Vancouver Island, near Metchosin, it is not celebrated within our prison system. Many of the staff report, not to the warden, but to bureaucrats on the mainland who fail to support the work being done to prepare inmates for a return to society. The prison lacks programmes that used to exist. There are no longer opportunities for getting high school and post-secondary degrees. If not for dozens of local volunteers who assist in the facility, opportunities to travel into Victoria and start making links there to mental health supports and volunteer opportunities would simply not exist. Perched on a tiny spit of land, the prison needs only one fence and gate – the ocean on three sides provides the other “walls.” The programmes for indigenous inmates include a carving shed where amazing artwork is being created.
I have much more work to do to support the amazing staff team there.
Meanwhile, between prison visits I watched the appalling press conference held by our prime minister. I had thought I knew what was going on due to meeting with the PM, meeting with and talking with Ministers Marc Miller and Carolyn Bennett (often through the week) and Paul Manly talking with the hereditary chiefs. The “we have run out of patience” line on Friday seemed at odds with the prime minister’s speech on Tuesday:
“Patience may be in short supply…And that makes it more valuable than ever.” (As also noted in this column from Paul Wells https://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/four-days-worth-of-justin-trudeaus-patience/)
As I write this, I am deeply worried that Justin Trudeau is responding to polls that tell him the Conservative message of impatience is gaining strength.
Until his press conference I thought we were making progress. The RCMP have said they will withdraw from Wet’suwet’en territory. The hereditary Chiefs say they need to confirm that has taken place.
Another hopeful change of circumstance: the BC Environmental Assessment Office has held back construction approval on a length of pipeline through the most contested length of route and asked Coastal Gas Link to return for more consultation. That is another helpful opening.
We need time and space- without construction – for the Crown to meaningfully engage with the hereditary leadership.
We need – as Greens and as supporters of reconciliation – to avoid taking sides within the Wet’suwet’en nation, but to stay with the path to reconciliation as guided by Supreme Court decisions. The hereditary chiefs must be consulted. They cannot be pushed to one side. Premier John Horgan rolled the dice gambling that his government can bulldoze through the objections of hereditary chiefs – whose role in governance of land and title has been established by the Supreme Court (in Delgamuukw) and by the BC government in treaty negotiations (see this interview with a BC treaty negotiator. https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/treaty-negotiator-letter-wetsuweten-1.5469932
Horgan decided to support Coastal Gas Link and ignore the compromise route proposed by the hereditary chiefs. This conflict and all the blockades are directly due to politicians who claim to be committed to UNDRIP, but feel free to ignore it if it gets in the way of their short-term agenda.
Resolving this matter without violence is my number one concern. I remember Oka and Ipperwash. If they clear one blockade with violence, others will spring up. This is a very complicated matter. It is a real test of Canada as a people. It is a test of our leaders. And, so far, they are failing.
I hope and pray that my missive next week can share good news. And I hope that the Cabinet rejecting the Teck oil sands mine is still possible.
Stay the course and never give up.
In love and hope,
This weekly blog is published by Elizabeth’s EDA in Saanich-Gulf Islands. You can sign up for it here.