Environmental Injustices and Systemic Racism

 There are many environmental injustices going on in the world today. Throughout the book What the Eyes Don’t see by Hanna-Attisha, she talks about the Flint water crisis and how those who are in power do not fit to be in power. Throughout her research she finds out that the government and representatives won’t always put the health and well-being of themselves and other citizens first, instead they will put the financial and political interests first. The behavior of the government and representatives has not only happened with the Flint water crisis but many other social injustices such as the use of Corexit which breaks down oil spills. Corexit is making people very sick but yet the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are still allowing first responders to use it. Another example of where government officials and representatives are more focused on the financial and political interests is clean air and how climate change is threating air quality.

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 One of the biggest advancements in the coal-burning industry is the “scrubber” which is a clean-air device that acts as a filter to remove years of pollution. The Trump administration proposed some of America’s dirtiest coal plants to start running again, but they would not be adding the “scrubbers” because it will cost a lot of money. Many older coal plants got grandfathered into the federal law so they did not have to add pollution control which resulted in many people getting sick because sulfur oxide formed and is harmful to the respiratory system. Many plant companies had to pay a lot of money to make air-pollution-control improvements because of the violations against the New Source Rule. The EPA proposed changes to the rule, but if older plants are being updated with newer working components, they can skip the New Source Rule as well as the requirement for the additional pollution control. The EPA is defending this change and is saying that it will benefit the environment, but many environmental groups say that by refurbishing the coal plants and not putting in “scrubbers” will be a step backward for the Clean Air Act.  In the article E.P.A. Rule Change Could Let Dirtiest Coal Plants Keep Running (and Stay Dirty) by Eric Lipton, John Walke, the director at the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “This is going to mean dirtier air and hurt Americans through a loophole built on lie that pollution from these plants will not get worse” (Lipton, 2018).  Environmental groups and state-governmental officials argue that the current rules discourage people from adding in “scrubbers” and making the older plants work more efficiently due to the financial cost. Brian Potts, a partner in Perkins Cole says, “from a business perspective, this will be the most helpful industry” (Lipton, 2018). This will help the industry because they would not have to spend approximately $1.5 billion on upgrading the plants to the most modern pollution control devices.

In the article America’s Skies Have Gotten Clearer, but Millions Still Breathe Unhealthy Air by Nadja Popovich, she talks about how Trump says, “We have the cleanest air in the world in the Unites States and it’s gotten better since I’m President” (Popovich, 2019). Studies have shown that the air is much cleaner than it used to be but the air pollution is increasing again. Due to the climate change, Jason West Predicts air pollution to be worse. Trump’s administration “has taken steps to weaken air quality and climate regulations” (Popovich, 2019). Since the EPA has proposed a change to the New Source Rule, this will change how they calculate the health risks of air pollution. Billings of the American Lung Association says that “there’s a fear we will see air pollution get worse” (Popovich, 2019). Climate change and disinvolvement are very strong threats to the air quality and could potentially weaken it. 

Each summer it gets hotter and hotter which can make the air at risk for becoming unhealthy because it will increase the stagnant days, which are domes of hot air that cause pollutants to get trapped. “Data showed that stagnation events are becoming more prevalent, with the number of annual stagnant days increasing in 83% of the cities” (“Climate Change is Threatening”, 2019). Stagnant days can impact the air quality because pollutants react together and create high levels of ozone, which can cause serious health issues. In order to protect human health under the Clean Air Act the EPA requires each state to adopt plans to maintain specific standards under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

“With hotter temperatures projected, more air stagnation days, and increases in natural emissions from wildfire smoke, the climate penalty will make it difficult for many areas of the country to achieve mandated air quality standards” (“Climate Change is Threatening”, 2019).

Ozone seasons are associated with the summer months, but since the length of summer from state to state varies it can tend to be longer in higher populated areas and wind can transport ozone miles away from the state it is in.

On September 4, 2019 presidential candidates explained how climate change is having a negative effect on the low-income communities and people of color. In the article Environmental Justice Was a Climate Forum Theme. Here’s Why by Maggie Astor, Elizabeth Warren said that climate policies must help the “people have been displaced, workers who have been displaced, people in communities of color who have for generations now been the ones where the toxic dumps got sited next to their homes” (Astor, 2019). Many candidates have proposed a variety of policies that related to the environmental justice going on in the world; for example, combating systemic racism. In the YouTube video Systemic Racism Explained they talk about how systemic racism affects every area of life in the United States and are single stories that people don’t know that have. Throughout the video they discussed how due to implicit bias “…the black unemployment rate is twice the rate of white unemployment” (act.tv, 2019). Systemic racism has no single person that is fully responsible, so in order for this to change everyone must support the changes that are made to create equal opportunities for everyone. Dr. Bullard said, “breathing clean air should not be aspirational. It should be experiential” (Astor, 2019). There have been many stereotypes about how low-income and colored communities are powerless, but Dr. Martin says that “environmental justice plans should not only benefit marginalized communities… but also bring them into the policymaking process” (Astor, 2019). In the TED Talk on Intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw, she talked about how gender and race discrimination were marginalized and how intersectionality marginalizes people and is the result of many failures. When low-income and colored communities are being marginalized, that will eventually result in many failures because their voice counts as well, and they have just as much power as those with good income and those who are white. 

In the book What the Eyes Don’t See, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician, researcher, and leader was able to provide evidence that the water in Flint, Michigan was contaminated. When the governor of Flint had an idea to switch their water system from the Great Lakes to their own private water system, it immediately became an issue. The water started to flow orange and brown, and it smelt. Kids and parents would come into Hanna-Attisha’s office with strange rashes, but she never thought about the water change. She would repeat her patients, “Flint was literally in the middle of the Great Lakes region, the largest source of freshwater in the world. Why doubt the safety of what was coming out of the tap” (Hanna-Attisha, 2018, p. 30)? But when a trusted friend and a former EPA employee tells her there’s a chance there is lead in Flint’s water, she is shocked. After doing a lot of research she starts to write letters and makes phone calls. She hears nothing back but does not give up. Residents of Flint were complaining to the city because they were becoming sick, but they were ignored. After a long time, Hanna-Attisha was finally able to connect with a guy from the health department who told her “water is not under the jurisdiction of the health department… water isn’t in our department” (Hanna-Attisha, 2018, p. 81). The guy admitted to collecting blood-lead-levels but said that they did not look into them to see if there was a change. Hanna-Attisha (2018) said “it made no sense that communities with the most struggle and most poverty and therefore the most health issues were always allocated to the least amount of money” (p. 80). Flint saved a small amount of money each day because they eliminated corrosion control for the water system. Instead of spending money on chemicals that keep lead pipes from corroding and spreading lead into the water, a lot of money now has to be put into replacing those lines. When a city does not get enough tax revenue the low-income families are the ones punished with higher bills, but it is not right to ask those with the lower incomes to share more of their income with other residents for basic necessities such as clean water and proper plumbing. This is a perfect example of environmental injustice and systemic racism.

Communities can come together to fight for social justice, even with the resistance of their own governments. Sometimes what is best for the financial and political aspects for the world, state, and city may not be what is best for the health of the citizens. Without healthy citizens there would be no government, nobody to fight for what is right. If nobody fights for clean air and banning pollution there will be nobody like Hanna-Attisha an immigrant, a doctor, and a scientist, whose family roots in social justice activism supported her, and believes that her brown skin helped her fight for justice in Flint.


Works Cited

Act.tv. (2019, April 16). Systemic Racism Explained [Video file].

Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrHIQIO_bdQ

Astor, M. (2019, September 5). Environmental Justice Was a Climate Forum Theme. Here’s Why. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/05/us/politics/environmental-justice-climate-town-hall.html

Crenshaw, K. (Director). (2016). Kimberlé Crenshaw – On Intersectionality [Motion Picture].

Climate Change is Threatening Air Quality across the Country. (2019, July 30). Retrieved from Climate Central: https://www.climatecentral.org/news/climate-change-is-threatening-air-quality-across-the-country-2019

Lipton, E. (August, 24 2018). E.P.A. Rule Change Could Let Dirtiest Coal Plants Keep Running (and Stay Dirty). Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/24/climate/epa-coal-power-scrubbers.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FClean%20Air%20Act&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=10&pgtype=collection

Popovich, N. (2019, June 19). America’s Skies Have Gotten Clearer, but Millions Still Breathe Unhealthy Air. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/19/climate/us-air-pollution-trump.html?searchResultPosition=9


Pathophysiology of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

This essay will explore the pathophysiology relating to a call I attended while on practice placement as a student technician. The initial call details were that it was a 45 year old female in pain. On our arrival the patient was sat in a chair and was breathing rapidly and had a very flushed face. After introducing ourselves and gaining the patients consent we then proceeded to take her basic observations and take her history. Most of her observations were within acceptable limits however her blood pressure was slightly high, she had a raised pulse at 120 beats per minute and slightly high temperature at 38 degrees Celsius. On questioning the patient had a localised pain score of 8/10 in her back and a pains in her joints and muscles with a pain score of 4/10. When questioned about her medical history, she stated she had a condition called systemic lupus erythematosus. This is not a condition I had heard of before I, therefore, questioned her more about it.
Differential Diagnosis
A 20 year-old women patient presented with fatigue, heart palpitations and anxiety. Reviewing the patient’s history revealed that she started experiencing anxiety, fatigue and heart palpitations approximately two years ago when she was still pregnant and she arranged to visit her own doctor. At that time her doctor stated that this was was due to stress. However, her symptoms became worse after she had another child. She stated that before going into labour she experienced premature contractions, headaches, increased fatigue, and swelling of her legs. Her doctor advised her to stay off work and have some bed rest. Shortly after giving birth to her third child, the patient began experiencing several new symptoms. Her knees and ankles started swelling, she also developed sever pain in her knees, wrists, elbows, and fingers. During the winter the patient started feeling painful and her peripheral joints became discolored whenever exposed to cold. She had recently been admitted to hospital in order for tests to be carried out and although she was still waiting for a definative outcome, a rhueamatology consultant she was under stated he was fairly certain that she had stemic lupus erythematosus.
According to Somers et al (2007) approximately five people in every ten thousand suffer from systemic lupus erythematosus. Ninety percent of patients who are diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus are female (Ginzler&Tayar 2012; Blank et al 2009). It most commonly develops in women aged between 20 and 40 although anyone of any gender and age can develop it at any time. With regards to ethnic origin systemic lupus erythematosus is more prevalent in those with Afro-caribean, Asian or Chinese ancestry. Although there is a possibility of having a genetic pre-disposition to the disease only 3 of 100 children of those diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus will go on to develop it. According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2004) a survey in which it was observed that 100% of patients with System lupus erythematosus were receiving treatment.
Although there is no definate cause of systemic lupus erythematosus (Giannouli 2006), there is thought to be several factors increasing the likelihood of developing systemic lupus erythematous they include Genetics {where members of the family have lupus this condition will often increase the child’s chances of developing it} (Hemminki 2009). It is also thought it can also be triggered by environmental factors such as trauma, ultraviolet rays and also emotional stress. Gender and hormones is thought to be the biggest factor affecting the chances of developing systemic lupus erythematous as it is proven that it mostly affects women than men especially when they are in menstrual periods or in their pregnancy, it is said to occur nine times more to women in comparison to men (Ginzler&Tayar 2012).
System lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease. The autoimmune system is responsible for fighting foreign and often harmful bacteria in the human system. However with systemic lupus erythematosus the immune system will attack itself, the pathology of this disease is similar to that of rheumatoid arthritis and can affect any part of the body (Ginzler&Tayar 2012). Systemic lupus erythematosus may also occur in the form of periarticular inflammation that affects the tendon sheaths, the illness causes the patient to experience coexisting fibromyalgia that results to poor sleep, chronic disease, inactivity ,mood problems and depression (Knott 2012).

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Patients who suffer from this condition have abnormalities when it comes to their immune system, this includes the B cell function, apoptosis and also the T cell function. Systemic lupus erythematous mostly attacks the blood vessels, the skin, the heart, nervous system, liver, lungs and the kidneys (Knott 2012). Unfortunately when System lupus erythematous persists without effective treatment it may result in serious complications such as stroke, heart inflammation, lung damage, blood clots and if the patient is female it may result in miscarriage or pregnancy complications. Research shows that the exact cause of immune deregulation is not yet clear but it may be as a result of interference of endogenous metabolism that affects the function of antigens in the human system (Ginzler&Tayar 2012).
The abnormalities caused by System lupus erythematosus may vary from one ethnic group to another for instance East Asians who have this problem they have extra cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen-4 while the white populations abnormalities is observed through having more Fc-Y receptors (Hemminki 2009) . For effective diagnosis of System lupus erythematosus it is of essence to deal with specific autoantibodies in order to treat the root cause of the disease (Ginzler&Tayar 2012).
The symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus will vary from patient to patient as the signs and symptoms displayed will depend on the body part or system that is being affected by the systemic lupus erythematosus (Arthritis Research UK 2014). However there are some generalised symptoms and these are about to be discussed.
Dermatological symptoms caused by systemic lupus erythematosus could include rashes and in some cases a specific rash to the cheeks known as a “butterfly rash” can be identified (Knott 2012). Another common issue for the majority of people with systemic lupus erythematosus find that they become much more sensitive to sunlight. It is also common for the blood vessels under the skin in the joints to become inflamed and this can lead to poor circulation to these areas (this is called Raynauds phenomenon)(Ginzler&Tayar 2012). Oral ulceration can sometimes occur for this very reason.
Blood disorders have been known to develop especially in children, the most common being anaemia. Having anaemia would obviously cause lethargy and low mood (Giannouli 2006).
Patients with systemic lupus erythematosus are much more at risk of developing cardiac issues than the general public as the disease often causes inflammation of the blood vessels within the heart, thus increasing the risk of developing atherosclerosis which in turn could lead to a myocardial infarction if one of the blood vessels was to become blocked(Blank et al 2009).
If the kidneys were to become inflamed due to the systemic lupus erythematosus, this could cause symptoms including haematuria (blood in the urine). Also, if the kidneys become inflamed this could lead to the patient developing a kidney infection which will result in the patient having moderate to severe back pain (Ginzler&Tayar 2012).
The most common issue for patients suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus is to do with their joints (Somers et al 2007). Most people suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus will develop pain in their muscles, joints and peripheral joints such as joints in their hands and knees can often become inflamed. This can be due to a condition known as Osteonecrosis developing due to the systemic lupus erythematosus (Giannouli 2006). Osteonecrosis is a condition that develops when there is a reduced blood supply to the bones. Osteonecrosis will affect the bones ability to replace old bone with new bone and if an injury is sustained it may never be able to heal properly (Knott 2012).
Most patients find that it is worse when they wake up in the morning and as this is a chronic condition, it can often feel better in periods of remission and more painful during a relapse period (Ginzler&Tayar 2012).
The process involves the blood tests including antibody tests, urinalysis and a chest X-ray which is mostly overseen by Rheumatology Consultants whose area of specialisation is autoimmune diseases and also soft tissue treatment. Musculoskeletal symptoms are analysed when trying to diagnose System lupus erythematous and it can be manifested as arthritis or arthralgia in which the patient expresses it as stiffness and pain, when it occurs in System lupus erythematous it can be in the form of migratory or transient pain and it is difficult to be diagnosed since it may be present when the patient makes the appointment with a doctor only to be resolved in the process of evaluation(Ginzler & Tayar 2012 and Knott 2012). Systemic lupus erythematosus caused fewer erosions or fixed deformities unlike rheumatoid arthritis which is much more degernerative to the joints (Ginzler&Tayar 2012). There is also the possibility of around 4% of the patients will suffer from myositis ( which is the inflamation of the muscle tissue) and this can be examined by taking a biopsy of muscle tissue (Giannouli 2006).
Pharmacology and associated treatment:
Unfortunately there is no cure for Systemic lupus erythematosus and the treatment plan is based on symptom relief as opposed to direct treatment of the disease(Ginzler&Tayar 2012, Blank et al 2007, Knott 2012). Treatment of Systemic lupus erythematosus is very specific to the individual patient and it always depends in manifestation of the symptoms, the disease severity and most importantly the specific organ affected(Giannouli 2006). In order to devise the most appropriate treatment plan the rheumatology consultant will perform a number of diagnostic tests and depending on what the results are will influence the treatment plan (Giannouli 2006).
Patients suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus will often need to take a group of medications called non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (Knott 2012). This group of medications work by reducing the inflammation in the affected joints and hopefully reducing the amount of pain the patient is in. Some common non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs are ibuprofen, aspirin and diclofenac sodium (these are all available without a prescription from a pharmacy), the rheumatology consultant may recommend Naproxen or pirixicam in certain circumstances (BNF 2014). With non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs there is a risk that they may cause damage to the lining of the stomach and could even cause ulceration in the stomach when taken over long periods of time in high doses(Knott 2012).
If the patient is taking frequent non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs they may be prescribed a proton pump inhibitor medication in order to protect the stomach. These medications work by reducing the amount of acid the stomach produced and thus protecting the lining of the stomach (Knott 2012). Common proton pump inhibitor medications include; omperazole, lansoprazole, pantoprazole and esomeprazole (BNF 2014).
A further treratment that a rheumatology consultant may consider is the use of a medication called hydroxychloroquine (Giannouli 2006). Hydroxychloroquine was originally an anti-malarial drug however it has recently started being used to treat the symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus and is a disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug (also known as DMARD)(Knott 2012). Hydroxychloroquine works by reducing the response from the immune system which is causing the symptoms (this is probably the closest treatment to treating the cause as opposed to just the symptoms). It is used as a long term treatment to try and prevent relapses or flare ups of the disease (Ginzler&Tayar 2012).
Corticosteroids may be used in severe systemic lupus erythematosus (Ginzler&Tayar 2012). They may be prescribed during relapses of the disease. Corticosteroids work by blocking the normal function of the white blood cells and reducing the inflammation response(Knott 2012). However the negative aspect of this is that it leaves patients very vulnerable to infections(Ginzler&Tayar 2012). Other side effect could include the patients bones becoming more fragile, the skin becoming thinner, hypertension and also weight gain. For this reason corticosteroids will only be used to treat flare ups at the minimum effective dose and then reduce the dose slowly as the symptoms ease. Corticosteroids used in the treatment of this disease are hydrocortisone and predniselone(BNF 2014).
Often used in conjunction with corticosteroids during a relapse are a group of medications called immunosuppressants . These medications will work by reducing the action of the immune system and will be used when the immune system is attacking a healthy part of the patients body(Knott 2012). Again these medications will reduce the pateints ability to fight harmful infections and can cause many side effects. Immunosuppresent medications used include: azathioprine, mycophenolate mofetil and cyclophosphamide (BNF 2014).
The final medication to be discussed is called Rituximab. Rituximab was originally created to treat blood cancer however an “off-label” use for this medication is to treat autoimmune diseases. The way Rituximab works is by destroying the B-Cells(The B-Cells which cause the release of antibodies resulting in the symptoms). As with all the other medications there could be side effects the most common being dizziness and vomiting. Rituximab can only be administered intravenoulsy so will normally require hospital admission for the patient to receive it .
(Knott 2012)
Other interventions include an advice session from the doctor regarding the patients lifestyle and diet may be of vital importance this may help the patient and minimise lifestyle related stress (Ginzler&Tayar 2012) . The patient may be suggested to work with a support group or even receive counselling as the condition can cause severe and life limiting symptoms while in relapse. Most patients with systemic lupus erythematosus are also advised to avoid the sun as it can aggravate and skin symptoms(Knott 2012).
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a very complex disease and can present itself in many different ways depending on the patient and the part of the body affected. In the pre-hospital environment it is very important to get a detailed history in order to identify whether they have been diagnosed with this disease. Clinicians must remember systemic lupus ertythematosus can limit a patients quality off life while they are having a relapse so it is important to assess each patients individual symptoms and if necessary administer pain relief and position them so they are comfortable. It is also important for ambulance clinicians to be mindful of the patients joints when using moving and handling techniques as this could obviously cause the patient discomfort or even pain due to the condition.
Arthritus Research UK. (2014). Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Available: http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/drugs/hydroxychloroquine/what-it-is.aspx. Last accessed 20/03/2014.
Blank M, Shoenfeld Y, Perl A. 2009. Cross-talk of the environment with the host genome and the immune system through endogenous retroviruses in systemic lupus erythematosus. Lupus. Nov;18 (13):1136-43
Giannouli, S (2006) Annals of rheumatic disease, Anaemia in systemic lupus erythematosus from pathophysiology to clinical diagnosis. 65(2) p144-148
Ginzler E, Tayar J. 2012. Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). Updated: January 2012. Available at http://www.rheumatology.org/practice/clinical/patients/diseases_and_conditions/lupus.pdf#search=sle. [Accessed on February 21, 2014 at 21:30]
Hemminki K, Li X, Sundquist J, Sundquist K (February 2009). “Familial associations of rheumatoid arthritis with autoimmune diseases and related conditions”. Arthritis Rheumatology. 60 (3): 661–8
Knott, L. (2012). Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Available: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/systemic-lupus-erythematosus. Last accessed 20/03/2014.
Somers E, Thomas L, Smeeth L .2007. Incidence of systemic lupus erythematosus in the United Kingdom, Arthritus Rheum 15;57(4) p612 – p618.

Crime in Systemic Aboriginal Oppression

The over representation of Aboriginal people within the Canadian Criminal Justice system is a clear indication of how the justice system has failed aboriginal people in Canada. The plethora of Aboriginal individuals who populate the penitentiaries and jails in Canada shows that there must be changes made within the Canadian Justice system. By bringing in the Aboriginal peoples traditional ways of life and incorporating it within the Canadian justice systems integration will prove to establish equity and fair treatment within the justice system. According to A.C. Hamilton, “at the most basic level of understanding, justice is understood differently by aboriginal people and these perceptions of justice must be accounted for when dealing with aboriginal individuals in the Canadian justice system” (1991:23).

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In Canadian society, justice is equated with punishment for deviant individuals which cause them to reform and abide by societal rules. However aboriginal people view justice as a means of restoration of peace which bring equity and equilibrium to the Aboriginal community. Justice is seen as a way of bringing about major changes for the individual who is accused and for the victims themselves. This shift of focus from the traditional justice system is achieved in Aboriginal sentencing circles. In the sentencing circle there is a major shift from the practice of the formal justice system to a way that reflects Aboriginal concepts and methods of healing, the latter being proven to be an effective means of healing for Aboriginal people. The goal of the sentencing circle is to rehabilitate the offender so that they can be accepted into the Aboriginal community again. This paper will explain exactly why the culture-based approaches are important, as well as how the approaches could be implemented. Upon conclusion of this paper, a greater understanding of this pivotal issue will be gained.
Firstly, Aboriginal people are drastically over-represented as those charged and convicted of criminal offences and in Canada’s correctional facilities, both provincial and federal. As of April 10, 2011, Aboriginal offenders “represented 18.5% of the total federal offender population while Aboriginal adults represented approximately 3% of the Canadian adult population”. (Public Safety Canada Portfolio Corrections Statistics Committee :43) With the Aboriginal population much younger than the overall Canadian population and experiencing a higher growth rate, the problem of Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system continues to worsen rather than improve. The offending circumstances of Aboriginal offenders are often related to substance abuse, inter-generational abuse, residential schools, low levels of education, employment, and income and family issues, among other factors. For many of these criminal factors, community breakdown related to the impacts of colonialism and assimilation attempts may also play a pivotal role. To some degree, this was recognized by the Canadian government in the enactment of section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code effective in 1996, and by the Supreme Court of Canada in the seminal R. v. Gladue decision, both seeking to address Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system via sentencing reform.
The last two decades in Canada have been marked by controversy and public anxiety over the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the Criminal justice system, especially in its prisons , and what measures may be appropriate to respond to this situation. A host of public inquiries, committee hearings and academic writings have been devoted to analyses of this problem, and it has been commonly asserted that the mere fact of Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system indicates that the system has failed Aboriginal people, and has led to Aboriginal people having no confidence in it. Not surprisingly, such conclusions have led to proposals for radical reform, including advocacy of an entirely separate justice system for Aboriginal people, with its own distinctive Aboriginal police, court, and correctional institutions. Such reform proposals, voiced primarily by Aboriginal leaders and non-Aboriginal academics, have been endorsed in the reports of some of the official inquiries set up to examine these issues notably the self-styled “Aboriginal Justice Inquiry” in Manitoba (Manitoba, 1991), and the subsequent Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), which issued a report on this topic in 1996. Even official government policies in response to the problem of Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system, which typically have not adopted the more radical reform proposals, have nevertheless been based on similar assumptions and conclusions about the nature of this problem. Specifically, official criminal justice policies with respect to Aboriginal people appear to have been based on the assumption that the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system has been due to a combination of “culturally insensitive” and discriminatory policing (over-policing as well as under-policing) and criminal justice processing (e.g., sentencing), and a high rate of offending (and victimization) in Aboriginal communities, which itself is the result of historical colonization, exploitation, and consequent social, economic, and cultural deterioration of such communities. Not surprisingly, these underlying assumptions have led to the view that the problem of Aboriginal over-involvement can best be addressed by replacing mainstream policing of Aboriginal communities with policing by more culturally sensitive autonomous Aboriginal police services, more directly sensitive and accountable to these communities; the establishment of separate Aboriginal justice institutions which will better reflect the cultural traditions and current social needs of Aboriginal people; and/or special provisions in mainstream criminal justice processing (such as Criminal Code s. 718.2(e), R. v. Gladue and R. Wells), whereby cases involving Aboriginal offenders will be treated differently from those involving non-Aboriginal offenders. Implicit in most, if not all, of these proposals are assumptions that the problem of Aboriginal over-involvement in the criminal justice system arises from circumstances which are unique to Aboriginal people, and “Aboriginal communities” are identifiable as discrete social entities, in which separate Aboriginal criminal justice institutions can be established and operated more or less independently of the mainstream criminal justice institutions which function in non-Aboriginal communities. These responses reflect an understanding of Aboriginal over-involvement in the criminal justice system as being attributable mainly, if not exclusively, to cultural differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, and the particularly damaging effects of the historical “Aboriginal experience” in Canada.
Secondly, the problem of Aboriginal over-involvement with the criminal justice system is thus viewed as directly linked to Aboriginality itself, and the conclusion is that the white criminal justice system is, and will always be, inherently incapable of responding appropriately, effectively, and acceptably to these Aboriginal realities. The circumstances of Aboriginal offenders and victims are thus regarded, by the Supreme Court of Canada and others, as unique. However, recent research on the characteristics of Aboriginal offending and victimization, and on the particulars of Aboriginal over-incarceration, as well as on Aboriginal perceptions of the criminal justice system, raise serious questions about the validity of many of these assumptions and the appropriateness of this conceptual framework for understanding and responding to the problem. We address each assumption in turn, beginning with some recent data on Aboriginal perceptions of the criminal justice system, then turning our attention to data on the characteristics of prison populations, the demographics of the Aboriginal population in Canada and, finally, looking at some of the characteristics of Aboriginal crime and victimization, particularly in the urban context. Aboriginal Perceptions of the Criminal Justice System a recent publication of the Canadian Center for Justice Statistics (CCJS) titled Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (2001a) provided some new and interesting data on perceptions of Aboriginal people about the criminal justice system. Of particular interest in this respect are the somewhat conflicting opinions held by Aboriginal people about different components of the criminal justice system. When asked about the work of local police officers Aboriginal respondents were somewhat less satisfied with the way police are doing their jobs than were non-Aboriginal Canadians. However, when assessing courts and their ability to ensure the guilt or innocence of accused and ensure fair trials, there were no differences between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal respondents. Aboriginal respondents were slightly more likely than non-Aboriginal respondents to assess courts as doing a good job in providing justice quickly and helping victims (CCJS, 2001a:). These findings are important because they suggest that there is not a general Aboriginal dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system, but mainly with police. This may have something to do with the fact that, as a group, Aboriginal people have considerably more contact with police. “The fact that those who have more frequent contact with police whether Aboriginal or not tend to have less favourable views about them is well documented in the research literature” (Hagan and McCarthy, 1998). As we shall discuss further below, there is now ample research that indicates that Aboriginal people in Canada are more likely to come to the attention of police both because they are more likely to be victims of a violent offence and because they do in fact occasionally commit violent and public order offences. Even Aboriginal perceptions of the police are by no means uniform, however. They vary regionally and between urban and rural communities. In a 1994 study of Aboriginal people living in four major urban centres in Canada (two in the Prairies and two in Eastern Canada) important regional and city vs. reserve or home community differences were found. In cities, courts were viewed most favourably and police worse in respondent’s perceptions of fairness of treatment. In home communities or reserves, police fared much better, and respondents viewed treatment by police, courts, and the criminal justice system generally more favourably than did respondents in cities. Furthermore, “perceptions of fairness of treatment by police were also more favourable among Aboriginal people in the Eastern than in the Prairie cities”(La Prairie, 1994). Recent inquiries and accusations in Prairie urban areas involving city police and Aboriginal people have no doubt contributed to these negative perceptions and strained relations. In Saskatoon, two officers were found guilty of transporting Darrell Knight to the outskirts of the city and dropping him off in freezing weather. In Winnipeg, the police department has been accused of racism in its slow response to urgent calls that resulted in the stabbing deaths of two Aboriginal women. The important bottom line that emerges from these data, however, is that Aboriginal people have apparently not, by any means, generally lost confidence in the criminal justice system, although many of them clearly have serious concerns about the police. While discrimination or cultural insensitivity by agents of the criminal justice system may be a plausible explanation for some Aboriginal over-representation in the system, there is growing evidence that the factors that give rise to Aboriginal people’s involvement in the criminal justice system are largely the same as those that give rise to non-Aboriginal involvement in it. If class and socio-economic disparity and the disadvantage in people’s lives are significant predictors of involvement in the criminal justice system, it is important to examine the implications of this for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations and offenders.
As in any society, Canada has cultural/racial differences which play a role in virtually every aspect of public life. One of the most important among these is the criminal justice system because of its link to civil rights and the very freedom of the individuals involved. For generations, the Aboriginal people have struggled for equality in the criminal justice system and elsewhere. For this reason, culture-based approaches are important when dealing with solutions for Aboriginal people in the Canadian criminal justice system.
Thirdly, traditionally the Aboriginal people of Canada have been plagued by unequal treatment within the criminal justice system; “largely misunderstood as unintelligent, rural people, somewhat backward in their ways, this entire race of people was vulnerable to mistreatment from the early days of Canadian settlement, with the mistreatment continuing into the 21st century” (Wortley, 1999). In recent decades, legislation such as amendments to the Canadian Constitution in the early 1980s granted special protections to the Aboriginals against injustices based strictly upon their race, but the end result of that action after more than a quarter century is questionable, evidenced by the fact that while the Aboriginals only make up about “3% of the Canadian population overall, they make up nearly 15% of the Canadian prison population” (Roach, 2000). A statistic as drastic as this can only lead to a few conclusions: either the Aboriginals are rampant criminals, or they receive unequal justice in comparison to the Caucasian majority, for example. Using the history of racial relations in Canada as a frame of reference, it is far more likely that the Aboriginals have been discriminated against and jailed in large numbers, rather than a criminal epidemic in a tiny fraction of a huge national population. Therefore, the question of why a culture-based approach to this problem is needed comes to light.
Since the victimization of the Aboriginals in the Canadian criminal justice system, the pursuit of justice must be culture-based to level the playing field so to speak and to restore justice to an oppressed minority. This is important not only to administer uniform justice going forward, but also to address past wrongs done against the Aboriginals. Restorative justice, it should be pointed out, is far from reverse discrimination; rather, it is a powerful remedy for a powerful problem. This culture-based approach must use as its foundation “the laws that were passed in 1982 as Constitutional amendments, designed to provide the justice that was stripped from the Aboriginals for hundreds of years” (Roach, 2000). Legally, this gives protection where previously there was none.
Strictly from a cultural viewpoint, the criminal justice system as it applies to Aboriginals must likewise be revisited. Multiculturalism is an important part of this understanding; in other words, every effort must be made for law enforcement to realize the unique needs and challenges of this minority. Then, and only then, will equitable justice exist with a proper cultural approach. Restorative justice is concerned with healing victims’ wounds, restoring offenders to law-abiding lives, and repairing harm done to interpersonal relationships and the community. It seeks to involve all stakeholders and provide opportunities for those most affected by the crime to be directly involved in the process of responding to the harm caused.
A central premise of restorative justice is that victims, offenders, and the affected communities are all key stakeholders in the restorative process. Victims include not only those directly affected by the offense, but also family members and members of the affected community. The safety, support, and needs of these victims are the starting points for any restorative justice process. Thus a primary objective is to attend to victims’ needs: material, financial, emotional, and social. Addressing these needs and the needs of the community is necessary if public demands for severe punishment are to be quelled. This requires the assumption that crimes or violations are committed against real individuals, rather than against the state. Restorative justice, therefore, advocates restitution to the victim by the offender rather than retribution by the state against the offender. Instead of continuing and escalating the cycle of violence, it tries to restore relationships and stop the violence.
A restorative justice process also aims to empower victims to participate effectively in dialogue or mediation with offenders. Victims take an active role in directing the exchange that takes place, as well as defining the responsibilities and obligations of offenders. Offenders are likewise encouraged to participate in this exchange, to understand the harm they have caused to victims, and to take active responsibility for it. “This means making efforts on their parts to set things right, to make amends for their violations, by committing to certain obligations, that may come in the form of reparations, restitution, or community work.” (Braithwaite, 2000)While fulfilling these obligations may be experienced as painful, the goal is not revenge, but restoration of healthy relationships between individuals and within communities that have been most affected by the crime.
Restorative justice is a forward-looking, preventive response that strives to understand crime in its social context. It challenges us to examine the root causes of violence and crime in order that these cycles might be broken. This approach is based on the assumption that crime has its origins in social conditions, and recognizes that offenders themselves have often suffered harm. Therefore, communities must both take some responsibility for remedying those conditions that contribute to crime and also work to promote healing. Healing is crucial not just for victims, but also for offenders. Both the rehabilitation of offenders and their integration into the community are vital aspects of restorative justice. Offenders are treated respectfully and their needs are addressed. Removing them from the community, or imposing any other severe restrictions, is a last resort. It is thought that the best way to prevent re-offending is through re-integration. The justice process in this way strengthens the community and promotes changes that will prevent similar harms from happening in the future. It is generally thought that restorative justice should be integrated with legal justice as a complementary process that improves the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of justice as a whole. Due to the focus on the needs of the victim, the offender, and the community, restorative processes can help to determine how the law should be applied most fairly.
Restorative justice at the national level takes on various forms. Victim-offender mediation is perhaps the most common, and involves face-to-face dialogues between victims and offenders. Victims’ needs, including the need to be consulted, are the focus. In victim-offender meetings, offenders have a chance to take active steps to make reparation to their victims. This extends further than monetary compensation, and includes an apology and an explanation of how the crime occurred. The offender might also do some work for the victim, or for some community cause selected by the victim.
Consequently, in order to cure the problem of over representation of aboriginal people in the Canadian justice system, there are many possible solutions that could be implemented to alternatively address crime. “Some of the more common programs that are currently underway in western cities are native-run community based counseling services, cultural awareness programs, legal counseling and drug and alcohol therapy.” (Buckley, 1993)These programs are designed to help overcome the conflicts that many natives come across every day in their communities. Circle sentencing is another resource that has been recently implemented in the Yukon and several provinces. In the same room, the judge, prosecutor, defense lawyer, victim, offender and community members all sit together to discuss a particular case. They discuss the background circumstances, needs of the victim and community and eventually arrive, by consensus, at an appropriate sentence for the offender. This is an effective alternative to sentencing because Aboriginal views and cultures are represented and it allows for restitution which the Canadian system usually ignores. Other solutions that I would recommend to combat the overrepresentation are; the hiring of more Aboriginals at all levels of the justice system to avoid racism and discrimination, the use of alternatives to justice since Aboriginals mostly believe against incarceration and the implementation of a Indigenous-run court system to better address their distinct needs.