Healing Lodges – just a better place to be

Tori Stafford was last seen alive on April 8, 2009, shortly after leaving school, heading home, captured on a video camera going down Fyfe avenue in small town Woodstock Ontario. She was being led by the hand by a woman, feeling be-friended,  no doubt filled with an eight year old’s optimism.

Almost three months later, on July 21, 2009 her body was found in nearby Mount Forest, naked from the waist down, her Hannah Montana t-shirt and a pair of earrings she had borrowed from her mother her last vestiges of her short time on earth. She had suffered broken ribs, a lacerated liver and had died as a result of repeated blows to the head with a claw hammer.

A slow torturous death. Unimaginable to most, perpetrated by two individuals, 28 year old Michael Rafferty and 18 year old Terry-Lynne McClintic. In a trial Rafferty was convicted of sexual assault, kidnapping and first degree murder.

Originally charged with being an accessory to the murder, McClintic eventually pled guilty to a higher charge of first degree murder.

It was a case that in the view of the general public demanded retribution, they needed to pay for their crimes. We have become inured to a lot of public deaths, not this one, it was one of those that went to a level that causes a visceral reaction, you taste the bile in your throat.

She was sent to the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario, a normal conclusion in our Canadian judicial world to a heinous crime. Justice, or some form of justice meted out.

But then she entered our correctional system. And that is where the story re-ignited.

There is a couple of truisms that usually play out by those prisoners doing “Fed time”. First and foremost they quickly develop the need to survive; they need to find the easiest route through the system, the best jobs, the placement of video cameras, where you sit at dinner, who you befriend, who you don’t. A child killer has a path fraught with even greater peril, their heads becomes a swivel, their own deaths anticipated.  If you are capable, you learn the game and then you learn how to play the game.

A second truism is that those that are incarcerated find religion on a regular basis. It would be fair to say that not many murderers or child killers are religious when they enter the institution. But imprisonment, like imminent death, seems to assist in finding that religious part of your soul and lo and behold a child of God is often re-awakened.

Federal institutions are not fun places and one suspects that McClintic somehow learned of a better place to be during her first years in prison. Somehow she became aware of “healing lodges” which had been created primarily for indigenous women prisoners.  Apartment style living, a kitchen, visitors, no guards, versus 8 x 10 cell living, constantly staring at your requisite Orange is the new Black poster. Who could deny the appeal?

One can imagine the semblance of the conversation, where she was told that you had to be Indigenous to get in (which isn’t true), so she asked how do they test for that? They don’t, she was told. You can just say you are.

It is only a short step to then apply, declaring oneself indigenous and probably throwing in for a little positive aggrandizement, that she was very spiritual in nature.

It took eight years, but at last she got her wish, making it to the Okimaw Healing Lodge.  She had just begun enjoying the comforts of something like a home when all hell broke loose; her case came back into the public eye, and finally the Liberals broke down and made sure she got sent back, the public backlash too much for the sensitive Liberals. Sensitive to public outcry, not the plight of the victims family.

One should not resent Ms McClintic, she was just working the system and it almost worked. It may be that her fellow women prisoners are having a good laugh about the whole thing, McClintic now a heroine for gaming “the man”.

But one must hold the “system” accountable. How the decision was made reeks of a bureaucrat not doing a proper job, but should we not be questioning the very existence of the healing lodges themselves.

According to Correctional Services Canada, a healing lodge is a place where “we use aboriginal values, traditions and beliefs to design services and programs for offenders. The approach is “holistic and spiritual”. A religious treatment of the whole being.

Non-indigenous can also live at a healing lodge however they must follow “aboriginal programming and spirituality”. You must be the same religion, in line with indigenous spirituality. One would think that a person fitting this category would be a rare phenomena.

Spirituality is “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul”. But by no means is indigenous spirituality monolithic, there is no religious uniformity across the country, in fact of the 1.7 million indigenous, two out of three identify as being Christian. So it is sometimes difficult to understand what is being sought or would be practised.

Healing Lodges are funded either by Correctional Services Canada (CSC) and staffed by CSC, or funded by CSC and managed by “community partner organizations”.

There are a total of 9 lodges in Canada, 4 run by CSC and 5 by “community partners.”

How they came about is an example of the Ottawa world and the rarefied air they breathe. A constant whirling mix of academia, politicians intent on re-election, and business leaders trying to get in on the gravy; all feeding off each other, absorbing the latest en vogue thoughts and processes, all circling and feeding. A bureaucracy, acting autonomously, guided by the political flavour of the day, then developed and constructed without scrutiny. Nobody allowed to question or look within, and the process itself hidden behind multiple meetings in multiple layers, conducted in their own governmental language.

This force moves and adapts very slowly, moving in concentric circles, through steering committees, Senate and Parliamentary committees, inquiries, task forces, and fact-finding missions. They are unaware and uncaring of the public looking in, common sense often in short supply. To question is to be tossed out of the circle cut off from the government teat. Costs are not often part of the equation. It is from this process that came the belief that a healing lodge made perfect sense.

In 1990 there were calls and plans being made for five new regional correctional facilities.

A task force, as is often the case, was lurking in the background. The Task Force for Federally Sentenced Women, who in their report “Creating Choices” recommended that one of these facilities be specifically designed and run for indigenous women.

The Native Women’s Association, a Federally funded advocacy group, one of the groups in this Ottawa circle of life, proposed the concept of a healing lodge.

There was also a group at the time of  “former Federal aboriginal offenders who were advising the CSC”.  This would normally make one scratch their collective heads, however it is true. They of course agreed wholeheartedly and supported the Native Womens’ Association in the need for and development of a healing lodge.

So what is the logic behind this clearly subjective policy proposal. According  to the CSC there were two main reasons:

“Mainstream programs don’t work for Aboriginal offenders.”  This seems to have been presented as a statement of fact, but it is difficult finding any verifiable research this pronouncement is based upon.

Secondly, they stated that there is a dramatic “over-representation” of Indigenous people in Federal facilities. (Apparently persons convicted of crimes were now “representatives” and not convicts) They were not wrong.

In 2017 Indigenous individuals made up only 5% of the Canadian population; yet 25% of the males and 36% of the females behind bars were Indigenous. This number is expected to continue to grow, mainly due to the ever expanding birth rates and the continuing problems experienced by the Indigenous.

If one accepts the concept of needing a special place, a place where they would be treated differently from all other inmates, then the obvious next question is do they work?

A review of the digital brochures for each of these facilities talks about a holistic and spiritual approach, training and maintenance skills promoted as in other facilities, but all given the opportunity to “heal”, “grow spiritually”and re-connect with Aboriginal culture”.

Again, little to no evidence of its effectiveness, but they continually issue the statement that  “culturally-appropriate environments can contribute to the healing process of offenders”. That participants develop a “stronger familiarity with Indigenous history and traditional languages”. Not exactly an insurmountable goal, and it would be unfair to expect any kind of reduction of criminal activity, as this is after the fact after all. Heinous crimes have already been committed.

By offering beyond the usual training and teaching found in any correctional facility, does the offering of “weekly sweat lodges”, “pipe ceremonies”, “smudging”,”medicine wheel teaching”, “carving”, “beading” and “sun and rain dances” lead to a lesser recidivism rate among indigenous? Is it any better training than what is offered already to the rest of the prison population. Or is it serving as just an easier place to do your time.

In a 2013 government backgrounder, the government said that the recidivism rate was 6%, when the national average was 11%.

However, in an earlier government analysis in 2002, it measured the recidivism rate as being 19%, compared to 13% for indigenous released from minimum security facilities. A dismal failure.

In 2016 the National Post reported that 18 inmates had escaped from healing lodges over the previous five years. Not unexpectedly, as there are only security guards watching video monitors, instructed only to call the police if someone walks away.

There is even a lack of acceptance by the Indigenous Reserves where the healing lodges have been proposed. In 2012, a Review by the government found that there was a problem with community acceptance as not every aboriginal community wanted or was willing to have the lodges in their communities.

So where does leave us. Everyone knows that the ‘real’ problems for the indigenous: substance abuse, inter-generational abuse, residential schools, low levels of education, low employment and income, sub-standard housing, sub-standard health, isolation, violence, greater inclination to gang violence, and mental health issues are the reasons the Indigenous and their youth incarcerations rates are at stratospheric levels.

In March 2018 the government released a report entitled ‘Updated Costs of Incarceration’. A male offender in a minimum security institution costs $47,370 per person or $130 per day. A female offender in a minimum security institution costs $83, 861 or $230 per day. An inmate at a healing lodge is the most expensive, costing $122,796 or $336.00 per day.

The Salvation Army gives out a bowl of soup and a prayer on the skids of Vancouver each and every day, before providing food and lodging, combining their spiritual beliefs of salvation with a social cause. But they are dealing and providing at the source. There is a measurable impact.

The Federal government has released records indicating that since 2011 over 20 child killers have been sent to healing lodges. The Liberal defence in the McClintic case is that the Conservatives did it too.

These lodges are better for the inmates, providing a nicer place to be, but as a tool in the Corrections toolbox, they have been a costly and failed experiment.

Is it not time to close down this experiment?  Besides, we don’t want McClintic to have a nicer place to stay.

It isn’t fair to Tori.

Photo Courtesy of Carlos Ebert via Flickr Creative Commons – Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crime and Punishment on the Prairies…

 

Like a prairie thunderstorm, building on the horizon and starting to move quickly, the normally placid bucolic life of the small towns of Saskatchewan now lay in the path of this building storm. The W.O. Mitchell’s “Who has Seen the Wind” version of the Prairie lifestyle, is being enveloped and blown aside in a dark wind of violence, racism, fear, and desperation.

This barometric change was entirely predictable. It has been developing over many years, all the while complacent government bureaucracies and police agencies stood idly by; consumed by “modern” issues, seemingly ignorant of the core basic need in government, that of public safety.

It is the most pronounced in the small unique and sparsely populated Province of Saskatchewan, where its main street small towns have become involved in a war of attrition. One side engaged in the fight of maintaining a largely rural lifestyle, the other side fighting for radical change and reimbursement, with an ill-defined final goal. As Ottawa fiddles, rural Saskatchewan is now burning.

This is in reference to the tenuous, often violent,  see-saw balance between the mostly white agricultural community and the Indigenous.  It has been in play for over a hundred years in Saskatchewan.

Reconciliation is the new cry. The Indigenous demand further rights, demand more monies, fresh water, oil rights, the right to hunt, the right to fish, the right to deal marihuana and their cut of the economic pie. These demands and expectations fuelling a seemingly endless amount of court cases.

Whether one sees these demands as fair or intemperate, underlying all of it is a group of Indigenous leaders that has lost control of its own constituents. Many reserves in this country have become crime infested, and a culture of crime is emanating from them in ever increasing concentric circles. Rampant poverty driven crime spilling out into the towns and countryside.  Those waves are now crashing into an armed and increasingly vigilant population not willing to be overrun, not willing to succumb to the apparent effort to subsume them.

The statistics back up the claim that the crime is becoming out of control. The most dangerous cities in this relatively peaceful country of Canada, the ones having the most violent crime statistics are in order:

a) North Battleford,  Saskatchewan

b) Thompson, Manitoba

c) Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan remains the most crime plagued Province. A dubious distinction for sure but they hold and have been holding it for many years.

The Prairies is where the Indigenous world meets the other world. It is where radical aboriginal rights meets head on with a stubborn and resistive farm community. It is where it is more eye for an eye, unburdened and unconerned by the latest socio-economic impact study.  It is for the most part, caucasian versus aboriginal, as much as we are not supposed to point that out. It is where racism abounds, on both sides.  The racism has become accepted, part of the dialogue, part of the new way of life.

North Battleford, the most violent city is the epicentre. It is of course near the Red Pheasant reserve, the home of the recent Colten Boushie/Gerald Stanley case. The one where the white Gerald Stanley was acquitted in defence of his property and his family. This was contrary to what the Indigenous wanted, contrary apparently to the outcome wished for by the Liberal government.

The Indigenous, the Boushie family and the Federal Liberals all held it out as a gleaming example of racism in this country. It became a National liberal cause, Canada’s version of the Confederate South and the Yankee North.

Actual details of the trial took a back seat to flashier banner headlines, stoked by a CBC media group which seemed intent on inciting the racist tone to the case.  The whites were forced into hiding, supportive comment for Stanley was pushed underground.

This factional divide did not start in the last few years in this part of Saskatchewan.  It has been building for decades, going back to as early as 1885,  during the North West Rebellion, where eight Indigenous were hung in the Battleford area.

There are two versions of this event. One, according to the whites, was that the suspects were hung for “ransacking”, for stealing from the residents of  Fort Battleford. The Indigenous version on the other hand, said they had only come to “plead” for supplies and were simply massacred. Which side you believe, which is your truth, depends on which side of the divide you fall.

The city of North Battleford is located two hours away west from Saskatoon. It has placed highest in the Crime Severity index since 2009 when they began compiling this information, and still carries this title into the 2017 records. This index and North Battleford’s ranking is heavily weighted by intoxication, theft, and a mass of mischief offences.

Fourteen (14%) percent of the population of Saskatchewan is Indigenous,  but in 2016/17 a staggering seventy-six (76%) of admissions to jails were indigenous peoples. This was the highest of all the Provinces.

The liberal left call it the result of rampant systemic racism, and decry that the system is not working. In response to the high incarceration rates, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-Chief Heather Bear is quoted as saying “we are working with a broken system….its about lock the Indian up”.  On the conservative right they say the system is working exactly at it should; it is catching those that are committing the crime.

Two worlds colliding. Colonists initially enticed to settle this vast and often barren landscape with promises of 160 acre tracts of land. The ability to own their own piece of the land, made them set sail from faraway shores, leaving impoverished and desperate conditions to fight for a piece of land, a better life. Their new life was not always as advertised, it was often harsh and unforgiving whether fighting drought or bitingly cold winters.

The Plains Cree, hunters and traders meanwhile patrolled this same vast landscape, but they were a culture that did not share the same conceptual framework of property and ownership.

The settlers settled while the Cree continued to roam these vast, and for the most part, unpopulated regions. It was unlikely that anyone believed then that the country was not big enough for everyone.

Colonialism continued, evolved, and developed. Rules and laws were established. Responsibility was based on the concept of the individual. Being agrarians, the land which they struggled with from season to season was their reason for being.  This land was their very existence and thus needed to be defended to the death.

The Cree life began to stagnate, their economic system was beginning to falter. Two very different economic and political systems were destined to clash. One system continued to thrive, the other fell into the abyss. The Cree old way of life is now for the most part unrecognizable.  Successive governments of the settlers tried to reach agreements or impose agreements on sharing, and the treaty system and residential schools were all geared to some form of assimilation.

The 21st century Cree now believe that the historical wrongs need to be righted. Having stagnated for years on the Reserves, they now want their share of the economic pie. They now want what those first settlers wanted. A new life, free of recriminations along with financial wealth and independence. And if the government doesn’t want to give it to them, they will take it.

And therein lies the rub. If the government is going to give the Cree property or transfer wealth then someone else must lose it. The First Nations have tied their demands to the belief that because they roamed the lands, worshipped the lands, it is their land. It is all their land, because they never “ceded” the land.

This very concept is incomprehensible to a group like the Prairie settlers who believe that being here first is not a right to claim all of the land, that their rights should be considered as much as anyone’s, that there is no singular entity beyond the law, no one that is special, no one should have a priority over everyone else.

They describe a Federal government which is continually siding with the Indigenous, afraid to call out the violence, afraid to hurt their constituency.

They describe a cowering police force, sometimes miles away offering little support or even attendance.  The RCMP masters are this same Liberal government and therefore they dare not talk or point the finger at this obvious politically protected group.

So the unpleasantness grows, a liberal social media fuels the invective and the polarized arguments. The farmers in the small towns, arm themselves, preparing for a fight. The farmers demand that individual responsibility and adherence to the laws are a must, something not negotiable.

The result. Fort Battleford which went on to become North Battleford, is now the “most crime plagued city in Canada”. A town of 13,000 surrounded by seven First Nations groups with a total population of around 14,000, are still fighting and the battles may soon turn in to all out war.

The farmer, and the Plains Cree, who once worked together over the last hundred years has inexorably been pushed closer to the gaping chasm where extremists on both sides get the audience and the attention. Can it all be blamed on “colonialism”, or on the perpetration of “residential schools”? Does the 60’s scoop explain alcoholism, abnormally high pregnancy rates, malnutrition, and illiteracy. Not absolutely, it is much too simple an explanation.

The First Nation and Indigenous leaders, who trumpet the need for “reconciliation”, who are quick to cry systemic racism see the only remedy as money and more money.  Separate education, separate justice, separate police, endless health care workers, boundless hospitals and  health systems.

Another truism that never seems to let us down, is that people who have little, see people who have a lot, and they want it too. Two percent (2%)of people in Saskatchewan are on income assistance, while forty-four (44%) per cent of the Indigenous in Saskatchewan are on Federal income assistance. It has created an environment and an addiction to government funds on the part of the Indigenous, while helping fuel a belief that the other side is lazy, not willing to work, not wanting to be part of the larger society.

The Indigenous leaders are quick to jump into any fray, smelling fear in government circles of being branded racist, salivating at settlements way beyond the pale or understanding of the ordinary citizen. But at the same time blindly ignoring the obvious.

Colten Boushie grew up surrounded by alcohol and drugs, not atypical to many reserves.  He talks on Facebook about Red Power interspersed with bragging up the effects of marihuana, all while lamenting the raw deal given to his race.

Colten Boushie died because Colten Boushie grew up surrounded by violence; his banter  more in keeping with the Bloods and the Crips from a land far away.  He had a misguided bravery,  fuelled no doubt by a ridiculous video game level of understanding of that violence and its outcomes. To his group violence was heroic, copied from mediums which were far removed from their personal situations. Spewing toughness, “Fuckn punk d lee duck you talk shit back it up nigga I’m always on my tos come on niggah”, (Facebook – April 24, 2016) when none may have existed.

Colten Boushie’s uncle, his mother’s brother Colin Leonard Baptiste was found guilty of a home invasion in 1994 looking for gas and money. They put two people, Gordon Tetarenko and Bryan Kipp, in separate rooms, and then he and his co-accused Ron Coldwell individually shot them dead with a rifle. Colin was only 23 and served only two years for his murder conviction.

Stewart Baptiste was the Chief of the Red Pheasant Reserve and in 2012 was re-elected finding out from his jail cell where he had been put for breach of probation, and driving while disqualified.

Colten Boushie through no choice of his own grew up surrounded by violence and poverty. He did not have a chance.

The government talks about the “over representation of Aboriginal peoples in correctional services” as if it was a vote. Let us be clear, Saskatchewan aboriginal incarceration rates are reflective of who is doing the crime, who are committing the offences. They are not all innocent, they are not victims, they are hard core criminals, no different than any gang banger or a Hells Angel.

The government of see no evil will not go there. They say things like, the need for an “equitable justice” system. They want policies that address the “representation” of Aboriginal people in the justice system. They make it sound like a misunderstanding that they need to correct.

The Reserves like the ghettos of Jamestown in Toronto, the downtown eastside of Vancouver, are festering pits of violence, fueled by alcohol and drugs and mental illness. This is where criminal activity is bred. There are parts of Winnipeg in the north section which have greater crime rates than the Compton area of Los Angelas.

With over 600 Nations, speaking 60 different languages, they are not a united front, nor one where each nation is equal. Some reserves are heavily involved in the 21st century, building apartment complexes, developing their own pipelines, their own businesses. The others are living in poverty where the dialogue is representative of ghetto rap. They are often being governed by corrupt management and over paid chiefs and “development officers”. Some drive Mercedes while others have no covered windows in their residence.

Some Indigenous are using their political connections to a huge advantage, gaining air miles continually being summoned to Ottawa for their viewpoint. The others are smuggling cigarettes, have no running water, are drinking copier fluid, and breaking into cars in the city for spare change.

Which all leads to what is believed to be a pretty obvious certainty. If there is a chance to stem this growing civil unrest than there needs to be a meeting half-way. Personal responsibility by Indigenous leaders and by their followers must enter the equation.

In this country which is often referred to as a cultural and social mosaic, there is no room for one group having greater rights than others. Each in their own sphere allowed to grow and cultivate their culture and language, but not to the detriment of others. A single set of laws acting as a binder, property rights recognized, but holding to central tenets of decency and honesty.  A respect for others must be re-gained. Assimilation not domination. There is no room for a separate state in Canada.

The Indigenous leadership needs to be held responsible for their people and the actions of their people. The radical statements and cultivating a culture of being owed, of everything being blamed on racism must end.  They need to address issues on these reserves. They need to gain control of their youth, the monies they are receiving need to be distributed down and put to the people directly. The government needs to monitor and audit that spending giving it a chance to be accountable and visible to all.

And it is then and only then that the other side will get out from under a siege  mentality. Once there is a recognition of an attempt to be accountable, only then will it be possible for a reconciliation. Calm measured voices from both sides need to meet in the middle.

In the meantime the farmers will continue to arm themselves and the Indigenous youth will continue to mimic their gangster kin, still destined statistically for a Regina jail.

Colten Boushie and his family, living in squalid conditions, no sense of a future, no  reason for participating, surrounded by a family who seemed to be hinging their future on “reconciliation” and what they believed the government owed them.

Glimpsing Colten’s facebook is in many ways similar to what one would expect from any immature early 20’s male. Random often non-sensical thoughts, but with repetitive themes of boredom, the beauty of marihuana, and the lack of money. But interspersed with comments no doubt particular to Indigenous youth; Red Power, the wanna be affiliation with gangster style and music. Their “bros” are their lifeblood. One friend brags about his friend “doing 25 to life in the Federal pen”

Always newsworthy when the cops are on “the rez”… “a good morning to all back in the saddle again middle finger up to the law” (Colten Boushie on Facebook July 27, 2016) ” and often brave talk of dying or the willingness to live on the edge.

“Its a good day to ride or die” (Colten Boushie on Facebook July 28, 2016)

“Back in the saddle again throw my middle finger up to the law, ain’t gotta rob nobody tonight but I do it just because I’m a nut i get bored did some pills but I want more fuck this world fuck this town” – (Colten Boushie on Facebook April 29, 2016.)

Until the Indigenous leadership recognizes and takes some responsibility for the problems on the Reserves and only when everyone can openly talk about the criminal element which saturates the Reserves and blinds people to real solutions, only then will there be hope.

The current Federal government doesn’t see the storm, only appeasing one part of the equation. This is a Federal Justice Minister who was an advocate for the Indigenous in her previous life and it is obvious to all that she is compromised. She is clearly an advocate of a separate state, a separate set of laws. She has no credibility with one half of the two sides that need to come together. The Poles, Ukranians, Estonians and others who also and equally “settled” this country need to be recognized and have a voice. They are after all the majority.

To do otherwise is a recipe for disaster. Blood is being and will continue to be spilled. The extremists on both sides need to be ignored and reasonable arbiters need to come forward.

Sylvia McAdam from the Big River First Nation in Saskatchewan and a co-founder of the IdleNoMore Movement was typical in her statements, saying after the Colten Boushie verdict that “There’s something very rotten to the core about what’s happening in Saskatchewan”. She’s right, but she is part of the problem, not the solution.

The truth and the road to understanding is in the facts buried just beneath the rhetoric.  Only an honest assessment by honest leaders will pull both sides out of this ever downward spiral.

As Henry David Thoreau said “It takes two to speak the truth..one to speak and the other to hear”.

Photo Courtesy of Mark Goebel via Creative Commons Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diversity vs Merit…planned discrimination?

The term, affirmative action, in the 1960’s was a dictate given to the Government of the United States under then President John Kennedy to hire or give equal opportunity to the disadvantaged, to hire “without regard for race, religion and national origin”.  It was often designed to compensate for past discrimination, persecution, or exploitation by the ruling class.

A laudable goal to be sure, as the intention was to pull up those that were disadvantaged, to take away any roadblocks that kept some down and not able to compete in the economic world of the day. It was a typical liberal policy reflective of those times, it was  “Camelot” and the Kennedy era, where equality and fairness were the principle objectives and would be emblematic of the ensuing two decades of U.S. policy. It was the era in which I grew up and came to self-identify. It was the era when governmental change was an instrument of good and it was a time when people wanted to give back.

The goal of  affirmative action advocated a generational change, a lengthy process to be sure. Not to be accomplished overnight, or even over a single Presidential term. In almost all circumstances, a formative change actually requires patience, and it requires a cultural change.

If these goals outlined by Kennedy and to a smaller extent by Pearson in Canada in the 1960s were to reach fruition, then there needed to be education and time. Politicians being what they are in our democratic and fixed term systems are not patient, they want to see and boast about change in shorter windows of time. Long term planning or even projecting out for 10 years is difficult if not impossible, and there in lies the rub.

So “affirmative action” and what it came to mean began to evolve, mainly to suit political need for instant gratification.  They needed to force the issue, to put persons into roles or jobs, or education, earlier than generational change would allow.  Qualifications, or deservedness would have to take a back seat. That some tolerance be built into the selection process, that qualifications be bent and sometimes lowered so that these persons could immediately or quickly fill these roles.

In other words instead of all boats rising with the tide, it became necessary to “favour” certain groups. This re-interpretation of the meaning of affirmative action was not a subtle change, it was one which has had a massive ripple effect.

The world began to follow suit.  Some countries, including the U.S. even began to use a quota system, where a certain percentage of government jobs, political positions, and school vacancies were reserved for specific  members of certain politically chosen groups. And this continues to this day.

Of course this by definition means that not everyone is treated equally and it would be only a matter of time, before some took umbrage with a system, which by its very nature excludes certain individuals, albeit usually the more advantaged groups.

So in most recent years, it has been generally true that countries where there are laws dictating racial and gender “equality”, many of these affirmative action programs which had dictated quotas were now declared illegal. The U.S. courts in particular saying that affirmative action programs  dictate that not all persons are treated equally, and therefore should not be allowed.

However there are countries in the world where quotas are still allowed, and have been used, and continue to be used extensively.

Nathan Glazer in the Harvard Crimson argues that the quota system divides people into categories, into racial, ethnic, and gender profiles. And benefits, and penalties would now adhere to these various compartments. “People would try to advance on the basis of group membership rather than individual capacity”.

In Canada, the politicos sensing some possible rejection of affirmative action and quotas,  began to use a new term, something they believed to be less offensive.  So we now have been programmed to accept the new “diversity”. Diversity, is defined as “the condition of having or being composed of different elements”. The Miriam dictionary then goes on to say that it can mean”the inclusion of different types of people, (such as people of different races or culture)”.

It is government speak for affirmative action in general, and they have replaced the likely illegal “quotas”, with “goals” or “targets”. They play to the “disadvantaged” groups, to try and counter balance a legally tenuous position. There is little argument to the fact that affirmative action is in fact discriminatory. Discrimination defined as “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather on individual merit”.

But whether one agrees or not, we have a government who has become fixated with the need for “diversification.”

Of course the real balancing act is how far does one swing the pendulum, how far and to what level  is for instance, is one prepared to ignore merit in favour of ethnicity, or gender, or a visible minority.  Practically, in terms of hiring or university admissions, it is difficult to give specific policy or guidance as to how one needs to approach the problem without stepping over the line. How does one apply goals or targets without imposing quotas? Very few politicians and bureaucrats seem capable of reflection, they approach it like a quota, easier to apply, and easier to boast about their numbers.

In 2016, the Federal government announced a new appointment process for boards, agencies, tribunals, officers of Parliament and Crown Corporations. It specified that “diversity” was the goal, while it opened up the applications to the public. In other words, it did not set or say the word “quota”  per se but encouraged the government mandarins, and put them on notice that they would be measured by their attempts and delivery of “diversity”.

According to this same article, the Privy Counsel office has now released its numbers so that of the 429 appointments that have been made to date since 2016; 56.6 per cent women, 11.2 per cent were visible minorities, and 9.6 per cent were indigenous.

It then goes on to prove its point by counting the numbers:  48.3 % women, 16.1 per cent minorities, and 6.5 per cent indigenous. In Canada it points out, there is actually 50.9 per cent women, 22.3 per cent visible minorities, and 4.9 per cent indigenous. They are not arguing a generational change, they are pointing to their targeted “goals”, their “quotas” having been met. There is no other way of explaining it. Are we to believe that in one year, more indigenous people, or more visible minorities have been in a position to apply for more governmental posts because of improvements in their education or in their qualifications. That would be difficult to believe. It is far more likely they have been pulled up to fulfill a quota.

Justin Trudeau often brags about his “diverse cabinet”.  What he actually means is that his cabinet has been chosen in a quota system. Today in the news, the CBC headlines the fact that the Canadian government is now beginning to be as “diverse as Canada”.

Wendy Cukier, who is the director of Ryerson University “Diversity Institute” is happy with the numbers and lauds PM Trudeau for having made “great strides on gender”. She would like us to believe that in a year period, more females became more qualified for various jobs because there was “equal opportunity” got those jobs. Or is it possible that they were told to fill more positions with women regardless of merit?

This is playing out in every walk of governmental life. In policing we went through the quota hiring of women, and various visible minorities over the years. Every government department Provincially and Federally has fallen in line with this type of quota hiring.

Persons are gaining management positions, or being accepted into specialized jobs, not because they are the best person for the job, but by the fact there application is being skewed in their favour, sometimes to a large degree; skewed by their colour of their skin or their gender. It is troubling, for example, if a hospital is hiring a doctor, should merit not be the only single factor?

There are those that would put a strong argument in favour of “quota” hiring as a way of righting the wrongs of the past. If one accepts this principle, one is in effect accepting and proposing one level of discrimination, to right the wrongs of a historical discrimination. But be it as it may, my argument is that if the government of the day feels that this is acceptable, then at the very least they should be honest in their intentions.  It should not be allowed to be portrayed as an equal playing field to the general public. It is not.

Where “diversity” is a stated goal and gender or sex is part of the selection criteria it should be stated clearly. People should know that if you are applying for a police force as an example, other factors are coming into play, including the colour of your skin and your gender, and they should be told what is the given priority, and how it would affect their application.

An issue that also naturally evolves from this process is the growing need to determine if there are some significant after effects to this practise. If one continues to hire under qualified people, does the job suffer, does the output suffer? If they are not the best people for the job, is the job being done in the proper manner? If one throws out merit, or lessens merit in a bureaucratic system, does advancement and morale suffer?

We are now in a position where we have to question both the deserved and the undeserved. When you know the hiring process, and the priorities of government, it makes one question, why or how someone was chosen for this job. It may reflect badly on the person holding the job, tainted by this quota policy, even in cases where in fact it was deserved.

Were members of Trudeau’s cabinet chosen because they were the best for the job, or because they met his mandated quotas and play to his constituencies for whom he wants to be seen as the saviour. Women voters, non-visible minorities, and the up and coming indigenous groups are the stronghold of the Liberals, the bastion they hope to win over in future elections. The answer seems obvious.  Trudeau and the Liberals are engaging in obvious vote buying, and the Conservatives and the NDP are trying to do the same and get in on the action.

They are all playing politics to a high level, and it is costing this country. Merit has been given a back seat, “diversity” is the mantra being extolled by every politician from every pulpit. Do not challenge or you will be portrayed as a racist.

One could point out that the apartheid government in South Africa, as a matter of state policy favoured white-owned, especially Afrikaner owned companies.  It was clearly in place  to prolong white rule and power, and this quota system was discriminatory and the world celebrated its eventual downfall. But any quota system is discriminatory, the only thing that changes is the target of that discrimination.

I believe that when merit is given such short shrift, when merit becomes secondary to optics, everyone loses. We become compartmentalized. My stand is the one echoed by Nathan Glazer in that affirmative action, as it was originally intended is still a worthwhile intention. However,  quotas, thinly disguised as “targets” or “goals” should not be acceptable at any level, whether being practised by your government or your workplace.

And if you think some level of discrimination is o.k., then at least have the backbone to articulate and specify who in society you wish to treat as more equal than others. And then let the public decide.

 

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons via Flckr by Edyta Mazur – Some Rights Reserved