By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The suicide of an Indigenous inmate in a Saskatchewan prison is clear indication federal corrections officials just don’t care about Indigenous people. Given the massive over-representation of Indigenous people in Canada’s prison system, that’s a big problem, the vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples said earlier this week.
In the wake of an inquest into the suicide death of Curtis McKenzie, who was found unresponsive in his prison cell in February 2020. McKenzie, from La Ronge, Saskatchewan, had a long history of self-harm, which was well documented by officials but ultimately ignored. The inquest revealed McKenzie was given razor blades despite previously mutilating and removing his nose. He eventually used those razor blades to tailor his bed sheets into a noose which he used to hang himself.
“This boggles the mind,” Congress of Aboriginal Peoples national vice-chief Kim Beaudin said. “Who would give an inmate with a long history of self-harm, who had even cut off his own nose, a sharp object?”
Beaudin said the lack of care provided to inmates in Canada’s federal corrections system is “galling” and speaks to the colonial nature of the Canadian prison system. Indigenous people make up five percent of Canada’s population but make up almost a third of all prisoners in Canadian prisons.
“It’s an extension of colonial policies of the past, and it seems there is no concern for the plight of Indigenous people in prison,” he said.
CAP is asking Corrections Canada to immediately implement the eight recommendations the jury made in the McKenzie inquest, including better mental-health training for corrections officials, allowing prisoners more resources to help them heal and to lower case load numbers so corrections officials are no longer overloaded.
“Six Indigenous men have committed suicide in prison this year.
That’s six too many. There needs to be better handling of prisoners with mental-health issues, and better access to medical professionals and a better attention to how they are treated,” Beaudin said.
Razor blades are supplied in the hygiene kits of inmates, including those who have a history of self-harming.
“They have a policy where they-apparently don’t give them out (hygiene kits) to inmates in maximum security, they do give them out to inmates in minimum and medium security,” said Beaudin. “But, why? If you’re in a mental health facility, why? Curtis had an issue of self-harm, and slashing. Well, why would you give this guy razor blades?”
Beaudin said he addressed the issue at National Aboriginal Advisory Committee for corrections meetings taking place in Saskatoon today and Tuesday.
“You need to take all this stuff away, and it would work in two ways — one is the safety of the inmate, and two is also the safety of the staff because my understanding is they even make weapons out of this stuff,” Beaudin said.