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Don Moran on an Aboriginal Employment Strategy


My idea for making Saskatchewan a better place to live is for the government to re-establish the successful employment strategy for Indigenous Peoples in this province. For 12 years, there was a program in place that improved employment for Aboriginal Peoples but the Wall government cancelled it and 98 partnership agreements in March 2010.

In the spirit of the call for action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, our government needs to address economic and social inequalities among the Indigenous Peoples in the province. The Wall government brings to mind a famous quote when you look at their actions on Aboriginal employment “If anyone thinks he is doing something when he is doing nothing, he deceives himself.” This government believes they are sound on the Aboriginal file. They think they are doing something, even though the statistics show worsening conditions, so they are only deceiving themselves – and the people of Saskatchewan.

The former Aboriginal Employment Strategy Program had tremendous success. Fortunately, unions like CUPE, negotiated language in collective agreements that commits employers to improve training and hiring of Aboriginal Peoples. This paper will provide an overview of the representative workforce strategy in health care and argue for the expansion of this strategy throughout the province.

Aboriginal Employment Strategy

Saskatchewan’s population is changing. We have more people who live in cities than on farms, we have become more diverse, and we have an aging non-Aboriginal population and an increasingly younger Aboriginal population.
The changing demographics will have an impact on our workplaces as baby-boomers begin to retire. The labour market will increasingly depend on a younger Aboriginal population and new immigrants to fill jobs. CUPE has been in the forefront of finding ways to bring more Aboriginal Peoples into the workforce through the signing of Partnership Agreements, developing culturally-specific collective agreement language, forming a CUPE Aboriginal Council to represent Aboriginal workers, and promoting the training and upgrading of Aboriginal workers. [1]

There have been significant strategies tried over the last decade to change the labour market statistics for First peoples in Canada. despite these efforts, concerns remain as First Peoples still experience significant labour market disadvantages compared to other Canadians.
In general, First Peoples have a lower labour force participation rate, a higher rate of unemployment, less representation in higher paying occupations and lower average wage rates. One area in which a significant effort has been made to address this issue is in the health care sector in Saskatchewan. The representative workforce strategy and the partnership agreement were designed as a focused approach in response to RCAP (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples), which recommended that, when working with Aboriginal people, a different approach to employment equity is needed. The partnership agreements were the different approach.

From 2000 to 2009 in the Saskatchewan health industry, this new approach resulted in an increase in the Aboriginal participation rate from 1% to 6%, with approximately 2,400 Aboriginal Peoples hired.

There were big gains in areas with traditionally low participation rates and a large Aboriginal population. In Prince Albert, the Aboriginal participation rate increased from 9% of all workers to 20%. In Regina, it increased from 1% to 4.1%. More than 500 Aboriginal people took a health care work preparation program. This was a 16-week program that included a half-day CUPE presentation that discusses the union’s structure, the collective agreement and addressed the concerns that Aboriginal people have about unions. 21,000 staff from health care workplaces participated in Aboriginal awareness training, including 10,500 CUPE members.

CUPE argues that organized labour has a responsibility to reduce the social barriers in the workplace to better accommodate the growing Aboriginal working classes. Reducing the social barriers also means being inclusive of Aboriginal cultural values and ideas and providing a place for Aboriginal leadership.

CUPE also believes that unions need to prepare for an influx of Aboriginal workers in the workplace and examine union structures for barriers to participation.
Cultural barriers consistently uphold status quo hiring policies, they reinforce stereotypical workplace norms, and they degrade labour-power value. The role of organized labour must be that of a leader and not a laggard in confronting workplace bigotry. The various unions must actively remove internal barriers and create space for Aboriginal workers. Confronting bigoted attitudes is a necessary component in achieving a ‘representative workforce.’ Organized labour can play a positive role in restructuring workplace politics by assisting in recruiting Aboriginal workers and growing their skillsets; but they can also play a detrimental role if they are hesitant in expanding beyond their traditional bases. [2]

Through a signed Partnership Agreement with the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) and First Nations and Métis Relations (provincial government) in 2000, CUPE agreed to work toward building a representative workforce. Many other unions in the province then signed Partnership Agreements.
The overall strategy of the representative workforce approach was to hire Aboriginal Peoples in all classifications and at all levels in proportion to their representation in the working age population within the community or the provincial population. The representative workforce strategy strives to build a workforce where Aboriginal people compete for jobs based on their skills and qualifications, and to increase their participation in all areas of the workplace. Creating an equal playing field and removing barriers to Aboriginal employment were crucial to recruiting and retaining qualified Aboriginal talent.
Efforts at better coordinating policies for First Peoples were neither unique to the health sector nor to Canada. Numerous Saskatchewan health regions undertook efforts since the late 1990’s to improve coordination in policy-making through signed partnerships between only the employer and the government and then further with non-governmental organizations. These partnerships were realizing minimum effects until the unions became involved. When CUPE was first approached, CUPE’s consideration included many important factors. A few of the major factors included ensuring its membership were onboard in designing a program focussed solely on Aboriginal participation in the workforce and seeking a way to attain a respectful workforce.

Before creating an Aboriginal employment strategy for the union, it was important to understand the diverse backgrounds of First Peoples. The more informed about the communities CUPE decisions may impact, the better decisions CUPE could make. Through discussions with CUPE First Peoples, CUPE realized a First Peoples policy must consider a holistic approach to achieving success. A holistic approach requires involving First Peoples in the process of developing an Aboriginal policy or strategy for the union.

In September of 2000, CUPE held Tripartite meetings with Saskatchewan Association of Hospital Organizations (SAHO) and the First Nations and Métis Relations (provincial government) which resulted in the parties mutually agreeing in principle that initiatives were needed to modify the collective agreement, to design language to encourage potential Aboriginal workers to participate in and be integrated into the health sector labour force in proportion to their labour force numbers.

CUPE Health Care Executive supported the initiative through signing the partnership and meeting to strategize how to accomplish the effort. The health care CUPE membership was then asked to support these efforts. A central part of the mandate is improving the knowledge and understanding of First Peoples. The membership did in resounding fashion when they ratified a collective agreement containing language to improve the employment statistics for First Peoples. (see appendix A)

Specific to the health sector, the parties had undertaken a holistic five-pronged approach which included a needs assessment, developing collective agreement language, preparing the workplace, creating an outside supportive education system and managing new hires and current members with succession planning. This five-pronged approach wasn’t necessarily accomplished as separate goals as many components were being worked on as a whole.
The first phase was a needs assessment for the health sector, a snapshot of the workplace, upcoming needs such as vacancies, retirements and hard to fill positions. Through the work of SAHO and CUPE this was accomplished over many meetings.

The second component was developing language and ratifying the language into the collective agreement. All parties to the partnership, including the provincial government, met and developed language that needed to be ratified by the membership of CUPE and SAHO.

The third prong, preparing the workplace, focussed on awareness training needed to ensure a representative workforce was accepted in the workplace. CUPE and SAHO developed an Aboriginal awareness course to address recruitment and retention problems of Aboriginal workers in health care. The course tackled the miscommunication, misunderstandings, and frustrations that occur between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers in the workplace, because of the aboriginal myths prevalent in Saskatchewan society. These obstacles can be overcome by making all parties realizing the myths are not real and ensuring participants become culturally sensitive.

CUPE/SAHO’s Aboriginal Cultural Awareness course is designed to provide non-Aboriginal participants with a greater understanding of the issues and challenges facing Aboriginal people in Canada. The Aboriginal Cultural Awareness course was mandatory for the CUPE membership. The mandatory attendance was voted on by the CUPE membership who agreed that all members must take the course. The program covers the groups that make up Canada’s Aboriginal population, examines history from a First Peoples perspective and explores the ways in which historical injustices have impacted Aboriginal culture.

The fourth piece was creating a supportive external educational environment for the positions which were defined by the needs assessment. Once a needs assessment is completed, and known vacancies and qualifications are identified, the First Peoples educational institutions must be informed of the needed qualifications and design their training around these needs. With regards to the fourth element of a CUPE driven representative workforce strategy a network needed to be involved where all partners could meet to discuss upcoming needs and qualifications and ensuring the educational institutions were ready to train their members. The provincial government introduced CUPE to the Provincial Aboriginal Representative Workforce Council (PARWC) in February 2000 with a mandate to develop strategies for delivering training linked to partnership employer job opportunities. At this table, many of the organizations involved with government on partnerships also came together to discuss best ideas. On February 5, 2003, CUPE was honoured at the Provincial Aboriginal Representative Workforce Council’s (PAWC) Recognition Banquet for CUPE’s commitment to the partnership.

Through involvement with PARWC, it was established that networking is the most effective method to recruit First Peoples. Much of the Aboriginal population, whether living in urban, rural, or remote locations, stays connected through what the mainstream businessperson might refer to as networking. From a mainstream perspective, networking often focuses on a specific goal, such as finding an employee for a job. From an Aboriginal perspective, networking is about developing relationships. The key here is that establishing relationships takes time. Rather than rushing into a new relationship, Aboriginal people take the time to get to know the other person. They spend some time together until eventually a trust relationship is established. In the context of recruiting, an organization will know that a trust relationship is established when the Aboriginal community extends invitations to community events or meetings. [8]
The fifth element, managing the workforce with succession planning, is built around the notion of “career laddering.” CUPE and SAHO devised a career pathing process throughout the health sector in Saskatchewan in support of building a representative workforce in the sector and continue awareness training for newly hired and existing CUPE members.

In recognition of the importance of the partnership strategy, on December 19, 2002, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released “Social dialogue in health services” which focussed on this Saskatchewan model. [9]
From 1992 to 2010 the Saskatchewan government’s message was to meet provincial labour market needs through workplace preparation. By building linkages to the First Nations and Métis workforce, the program aimed to ensure representation at all occupational levels. This participation at the time was considered by the government as an integral component to Saskatchewan’s future success with indigenous statistics. The problems unions have seen with the strategy before we signed on was that it focussed only on one designated group, it did not include unions and seemed to be providing lip service. By assessing the program from the sidelines since health care providers began to sign the partnership, the program seemed to be going nowhere fast. At this time CUPE realized the program had potential.

The government was instrumental to the partnership between SAHO and CUPE. This is reflected when you review the numbers of partnerships the government were part of. As of March 31, 2009, there were 98 total partnerships, 4,465 Aboriginal hires, 36,676 employees received awareness training and 1,996 received work-based skills training. PARWC linked the Aboriginal community to the demand side by providing information of First Nation and Metis communities on skill requirements for employer demand. Aboriginal communities are then responsible to prepare themselves through formal learning and education. They are responsible to encourage youth to achieve the maximum knowledge and skills to participate in the identified employment and economic opportunities. All training institutes are responsible for the results of education and training provided to youth by ensuring they are receiving the education and achieving the standards that will make them competitive.

On March 24, 2010, the Saskatchewan Party government notified CUPE and other unions that they were closing the Aboriginal Employment Development Unit (AEDP) and would no longer support Aboriginal employment directly. The AEDP agreements were cut in the 2010/11 budget. At that time CUPE lost its Saskatchewan Aboriginal coordinator and trainer in which the government had partially funded.
Without government funding, CUPE and SAHO continued with a committee structure that provided for the ongoing management of components of the partnership agreement in health care. Both sides were committed to achieving a representative workforce. CUPE and SAHO agreed to utilize EI rebate money for funding the Provincial Employment Strategy Committee (PESC). The rebate gets deposited into the PESC account in the amount of approximately $1,186,499.08 per year.

In 2015-2016 alone, 1,220 applications have gone through the program for education funding and have been approved for funding by the Provincial Employment Strategy Committee (PESC). The approvals have totaled over $1.4 million this year in education funding to help CUPE employees and CUPE health regions.

PESC has currently recruited and continues to train new Aboriginal Awareness Training (AAT) Facilitators. Updated material is now being used in the AAT program, this program which was initiated for CUPE members, now provides education to all employees within the CUPE health regions.
PESC strives to continue to provide funding opportunities to those CUPE employees and CUPE health regions that require assistance to expand or upgrade their education.

The Committee has completed the process of updating the Aboriginal Awareness Training. Currently, the committee continues to provide a four (4) hour Aboriginal educational to CUPE members and managers. The education assists in the preparation of the work place, in dispelling myths and dealing with misconceptions regarding Aboriginal people. SAHO continues to employ a Representative Workforce Coordinator in each region.
The mandate remains to train all CUPE employees and managers. Funding for this training is supported by Saskatchewan Health and the PESC. Saskatchewan Health provides funding for three (3) hours and the PESC provides funding for one (1) hour of the Aboriginal Awareness Training. [10]

Meeting Saskatchewan’s Labour Needs
A labour force report prepared for the government of Saskatchewan indicates that 171,500 Saskatchewan workers will be retiring in the next two decades. Because there are not enough workers coming behind the retiring baby boomers, Saskatchewan’s labour force will need an additional 120,000 workers by the year 2020. [5]

The key factor in the projections is that there must be a higher participation rate of Aboriginal Peoples in the labour force. In other words, the percentage of working age Aboriginal people in the labour force must increase. [4] The cost of underutilizing an Aboriginal workforce is being borne by everyone. There will be an enormous savings if we can take every opportunity to ensure that Aboriginal Peoples have access to jobs and economic activity. One study produced in Ontario estimates that health care, crime and social assistance costs $2,900 per household. [6]

Closing Saskatchewan’s education gap is also fundamental to reducing Aboriginal unemployment, and could provide a $90 billion economic boost during the lifespans of everyone in the province, according to a University of Saskatchewan economist Eric Howe. “That’s 20 per cent more, for example, than the total value of all potash that’s ever been produced in Saskatchewan, (just by ensuring) Aboriginal people are employed at the same rate as non-Aboriginal people,” First Nations and Metis people living in Saskatchewan have historically had much higher unemployment rates and much lower labour market participation rates than non-Aboriginal people. The three-month moving average Aboriginal unemployment rate climbed to 16.4 per cent last month, 9.8 percentage points higher than the overall average rate of 6.6 per cent, per Statistics Canada. That means there was an average of 8,600 aboriginal people — 5,200 First Nations and 3,400 Metis – looking for work but unable to find it.” [7]

On January 10, 2015 Premier Wall pointed to a number of initiatives his government has launched in connection with education and employment and Aboriginal Peoples. “We have a labour shortage and the very first place we should look for new workers is not the temporary foreign worker program, it’s not even the immigrant nominee program, it’s Saskatchewan people,” Wall said. “If you have under-employment amongst a large population of Saskatchewan people, as we still do with First Nations or Aboriginals, then we need to make that a priority.” [3] Let’s HOLD HIM TO THIS!


The language was ratified as per the following in the Collective Agreement:

23.05 Representative Workforce
a) Preamble: The parties will address proactive processes that support a representational workforce which shall include but not be limited to identifying employment opportunities, education and training and preparing workplaces.
b) Workforce Representation: The parties agree to the principle of a representative workforce for Aboriginal workers. The parties agree to charge the Employment Strategy Committee with the responsibility to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate pro-active initiatives designed to ensure Aboriginal people are present in all occupations in their proportion to the provincial working population. Therefore, when hiring new employees, the Aboriginal representative principle shall be applied, providing there are qualified Aboriginal applicants for the vacancy.

c) Workplace Preparation – The parties agree to implement educational opportunities for all employees to deal with misconceptions and dispel myths about Aboriginal people. This will include enhanced orientation sessions for new employees to ensure a better understanding of respectful work practices to achieve a harassment free environment.

d) In-Service Training – The parties agree to facilitate educational opportunities which may include literacy training and career path counseling/planning.

e) Elders – At the request of the employee, an Elder will be present when dealing with issues affecting Aboriginal employees.

f) Accommodation of Spiritual or Cultural Observances – The parties agree to make every reasonable effort to accommodate an Employee to attend or participate in spiritual or cultural observances required by faith or culture.



1. Cheryl Stadnichuk. (April 2011). Creating a Representative Workforce.
2. John Bird Regina. (July 2013). Aboriginal Dispossession and Proletarianization in Canadian Industrial Capitalism: Creating the Right Profile for the Labour Market (128-129)
3. Aboriginal education, employment high priorities, Sask. politicians say, January 10, 2015, by Stefani Langenegger from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/aboriginal-education-employment-high-priorities-sask-politicians-say-1.2895772
4. Cheryl Stadnichuk. (April 2011). Creating a Representative Workforce.
5. SaskTrends Monitor, December 2010
6. Everyone pays the province’s $38 billion cost, November 20, 2008, by Laurie Monsebraaten from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2008/11/20/everyone_pays_the_provinces_38_billion_cost.html
7. Reducing aboriginal unemployment could bring $90 billion in economic benefits to Saskatchewan, June 15, 2015, by Alex MacPherson from http://thestarphoenix.com/business/local-business/reducing-aboriginal-unemployment-could-bring-90-billion-in-economic-benefits-to-saskatchewan
8. Aboriginal Recruitment Guide, Environment Careers Organization, 2015
9. Case study of social dialogue, December 19, 2002, Jane Lethbridge, Senior Research Fellow, Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU), Park Row, Greenwich, London from http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/sector/papers/health/wp189.pdf
10. Provincial Employment Strategy Committee Annual Report 2015-2016, Laurie Appel, Office Coordinator


Shawn O’Dell on transforming provincial-Indigenous relations

I would like to see a provincial government that doesn’t avoid improving the quality of life of Indigenous People and working towards reconciliation in Saskatchewan because of jurisdiction issues with the Federal Government.

We’re all treaty people, and we need a province that acts like it.

Saskatchewan can be a partner by following the lead of Indigenous People in getting beyond the Indian Act, and be an active participant in pursuing strong, vibrant, united, self governing indigenous communities. With the resources and intergovernmental support that the Saskatchewan government can provide, the voices of Indigenous People in Saskatchewan could become amplified in Ottawa. Additionally, the Saskatchewan government could commit to actively filling the many gaps left by the federal government in the lives of Indigenous People in Saskatchewan, and sort out the jurisdictional issues with Canada later.

Saskatchewan can be bold in providing support and resources wherever they are needed, and regardless of whether it is Ottawa’s problem, to create solutions by Indigenous people and within Indigenous communities. Why does this province need to wait for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to get their act together before improving the life of people who live here? Why does Saskatchewan have to wait for the Supreme Court to decide who falls under the Indian Act and into which category, and not just step up to the plate and overcome this provincial complacency?

It’s not enough to simply say “Saskatchewan’s government supports all people equally”.

We can become a leader by following the very strong voices of the Indigenous People of this land.

Dr. Darlene Juschka on transformational change in SK

There are several changes I might propose in order to improve the quality of life for Saskatchewan folks:

We need to move to green energy and green economy to ensure the health of the population in light of the high rates of cancer in the province; We need to deal with the racism and colonialism in the province and develop – in light of Truth and Reconciliation – respectful relations with Indigenous peoples; And finally, we need to bring together northern and southern SK and provide the same kind of services and opportunities available in the south to folks in the north.

Transforming Prisons and Justice by Colonialism No More and Voices for Justice and Police Accountability



Over the last decade, overcrowding has become a major issue in the Saskatchewan prison system.

Prison Boom

  • The Saskatchewan prison population has grown by 51% since 2006.
  • The current prisoner population is 1,792.
  • Thus cells that were built for one prisoner are being double-bunked; and recreational, educational, and religious spaces have been converted into sleeping areas.
  • 39% of Saskatchewan prisoners are on remand; that is they are in prison for offences they have not yet been convicted of.
  • Many of those on remand are there because of administration of justice offences, sometimes called “breach offences”: violations of often petty, complicated, hard-to-keep court-imposed rules regarding minor problems such as the breaching of probation or bail conditions.
  • In 2015, Saskatchewan police laid administration of justice charges at four times the national average.

The Implications

  • Remand contravenes the principle of innocent before being proven guilty.
  • Studies show that there is a link between crowding inside prisons and violence.
  • According to the provincial auditor, Judy Ferguson, “Saskatchewan’s short-term measures to provide additional housing for inmates, such as its use of double-bunking and converting rehabilitation program and visitor space into living space, is not sustainable. These measures shrink space available for rehabilitation programming. Rehabilitation is key to reducing repeat offences and reintegrating inmates into society.”
  • According to Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, crowding inside prisons “can lead to less than optimal living and working conditions, and can restrict access to vocational training and psychologists.” In Sapers’ view, “All of that just adds stress to an already stressful environment—that’s counterproductive in terms of the rehabilitative goals of the corrective system.”


The Numbers

Indigenous people are vastly overrepresented in provincial prisons in Saskatchewan. While Indigenous people make up 17% of the population of Saskatchewan, they constitute:

  • 80% of the youth in Saskatchewan prisons.
  • 80 – 90% of the men in Saskatchewan prisons.
  • Up to 90% of the women in Saskatchewan prisons.

Saskatchewan has the highest incarceration rate for Indigenous people among the provinces.

Indigenous people

  • Are also overrepresented in remand and segregation.
  • Have lower parole rates.
  • Are more likely to return to prison on revocation of parole, often for administrative reasons, not criminal violations.

Systemic Racism

The overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Saskatchewan prisons is directly linked to systemic racism against Indigenous peoples, which is itself rooted in settler colonialism. Almost everywhere in Canadian society whiteness is an advantage and Indigenous identity a disadvantage.

The Saskatchewan justice system is no exception. A 2014 study by Jim Scott, a Saskatoon defence lawyer, found that “Aboriginals in Saskatchewan have been sentenced to well over twice the amount of jail time as non-Aboriginals.”

Scott also found that Saskatchewan judges are not applying the Gladue Principle, a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that requires Canadian judges to take into account, when sentencing, the historic and on-going injustices against Indigenous people, including the residential school system, the Sixties Scoop, and an underfunded child welfare system.


Prisons are big business, especially during a prison boom. Some corporations are making a killing as the Saskatchewan prison system is increasingly privatized. Profit (not service) is their only value.


As part of its prison privatization scheme, in 2015 the Wall government privatized prison food services, contracting out meal preparation to Compass Group, a for-profit, multi-national corporation. Now meals for Saskatchewan’s prison population are prepared in Alberta and trucked in frozen. Since food privatization took effect, prisoners at Regina’s Correctional Centre have gone on a number of hunger strikes, citing concerns about food quality and quantity.


Nutritious food is an essential part of prisoner rehabilitation and brings lasting benefits to prisoners and society.

Colonial Settler Society Policies

The privatization of prison food services must be seen in its particular cultural and historical context:

  1. The demographics of Saskatchewan’s prison population is 80% – 90% Indigenous.
  2. Its relationship to other colonial settler society polices using food to weaken and control Indigenous peoples: ►John A. Macdonald’s starvation policy, implemented in 1878, to force Indigenous peoples into submission ►inadequate diets at residential schools that undermined the health of generations of Indigenous children.
  3. The call of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Premier Brad Wall’s Colonial Mindset

Brad Wall’s response to the prisoners’ concerns? “If you really don’t like the prison food, there’s one way to avoid it, and that’s don’t go to prison.” Wall would be well-advised to read the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Adequate food of reasonable quality is a Charter right, under section 12, banning cruel and unusual punishment.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of him[her]self and of his[her] family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of … lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his [her]control.



In 2014, a contract was signed with Telmate, which turned prisoner-family phone contact into a for-profit enterprise. A long distance call now costs $1 for the initial connection and 30 cents a minute. Many prisoners cannot afford to keep in contact with family and friends. No prisoners should be cut off from family and community. It makes reintegration into society on release much more difficult and re-offense much more likely. However, the Saskatchewan government’s privatization of prison phone services must also be seen in its particular cultural and historical context:


  1. The demographics of Saskatchewan’s prison population: 80% – 90% Indigenous.
  2. The relationship between the privatization of phone services and other white colonial settler society policies aimed at disrupting Indigenous families and communities: ►the residential school system ►the 60s scoop ►the underfunding of First Nations child and family services.
  3. The call of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.



  1. Keeping someone locked up is hugely expensive.
  2. It costs $166 per day to keep a person in a provincial prison in Saskatchewan. That’s $60,590 per year, more than the total tuition and room and board for a university student.
  3. Currently there are 1,792 prisoners in Saskatchewan prisons, bringing the total annual bill to $108,577,280—money that comes out of the pockets of Saskatchewan citizens.
  4. Funding incarceration means that resources are cut from education, health care, social services, and job creation programs. If even half of the current amount spent annually on imprisoning people in Saskatchewan were to be invested in these areas, everyone in Saskatchewan would benefit enormously.
  5. Uphold the principle of innocent until proven guilty and find alternatives to remand incarceration for administration of justice offences. Also eliminate from the judicial system all petty, complicated, hard-to-keep bail and probation conditions.
  6. The vast majority of crimes committed in Saskatchewan are non-violent. High incarceration rates are bad for the economy. Incarceration doesn’t do most prisoners any good either. Indeed, it often does them terrible damage. There should be alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offences.
  7. Prisons destroy families. Parents are separated from their children. Even mothers and their infants are parted. In Saskatchewan, where the majority of prisoners are Indigenous, imprisonment is, in its impact on families, a continuation of the residential school system.
  8. Very little is done in Saskatchewan prisons to ensure prisoners can return to society. There is not much in the way of rehabilitation services. Education programs and skill training are at a minimum. Thus recidivism rates are very high.
  9. The number of prisoners with mental health problems continues to increase, yet the level of mental health services has remained the same or diminished.
  10. Some prisoners have substance use or addiction problems. There are very few drug rehabilitation programs in Saskatchewan prisons.
  11. There is little treatment for prisoners suffering from FASD.
  12. Incarceration does not address or solve the problems resulting from colonization, residential schools, and systemic racism.

Indigenous people are shockingly overrepresented in the Saskatchewan prison system. What steps has the Saskatchewan government taken to ensure the Gladue Principle is being applied in Saskatchewan courts? Annual reports on progress should be mandatory. It has been over a year since the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—a report that contains a number of calls to action directed at provincial justice systems:

  1. Recommendation # 30: “To commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports that monitor and valuate progress in doing so.”
  2. Recommendation # 31: “To provide sufficient and stable funding to implement and evaluate community sanctions that will provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders and respond to the underlying causes of offending.”
  3. Recommendation # 34: “To undertake reforms to the criminal justice system to better address the needs of offenders with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).”
  4. Recommendation # 38: “To commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth in custody over the next decade.”
  5. Recommendation # 42: “To commit to the recognition and implementation of Aboriginal justice systems in a manner consistent with the Treaty and Aboriginal rights of Aboriginal peoples, the Constitution Act, 1982, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, endorsed by Canada in November 2012.”


Jason Demers’ “Warehousing Prisoners in Saskatchewan: A Public Health Approach” (CCPA 2014) and Nancy Macdonald’s “Justice is not blind” (Maclean’s February 29, 2016) were particularly helpful resources in creating this submission:

Other sources include:

James T. D. Scott, “Reforming Saskatchewan’s Biased Sentencing Regime,” (2014):  http://www.spmlaw.ca/scdla/JimScott_sentencing_bias_2014.pdf

“Overcrowding hampering Canada’s prisons,” CBC, November 20, 2015.

“Overcrowding plagues jails,” Leader-Post, December 9 2016.

“Failings of failure to comply,” Leader-Post, December 24, 2016.

“Saskatchewan government’s effort to reduce remand numbers welcome,” Leader-Post, January 13, 2017.

Ronni Nordal on transforming addictions treatment

There is an alarming need for additional resources to be directed towards addiction treatment in Saskatchewan. While there is a cost associated with addictions treatment, the corresponding savings to the people of Saskatchewan through reduced use of social programs, reduced emergent and long term medical care and reduced need for policing far outweigh that cost. Further, there is substantial societal benefit.

The current fentanyl crisis is killing people at unheard of rates and may soon arrive in Saskatchewan. In order to get ahead of this crisis, Saskatchewan needs proactive steps to help addicts obtain treatment when they ask for the help.

I am writing as a mother of an adult son who has fought with addiction for years. My son has participated in counseling through the health region’s Addictions Services, has been though the Wakamow Detox Centre and has attended Calder Treatment facility on three occasions. Unfortunately, each time he has relapsed, and with each relapse the drug use has increased.

Despite the dedication and hard work of staff at these facilities, the evidence is clear: 28 to 35 day programs are not sufficient. In addition, the existing programs do not contain sufficient life skill training or personal counseling; they also do not have any type of transition back into the regular day to day stress of work and life that often trigger the addict to relapse.

Lastly the fact that Calder and Pine Lodge are the only two Sask Health funded programs in Saskatchewan means that the vast majority of addicts lose the community support they have established when they return home after treatment. When an individual completes treatment he/she is discharged with little support beyond the limited appointment time available through addiction services.

I am happy to say that my son is participating in a treatment program in New Westminster, B.C.- Last Door Recovery Centre. The Last Door treatment program is a long term treatment program during which individuals are free to come and go (within the program rules) and the addict moves through the intense program at his own pace, including transitioning back into the work force. The program builds a community between those that are facing the same challenges and involves family and friends in the recovery process. Treatment in the Last Door program is individualized to allow each addict to stay clean, one day at a time.

While we are one of the fortunate families that can afford to pay for private treatment, health care, including addictions treatment, should not depend on one’s income, but rather should depend on one’s need. All people struggling with addiction deserve treatment on demand and the ability to find recovery. Their friends, their families and society as a whole will benefit from long term abstinence based treatment and transition being available.

I have written to suggest that Saskatchewan Health increase resources to addictions treatment in Saskatchewan, including:
• More treatment facilities/beds and longer program (minimum of 60 to 90 days);
• Establish transition treatment facilities that allow individuals to transition back into the community and to work, while continuing to have professional and peer support; and
• Treatment on demand being available.

I believe strongly in the right of people dealing with addictions to have treatment available when they are able and willing to seek out help. I support the concept of “treatment on demand.” I am willing to do my part by speaking up and sharing my family’s story. It is time for Saskatchewan to quit being silent about addiction; addiction is rampant and is going to be the biggest health crisis of the decade, if it isn’t already. I urge the Government to take steps to save lives by making long term treatment and transition treatment available in Saskatchewan, so that people can recover, one day at a time.

Ryan Wright on transforming mental health care

Canada trails the pack when it comes to mental health funding in comparison to other industrially developed nations. In Saskatchewan specifically, only five percent of the provincial government’s health budget is earmarked for mental health. According to the Saskatchewan Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, this is two percent less than the Canadian average. Consequently, Saskatchewan is in last place for percentage of health budget allocated to mental health. This directly impacts health regions implementing mental health services, which, in turn, negatively affects the lives of Canadians, often in very serious ways. Specifically, those presenting to emergency room units in mental health crisis often do not get proper care or support. They may even be turned away. This can prove fatal for persons suffering with mental illness. Moreover, the wait time to see a psychiatrist in Saskatchewan is between six months to one year. The wait time to see a psychologist through the Saskatoon Health Region can be up to three months.

Mental health problems cannot be put on a wait list. A person with psychotic break, someone tortured by PTSD, or somebody experiencing debilitating depression or anxiety cannot wait months to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. Mental suffering is far worse than physical suffering, despite it being less visible. Our sense of self is based on our inner experience and the way our mind works. When these become psychotic, confused, or depressed, a person suffers enormously.

Yet, emergency room units often prioritize physical injury over mental pain. Additionally, a healthcare system lacking a separate intake for those in mental, emotional, or spiritual crisis results in special problems. Physical injury competes unfairly with mental illness and those with mental health needs become low priority or even not urgent patients.

We desperately need a transformation of the current system. There needs to be increased funding allocated to mental health within the province. In addition, a separate intake for persons in mental health crisis (including direct access to a psychiatrist) is also needed. For example, in Saskatoon, this could be done at the Dubé Centre. Creating a separate intake would also free up emergency room health care providers to focus solely on physical illness and injury. Now is the time to make emergency mental health support a priority in this province!

Dan LeBlanc on transforming justice

Police officers are given discretion in how they do their jobs. When they use their discretion wisely, everyone benefits.

Officers are given discretion as to who to charge with offences, and when to do so. Many charges are dropped once entered into the system. There is some focus on “diverting” charges from going through the entire criminal process; this practice has financial and societal benefits.

The Government’s Justice Innovation Division has suggested the idea of “pre-charge diversion”: tasking officers with exercising their discretion wisely at the front end of the system. It is among the Division’s best ideas.

Officers are tasked as guardians of public safety, as well as the public purse. When they fail to appreciate the extent of their discretion, and uncritically lay charges, they do little to increase public safety, while significantly increasing costs.

Saskatchewan could save substantial money and increase people’s “access to justice” by focusing on “pre-charge diversion”. The idea is not complex, and could be implemented immediately.

Dr. Andrew Stevens on urban renewal and infrastructure

It’s tough to figure out where we should start. First off, real “transformational change” would include an ambitious homelessness strategy that makes massive financial commitments for Housing First initiatives that are already off the ground in Regina and Saskatoon. Included in this funding arrangement would be resources adequate to provide wrap around services in addition to investments in social and affordable housing.

Second, our province needs a rigorous urban infrastructure renewal strategy, one that looks at modernizing “conventional” civic infrastructure like sewer and water systems, along with roads. To this list I would add investments in public transit operational and capital expenditures. The province desperately needs to boost investments in green infrastructure, which includes retrofitting provincial and municipal buildings through a dedicated capital fund on top of a growing municipal operating grant. To this end SaskEnergy and SaskPower should be tasked with leading this programme on a wider scale across the province, with money being spent on wind, solar, and thermal power systems. Our universities in Saskatoon and Regina, along with the Sask Polytechnics, should be enriched with funds to launch renewable energy centres of excellence. Here, we could attract skilled trades, engineers, social scientists, and policy experts to make our province a leader in green energy policy, infrastructure, design, and construction.

Third, Saskatchewan needs to boost the amount of educational and settlement supports services for newcomers, which includes foreign workers, refugees, and permanent residents. This involves investing more money in ESL programmes in the community and in our province’s public education system. Documents related to accessing public services, employment standards, labour relations, housing, health care, and occupational safety should be translated into various languages.