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New BC Prosecution document guides against excessive incarceration of Indigenous people

New policy changes are warning B.C. prosecutors against wrongful convictions and providing guidance on considering the impacts of colonialism when working with Indigenous people.

The BC Prosecution Service released the series of changes Friday (May 20) in the third installment of its 2019 commitment to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in prisons. Then, Indigenous people in B.C. represented 35 per cent of those in custody, despite only making up 5.9 per cent of the population.

In its new Guiding Principle document, BC Prosecution reminds prosecutors of their duty not to wrongfully convict anyone. It says while miscarriages of justice can occur regardless of age, gender or race, prosecutors “must be aware of, acknowledge, and take reasonable steps to address systematic biases, prejudices, and stereotyped assumptions.”

READ ALSO: Systemic racism in policing across B.C. demands reform says Human Rights Commissioner

The document notes that research suggests Indigenous people are more likely to be wrongfully convicted. The prosecution service stresses that prosecutors must take into account the challenges Indigenous people face in their interaction with the justice system at every step of the way.

“The history of colonialism, displacement, and residential schools in Canada has translated into lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide, and higher levels of incarceration for Indigenous persons,” the document reads.

Specific policy areas were also updated. Prosecutors now have Indigenous-specific guidance on child victims and witnesses, dangerous and long-term offenders, firearms, intimate partner violence and recognizances and peace bonds.

Each section requires prosecutors to take into account the complex historical and current realities Indigenous people face. They also ask them to consider culturally-appropriate resources and approaches.

“These policy changes represent another step on the path towards changing the status quo for the better,” Peter Juk, assistant deputy attorney general, said in a statement.

READ ALSO: B.C. prosecutors get new guidelines for dealing with Indigenous accused


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Jane Skrypnek

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