Officials must understand why Inuit overrepresented in jails, Labrador leader says

JOHN’S — As the federal government announced funding Thursday to tackle the overrepresentation of Inuit people in jail, the head of Labrador’s Inuit government urged policymakers to visit his region and understand the issues for themselves.

Nunatsiavut government president Johannes Lampe said Inuit in the region are targeted by police and forced to navigate a justice system that doesn’t understand their language, history or current circumstances.

“Come and see the poverty that Inuit are living today, where at times you are so poor, you have to do what it takes to feed your family,” Lampe told reporters. “Where food insecurity is prevalent, high prices … and not having the means of obtaining a boat or a snowmobile to help you get out on the land to find that fish, the partridge, the seal.”

Lampe joined the press conference by video Thursday, as did federal Justice Minister David Lametti, who announced $1.17 million in funding over several years to help address the overrepresentation of Inuit from the Nunatsiavut region in the justice system.

The Nunatsiavut region comprises five fly-in communities along Labrador’s northern coast. Part of the money will fund a cultural awareness educator who will help criminal justice officials better understand why a disproportionate number of Inuit end up in correctional facilities, Lametti said. It will also support the Nunatsiavut government’s community-based justice services.

Lametti did not have statistics specific to Inuit in corrections, but numbers last April from the Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Department showed Inuit women are overrepresented at the province’s only women’s jail.

Though Inuit women represent less than one per cent of the province’s population, they accounted for nine per cent of inmates at the Correctional Centre For Women in central Newfoundland between April 1, 2011, and April 1, 2021.

Lampe said the numbers are too high.

“Labrador Inuit hold solutions that can better help Labrador Inuit,” he said, adding: “If our communities are going to make life better for its residents, Labrador Inuit have to be given that self-determination, that ownership … to run their affairs themselves.”

Lametti said the funding is aimed at enabling the Nunatsiavut government to take the lead.

“It’s what they’re asking and it’s what we haven’t done in 150-plus years of colonialism in Canada,” he said. “We have tended to opt for top-down solutions drafted in the national capital or other provincial capitals, and that hasn’t worked.”

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