USJE leaders meet with Indigenous members in Kingston to discuss systemic barriers in the Correctional Service

On March 16, National President David Neufeld and Regional Vice-President Bill Bailey met with some USJE members of PSAC’s Indigenous Circle in Kingston. They discussed some of the challenges they experience as Indigenous staff working within federal Corrections, and serving Indigenous offenders.  

The meeting was convened so that USJE’s senior leaders could better understand some of the systemic barriers that persist for Indigenous employees in particular, which ultimately limits the number of Indigenous staff that CSC is able to successfully recruit and retain.  

It is clear from many on the front lines of CSC that the recruitment of Indigenous staff needs to take into better account the lived experience and discrimination many Indigenous peoples have encountered for centuries. The requirement of an undergraduate degree, the lack of ongoing relationships with many reserves and First Nations bands, and Indigenous hiring boards that have no or few Indigenous peoples on it all have a cumulative negative impact on the ability of the Correctional Service to successfully recruit Indigenous staff.  

CSC and the public service in general appears to be satisfied with the proportion of Indigenous employees within Corrections as compared to their respective labour market availability. But the harsh reality is that the federal offender population is disproportionately Indigenous, and consequently, more robust efforts need to be made to recruit Indigenous staff to successfully support the rehabilitation and reintegration of Indigenous federal offenders. 

Everyone in the room agreed that Indigenous offenders often have more complex social histories given the ongoing legacy of multi-generational trauma from residential schools, loss of language, culture and land. Consequently, Indigenous offenders require more intensive interactions, programs, access to mental health and other healing opportunities (including sweats and connections with elders), as well as assistance with employment opportunities, housing, and addictions, among other things.  

With this in mind, Indigenous staff have reported a high level of burn out as no adjustments are made to caseloads when working with Indigenous offenders, timelines are not altered, and no overtime pay is offered, despite the fact that these employees are frequently going above and beyond on a daily basis to give these federal offenders the best chance of success. Further, when burnout happens, it is not an easy or quick process to replace an Indigenous staff person with another one, given that overall there is a shortage of available Indigenous staff in the first place. This serves to compound the situation even further, leaving those Indigenous staff who remain with more cases, and fewer resources. This situation leaves little room for Indigenous staff to seek other leadership opportunities within Corrections, as they are often denied promotions because CSC can’t afford to lose another Indigenous staff who is playing a crucial role in programs or as a Indigenous Community Development Officer. 

In response to these concerns, President Neufeld referenced the Indigenous Roundtable that USJE hosted five years ago, and that served as a catalyst for some important discussion within USJE and the Correctional Service of Canada. He noted that it was important for USJE to renew its call for structural changes within CSC that would better support the recruitment, retention and development of Indigenous staff within the organization.  

USJE agreed to pursue some crucial first steps, including writing a letter to Commissioner Kelly about the status of the hiring of an Indigenous  Deputy Commissioner, and the mandate of the person who is hired into the position. There is every expectation that this person be Indigenous and that they will have respect and credibility among Indigenous communities, and Indigenous staff within CSC. 

USJE agreed to hold a virtual roundtable with Indigenous program officers before the summer. 

We also plan to mark Truth and Reconciliation Day in September in a significant way, including inviting Commissioner Kelly and her team to sit with some Indigenous staff to hear directly from them and learn from their insights and wisdom. USJE looks forward to sharing more in the coming weeks and months, and is deeply grateful to our USJE members who took the time to provide their perspectives with President Neufeld and RVP Bailey.