Dangerous offender hearing highlights disproportionate harm on Indigenous people, say advocates

·4 min read
Ryan Saulteaux from Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation is representing himself at a dangerous offender hearing that could end with him being jailed indefinitely. Advocates say Indigenous people are disproportionately harmed by this label. (CBC - image credit)
Ryan Saulteaux from Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation is representing himself at a dangerous offender hearing that could end with him being jailed indefinitely. Advocates say Indigenous people are disproportionately harmed by this label. (CBC - image credit)

A hearing in Regina that could label an Indigenous man a dangerous offender and possibly imprison him indefinitely wraps up next week.

Ryan Saulteaux, 45, from Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation, has been on remand since 2013 and will be representing himself at the hearing.

Advocates say Saulteaux's case illustrates a broader issue of how Indigenous people are disproportionately harmed by dangerous offender designations and are not given adequate support.

"All they want to do is put a dangerous offender designation on and then, just put him away where you'll never hear from the guy," said Congress of Aboriginal Peoples national vice-chief Kim Beaudin.

There were 860 offenders designated as dangerous offenders under the responsibility of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) at the end of fiscal year 2019-2020 — 36.3 per cent were Indigenous, according to CSC, which was unable to provide more recent data.

The number of Indigenous dangerous offender designations has increased 58 per cent since the 2014-2015 fiscal year, according to CSC. Non-Indigenous designations increased by 26 per cent.

Beaudin says systemic racism is deeply rooted in the justice system.

"They don't believe that they can actually assist them [Indigenous people] or help them out so they just write them off," Beaudin said. "And the easiest way to do that is just place them in jail."

What's a dangerous offender designation?

The dangerous offender designation is reserved for Canada's most violent criminals and sexual predators.

Crown attorneys can seek the designation during sentencing and must show there is a high risk that the criminal will commit violent or sexual offences in the future.

A judge decides whether to apply the label at a special type of sentencing hearing.

If applied, the judge then has to decide a penalty, which can be a set number of years in prison or an indeterminate sentence. The latter means Saulteaux can be jailed indefinitely until the parole board reviews his case and determines whether some form of conditional release is appropriate.

Dangerous offenders serving an indeterminate sentence can apply for parole after seven years, but the indeterminate sentence usually equals a life sentence.

Crimes date back to 2013

Saulteaux's hearing began in 2017 and resumed last month after several delays.

He's being sentenced for crimes dating back to 2013, including assaulting a police officer and break and enter.

Saulteaux also has a history of incidents within prison.

Videos of correctional officers beating up Saulteaux have been presented at his hearing.

Guy Quenneville/CBC
Guy Quenneville/CBC

Lack of support

Saulteaux says he's unprepared to represent himself and still hasn't been able to get many of the documents that he needs for the hearing.

"I don't know what I'm doing," Saulteaux in a phone interview with CBC from the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

"Am I capable of representing myself? No. Am I competent? Definitely not."

A judge appointed Saulteaux an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, after Saulteaux fired some publicly-funded lawyers, while others withdrew. Saskatoon criminal lawyer Thomas Hynes will give Saulteaux advice and try to help with issues of evidence and the law to try to bring balance to the proceedings.

But Hynes says people representing themselves can face numerous challenges, given that they lack education and understanding of laws and the court process and don't have the same resources as the prosecution.

Sherri Maier, a prisoner advocate who runs Beyond Prison Walls Canada, has been working with Saulteaux since 2018 and says he has a deep distrust of the criminal justice system.

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Maier and Beaudin say more should've been done to get Saulteaux a lawyer.

"It's an injustice," Maier said. "To have someone represent themselves on such a serious thing is not right."

Beaudin and Maier say Saulteaux has mental health issues and severely lacks support within the criminal justice system.

"They should have taken steps to recognize that … send him to a regional psychiatric centre in Saskatoon, for example," Beaudin said.

"They didn't do any of that."

'A man who has lost faith in the system'

Beaudin will address the court next week to advocate for Saulteaux, but also to "articulate what the system and the courts and corrections is doing to Indigenous people, in Saskatchewan as well as in Canada."

"I really want to let the court know that this is not right. This is not what's working."

Maier emphasized the importance of early programming for inmates, including those on remand.

She says Saulteaux did not receive any programming until he got to the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in 2019.

"I've seen a difference in him. If he would've been given something like that a long time ago, in the very beginning stages, perhaps things would've been different," she said.

"This is a man who has lost faith in the system and he's had it rough."

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