OTTAWA — Federal public safety minister Ralph Goodale announced Wednesday the federal government will review the decision to transfer Terri-Lynne McClintic, who pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford in 2010, to an Aboriginal healing lodge for women offenders.
“I have earlier today asked the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada to undertake a complete review of the facts of this case to ensure that the law and all of the longstanding policies of the Correctional Service of Canada have been properly applied,” Goodale said, adding that he cannot reverse the decision.
Since being reported by the London Free Press earlier this week , the news has sparked outrage. Rodney Stafford, Tori’s father, told CBC News it amounted to a “free pass” for his daughter’s killer.
It’s not the first time a victim’s family has raised concerns about an inmate being sent to a healing lodge. Here’s what you need to know about why the lodges exist and how effective they are.
Healing lodges are intended to address the high rate of Indigenous incarceration in Canada
In 1992, Canada passed new legislation to allow Aboriginal communities to provide correctional services, part of an attempt to improve the over-representation of Indigenous people in Canada’s correctional system. In 2017, more than 25 per cent of men and 36 per cent of women behind bars were Indigenous. About five per cent of Canadians are Indigenous.
Okimaw Ohci, the Saskatchewan healing lodge where McClintic has been transferred, was the first such healing lodge to open, in 1995. It has 30 beds for minimum and medium security women offenders and, according to the Correctional Service Canada (CSC) website , offers programs that “address vocational training, family and children, Aboriginal language, and nature. The women learn how to live independently by cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, and doing outdoor maintenance chores.”
Today, there are nine such healing lodges across Canada — most in the three prairie provinces — with a total of 367 beds. Terri-Lynne McClintic, who took part in the murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford in 2009. However, non-Indigenous offenders can also go to the lodges
It’s unclear whether McClintic is Indigenous — but even if she isn’t, that doesn’t make her ineligible to live at a healing lodge. According to a CSC statement, non-Indigenous offenders can live at the lodges if they “choose to follow Aboriginal programming and spirituality.” The agency told the Post that it assesses an offender’s risk to public safety before deciding to move him or her to a healing lodge. “The inmate must also require a low degree of supervision and control within the institution,” the statement says. “A transfer to lower security allows the inmate to experience responsibilities to prepare for reintegration into the community.”
Some inmates have escaped from them
In 2016, the National Post reported that 18 inmates had escaped from healing lodges over the previous five years, and that Pe Sakastew, a lodge for male offenders in Alberta, had recorded 34 escapes since 1999, though many escapees were recaptured peacefully or returned on their own.
Of Canada’s nine Aboriginal healing lodges, all are minimum-security facilities except for the two lodges for women offenders, which also accept medium-security inmates. On Wednesday, Goodale said McClintic was classified as a medium-security prisoner in 2014.
It’s not clear how effective they are
Aboriginal healing lodges are a response to the disproportionate number of Indigenous people behind bars and an attempt to address concerns that “mainstream prison programs do not work for Aboriginal offenders,” according to information from CSC’s website. They use a “holistic and spiritual” approach, including “guidance and support from Elders […]
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