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Muhammad Akram Khan. Karin van Nieuwkerk. Given my lack of administrative experience outside of the academic sector and faced with the perspective of entering an unknown world, I felt anxious and unsettled. Pressure from the group citing my expertise with the police, justice and Ethnocultural minorities helped me overcome my resistance. From my personal perspective, it was time to make way for renewal by introducing new blood.
Without their assistance, personal involvement and encouragement, the Committee would still be unknown. Daniel Amini at Leclerc Institution, our man on the ground, equally at ease with volunteers and offenders, all groups combined, made a significant contribution to the operation and image of the committee as role model. Vincent-de-Paul in Laval, Quebec, in the fall of I did not personally attend this first meeting owing to illness.
Although I had been approached about chairing the committee because of my bilingualism and past involvement at CSC, I initially declined the role. I was kept abreast of deliberations from afar. However, I did agree to become a founding member of this national advisory group. A second meeting, larger this time, took place in Ottawa. Surrounded by her key collaborators, Ms. CSC then informed the Committee of the role expected of it: to operate as a national group of expertise on CSC relations with visible minority groups.
CSC was already aware of the overrepresentation of certain groups in the country's penitentiaries; however, their needs, ethnic identity, values, characteristics and traditions were not well understood. How could the programs and services provided by CSC be made accessible to offenders from Ethnocultural communities? Which initiatives would serve as a bridge to reinforce relations with their communities of origin? How would we prepare for the safe reintegration of these offenders?
CSC was not only concerned with the increasing proportion of Ethnocultural offenders in the prison population. It also questioned the nature of relationships between these offender groups, other inmates and staff.
The issue of overrepresentation also involved staff members from Ethnocultural minority groups. Staff members who are part of these groups were, consequently, underrepresented at CSC. To carry out its work, NEAC was to take inspiration from Commissioner's Directive and its terms of reference, which were under development. These turbulent debates focussed on the points that follow, in particular.
Consultations with Correctional Service of Canada are held on an ad-hoc basis, depending on needs. It is a volunteer group that does not deal with issues involving monetary compensation. CSC will make available all of the resources needed to accomplish our work travel expenses, accommodations, meals, communications, stationery, document printing, etc. Although the NEAC is a mixed group managers, staff, professionals, clerical members outside the public service, representatives of Ethnocultural groups , it works independently and autonomously.
It is also separate from other advisory committees, such as committees for Indigenous people and for citizens. Everything is addressed from the perspective of ethnicity and culture for ethnic and visible minority groups. Our mandate seemed well-defined, even though jurisdiction was not exclusive. Other groups or committees are welcome to share concerns regarding gender, religion, language, identity, symbols, traditions and values. From the outset, external members of the Committee questioned the terms and conditions of operations for the NEAC.
The mandate, objectives or intentions stated by CSC were not completely clear. Many obscure points would benefit from better definition; too much was left unsaid and not enough explanation was provided concerning CD and the draft terms of reference.
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The work of the Committee quickly pointed out the contradiction between what several members sought and what CSC proposed. The Committee realized that the intended model for visible minorities was not the one used by the Elizabeth Fry Society for women. It would not be equivalent to the advisory body for Indigenous people either.
It would not have specific budget to allow for authorized management of Ethnocultural clients. The Committee would not, at any time, be a substitute for CSC. Rather, it would serve as a source of free expertise, a mechanism for volunteer help. In terms of the day-to-day management of Ethnocultural affairs, CSC sets the pace.
This appreciable consultation mechanism, activated as needed, would be both near and far. CSC's original message was not without its difficulties. Representatives of the ethnic and visible minority communities demonstrated varying levels of distrust directed at CSC. Some participants from Nova Scotia in particular, apparently marked by their past relations with CSC, appeared defensive. We concluded that, in terms of Ethnocultural minorities, CSC perhaps did not have the means to match its ambition.
Even though CSC seemed to have good intentions, members from the visible and ethnic minority communities started asking questions. Those questions about the mandate, role and resources of NEAC were never clearly answered. They would dominate the initial debates and later work. Several members resigned because they had the impression that our deliberations were circular. These difficult beginnings weighed heavily on the evolution of NEAC. It was only beginning in , with the restructuring activities at National Headquarters and the National Advisory Committee, that we were able to make a new start, with:.
In retrospect, 11 years later, looking at the issues and challenges, and looking beyond the rumours, barriers, resistance regarding territories and acquired rights programs, services, staff-offender relations , two facts remain and dominate CSC-NEAC relations:.
Traditionally, the Commissioner issues directives. Directives cover such matters as Indigenous people, ethnic and visible minority groups, women, violence and substance abuse in the institutions. These are part of the Commissioner's prerogatives. They strive to mark out certain sectors and factors associated with crime or likely to affect its emergence, development or severity. These are not the direct causes of crime, but rather intermediary variables. When the Commissioner wishes to draw attention to or emphasize such connections, he issues an individual directive identified by a series number.
Thus, CD is known as the directive that covers issues involving ethnicity and culture at Correctional Service of Canada. CD could be considered the first action that provided the initial driving force when it was issued. I view it as a courageous and visionary gesture that was to introduce new practices associated with prison diversity. Offenders from ethnic and visible minority communities, drowning in the mass of offenders, were recognized as having an identity with specific needs and specific traditions without denying them their fundamental rights.
It was not a reflex to promote the concept of differences from as opposed to similarities with the majority.