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Prairies sentenced most Indigenous people last year

Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba accounted for 2 out of every 3 Indigenous people admitted into custody last year.

Statistics Canada recently released data on incarcerated populations up to 2020–2021, and I thought I’d see what things looked like here in Alberta.

In 2020–2021, Alberta had 21,843 adults who were admitted into custody, whether serving a prison sentence (including intermittent sentences), under remand, or experiencing other custodial arrangements.

That’s a 30.36% decrease from the 31,366 admissions the province saw the year before. And while that seems good, keep in mind that every province saw a significant decrease in their custodial admissions.

2019–20202020–2021Change% change
MB27,96212,073-15,889-56.82%
BC20,63411,051-9,583-46.44%
QC39,81722,182-17,635-44.29%
ON79,94454,087-25,857-32.34%
AB31,36621,843-9,523-30.36%
NB5,2323,724-1,508-28.82%
NS4,3313,326-1,005-23.20%
NL1,6731,390-283-16.92%
SK12,77910,726-2,053-16.07%
PEI786661-125-15.90%

These declines were driven primarily by the pandemic, although admissions numbers had been slowly declining prior to 2020–2021.

Alberta ended up in the middle of the pack, as far as how much their admission numbers had dropped over the previous year. Their 30.36% drop landed them in the top 5, but just barely.

That being said, they still had the 3rd highest number of admissions—despite having the 4th largest provincial population. Alberta’s 21,843 admissions was behind only Ontario’s 54,087 and Québec’s 22,182.

When we look at the number of admissions of people identified as Indigenous, Alberta’s numbers improve slightly.

2019–20202020–2021Change% change
MB21,2649,302-11,962-56.25%
QC2,6131,497-1,116-42.71%
BC6,6073,930-2,677-40.52%
AB12,6679,223-3,444-27.19%
NB525394-131-24.95%
NS485369-116-23.92%
NL412321-91-22.09%
ON11,1599,020-2,139-19.17%
SK9,6128,291-1,321-13.74%
PEI2724-3-11.11%

Alberta goes from 5th largest decline in general admissions to 4th highest in Indigenous admissions, with Manitoba once again being in 1st place

However, that’s only if we look at the numbers of Indigenous admissions compared to the previous year.

For example, if we compare the general admissions decline with the Indigenous admissions decline, we find that Alberta drops to 6th place.

GeneralIndigenousDifference
NL-16.92%-22.09%5.17%
NS-23.20%-23.92%0.71%
MB-56.82%-56.25%-0.57%
QC-44.29%-42.71%-1.58%
SK-16.07%-13.74%-2.32%
AB-30.36%-27.19%-3.17%
NB-28.82%-24.95%-3.87%
PEI-15.90%-11.11%-4.79%
BC-46.44%-40.52%-5.93%
ON-32.34%-19.17%-13.18%

Newfoundland and Labrador joined Nova Scotia as the only 2 provinces that saw a reduction in Indigenous admissions that was higher than the admissions of the general population.

Manitoba’s gap was tiny—56.25% compared to 56.82%—so there probably in’t much there statistically speaking.

All the others saw significantly larger decreases for the general population than the Indigenous population. Ontario’s gap was the largest, with the drop in the Indigenous admission rate being over 13 points lower than the drop in general admissions.

The 3 Prairie provinces admitted Indigenous people into custody at higher rates than the other provinces last year.

GeneralIndigenous% Indigenous
SK10,7268,29177.30%
MB12,0739,30277.05%
AB21,8439,22342.22%
BC11,0513,93035.56%
NL1,39032123.09%
ON54,0879,02016.68%
NS3,32636911.09%
NB3,72439410.58%
QC22,1821,4976.75%
PEI661243.63%

7 of the 10 provinces saw Indigenous people making up a larger proportion of custodial admissions last year that at any other point in the last 5 years.

2016–20172017–20182018–20192019–20202020–2021
NL25.32%20.97%20.95%24.63%23.09%
PEI3.13%4.71%3.77%3.44%3.63%
NS9.58%8.79%9.52%11.20%11.09%
NB9.92%10.07%8.87%10.03%10.58%
QC5.23%5.09%5.87%6.56%6.75%
ON12.19%12.22%12.43%13.96%16.68%
MB73.71%74.79%74.79%76.05%77.05%
SK73.68%74.43%74.77%75.22%77.30%
AB40.96%41.75%42.07%40.38%42.22%
BC31.80%32.41%32.50%32.02%35.56%

Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and PEI were the only provinces to not hit a 5-year high in Indigenous incarcerations this past year.

When looking at absolute numbers, Alberta admitted the second highest number of Indigenous people into custody last year, coming second to only Manitoba.

MB9,302
AB9,223
ON9,020
SK8,291
BC3,930
QC1,497
NB394
NS369
NL321
PEI24

1 in 5 Indigenous people admitted into custody in Canada were admitted into Alberta institutions and programmes (21.77%). That was similar to numbers for Manitoba (21.95%) and Ontario (21.29%).

Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba combined accounted for 63.3% of all Indigenous people admitted into custody last year.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

2 replies on “Prairies sentenced most Indigenous people last year”

The thinking in Alberta has always been that if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. politicians and voters alike. every single public examination of this, like the Cawsey Report in Alberta, showed that indigenous people are criminalized when others would not be – whether they did the crime or not. Indigenous people have been Canada’s Untouchables for generations. they do the time whether or not they’ve done the crime. they are assumed to be guilty and lazy. the opposite is the truth. indigenous people have survived conditions that would horrify the rest of us. When will western Canada catch on to the idea of human rights?

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