Welcome to the Women and Justice issue of Understorey Magazine. Here are a few numbers to ponder:
- In the past ten years, the rate of federal incarceration for women rose by 50% while the rate for men rose by less than 10%.
- In the same period, the rate of incarceration for Aboriginal and Black men and women rose by 50% and 69% respectively.
- Almost a quarter of federal inmates and 35% of incarcerated women are of Aboriginal ancestry—yet Aboriginal people comprise less than 5% of the Canadian population.
- The vast majority of federally sentenced women report being sexually and/or physically abused at some point in their life. Compared to male offenders, women are twice as likely to have a serious mental health diagnosis.
- Aboriginal and Black inmates and female inmates with mental health issues are more likely than others to be placed in segregation.
These claims come from the latest report of Canada’s Correctional Investigator, a federal government office legislated to impartially assess our criminal justice system. The numbers are shocking and difficult to dismiss, no matter your political persuasion or appetite for social change. There is clearly something very wrong. Yes, right here in Canada.
Shouldn’t we be doubting that so much progress has been made/ When so many women aren’t waving but drowning —El Jones
But reports and statistics and headlines tell only a partial story. Behind the Correctional Investigator’s numbers, behind the federal inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, behind the “I believe survivors” and Black Lives Matter slogans—are voices.
Sometimes, these voices are loud and gain attention. More often, and in contrast to a legislated mandate to speak out, they are muffled, unheard or actively silenced. Yet these voices, these disparate stories of everyday experience, are necessary to understand the whole. More than that, they are necessary for us to feel—and therefore to act.
For every time I’ve been encouraged to tell my story, I have been told three times to move on, forget it happened.
In this eighth issue of Understorey Magazine, our first produced in partnership with the Alexa McDonough Institute, we present some of these voices—stories of women and justice told through essay, poetry, fiction and visual art.
She was not a person/ Under the law
One set of poems looks at environmental justice, at how we treat our natural world and how those decisions affect cultures and communities.
Separately and as a whole, the literary and visual art presented here shows that criminal, social and environmental justice are linked. The course of a life is shaped by personal choices, sure, but also by our choices as a society, by what we choose to value, who we choose to hear, and how we choose to see.
The arresting officer wouldn’t even touch me to put on cuffs.
It is this willingness to really see the lives of others that Rebecca Thomas so poignantly describes in her poem “Etuaptmumk.” In doing so, we can become more aware of our own lives—past, present and future—and create a space for something bigger, something new.
Open your other set of eyes/ Recognize the pain you have caused/ Take a pause and start breathing./ Welcome to the world of Two Eyed Seeing.
For many reasons, this issue of Understorey Magazine has been the most challenging to produce thus far. But I believe it is one of our best. Please read, consider, comment and share. If you feel so compelled, please donate to help Understorey continue publishing stories by and about Canadian women.
A special thank you to the Quakers Fostering Justice Committee for funding part of this issue, to Carole Langille for her encouragement and support throughout the long process of creating the Women and Justice issue, and to Emily Bowers for her assistance in vetting and editing submissions.