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In Saskatchewan it seems we love to call each other names. We demonise one group of people after another and then, as one of these demonised groups finds its footing, it gets up and slams another. Truth and compassion are the abstract victims; living human beings are the real victims.

Like everywhere else in Canada during the 90s women comprised one group which was dusting itself off and WOW! did a section of this group fight back. The Saskatchewan Action Committee was headed for many years by a psychologist who got on the "Satanic cult" bandwagon and couldn't be touched because she was a woman of "colour." Anyone seeking justice from this lot, irrespective of race, gender or economic status was swiftly scorned.

When bodies of Natives started turning up on the outskirts of town, we began to see just how the government could turn the already well-cultivated racist feelings of "white" Saskatchewan into soil rich for blooming idiocy.

Years of insults against the Native population, particularly the notion, absolutely racist, that Natives were "not ready for self-government" combined with the careful grooming of some Native leaders made conditions perfect for putting out the idea of a separate Native justice system.

This is a preposterous idea, one which would have made apartheid South Africa proud. If we are going to ive together in the same communities there is no feasible way we can have separate justice systems.

But wait. Through the diligent efforts of decent persons over the years, certain ideas emerged. Sentencing circles was once such idea. The courts have said that this more humane method of dealing with criminal offenders is open to all of us. The racist cops Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson who took Darrell Night to the edge of the city were denied this option because they were patently insincere. But in the future, we can expect non-Native people to take advantage of sentencing circles and add it to the growing list of ideas First Nations people have contributed to the constitutions of North America.

It is by living together civilly and learning from each other respectfully that we will cure the bogot diseases of racism and sexism. We might even manage a more equitable distribution of the resources of this planet if we just got together!
-- Sheila Steele

Jail alternatives key to justice system overhaul: Axworthy

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Chris Axworthy wants the federal government to kick in some cash to expand programs designed to keep aboriginal offenders out of jail.

Alternative sentencing and diversion programs will be at the top of the agenda when federal and provincial justice officials get together to discuss the Saskatchewan justice system, Axworthy said Thursday, a day after he called upon his federal counterpart Anne McLellan to help restore the faith of First Nations people in police and the justice system.

"The federal government has primary responsibility for First Nations and for a major component of the justice system," Axworthy said over the phone from Pinehouse Lake in northwestern Saskatchewan.

"We can't do anything in these areas other than in partnership with the federal government and First Nations."

Axworthy met with aboriginal leaders to discuss the justice system and the RCMP investigation into the suspicious deaths of four First Nations men, two of whom were found frozen near the Queen Elizabeth power plant.

Two Saskatoon police officers were suspended after another First Nations man claimed he was dropped off by police in the area and told to walk home.

The controversy has prompted the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) and the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan (MNS) to demand Axworthy call a public inquiry into the Saskatchewan justice system.

But Axworthy still believes any public inquiry should wait until the conclusion of the RCMP investigation.

He said Wednesday's meeting was focused mainly on what the three levels of government can do immediately to improve the justice system for aboriginal people.

"Primarily, we were looking at alternatives to custody. We have done a lot. But the fact of the matter is the overwhelming percentage of the population of our jails is aboriginal. Plainly we haven't done enough."

The government has set up committees to encourage departments to work more closely together in delivering programs to at-risk youth. For example, an early intervention program has been established at Saskatoon's Nutana Collegiate. It brings social workers, counsellors and health workers into the school to work with students, many of whom are young parents.

"We know what comes together to increase the incidence of crime. But we can't address that in justice on our own. We can do a lot of preventative work. And part of the commitments regarding police services is about prevention. It's not just about charging people. It's also about working with communities to make them stronger."

More on Axworthy: While Justice Minister 1 | 2 | After Justice Minister

RCMP probe clears Pankiw

MP wants apology from Indigenous Student Council for 'groundless allegations'

An RCMP investigation has found Reform MP Jim Pankiw did not commit a hate crime by publicly comparing people promoting an aboriginal work program at the University of Saskatchewan to the Ku Klux Klan.

But Pankiw may face more backlash for his outspoken views on race-based hiring practices.

The Indigenous Student Council (ISC) at the U of S, which launched the initial complaint to the RCMP, is considering civil action or a human rights complaint against the Saskatoon-Humboldt MP.

"I'm glad that the RCMP helped me bring him to such a huge public discussion," said ISC vice-president Sarah Williamson.

"I will follow it through. I think I will take it on a civil level."

She said Pankiw's comments may not have been criminally wrong, but they did hurt many aboriginal students, including herself.

"Some of us got so upset that we were actually afraid of violence."

Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said Pankiw must be held accountable for what the FSIN sees as hate mongering. "There are human right violations. All we can do is watch and observe all of his comments from here on in," said Bellegarde.

University of Saskatchewan Students' Union president Sean Junor said he would support further action against Pankiw.

"If there were students or citizens out there that felt he was violating some unwritten or written rule in the human rights (code), I think they would be well within their means to take him up on it and I'd encourage that. I don't think the issue is over," he said.

The ISC complaint stemmed from a letter Pankiw wrote to U of S president Peter McKinnon in January.

In the letter, Pankiw called for an end to the aboriginal employment development program because he said it discriminated against non-aboriginal people.

"Proponents of this initiative could have been portrayed as modern-day Klansmen, though preferring to hide behind the subterfuge of politically correct rhetoric and doublespeak instead of a white sheet," he wrote.

The comments provoked a firestorm of public opposition culminating in a high-profile debate between Pankiw and Saskatchewan Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Jack Hillson in February at the U of S.

The ISC wondered if Pankiw had broken a section of the Criminal Code prohibiting public communication of statements that incite hatred or could lead to harm against a specific group of people.

Saskatoon RCMP Staff Sgt. Bill Sterling said the file for the investigation was "at least an inch thick" with newspaper clippings, notes from the debate, and other papers. There wasn't enough evidence to prove Pankiw was hate mongering, he said.

Sterling said the file was reviewed by the provincial Justice Department before being closed. He said the file could be reopened with substantial new information or another complaint.

Pankiw now wants repentance from the ISC, which represents 3,000 students at the U of S.

"Clearly, the Indigenous Student Council owes me an apology because their allegations were baseless and groundless," said Pankiw.

Pankiw also lashed out at the ISC, accusing it of deliberately levelling the false accusations in order to meet a "self-serving goal" of intimidating and silencing anyone who challenges race-based hiring quotas.

Williamson said there would be no apology and defended the ISC's filing of a complaint.