British Columbia

Federal Appeal Court overturns ruling on psychological tests for Aboriginal prisoners

"If you develop a test based on a sample set of a bunch of white people, it may not be accurate for people who were raised and brought up in completely different ways," the B.C. Civil Liberties Association's executive director argued.

Decision reverses earlier ruling that ordered feds to develop more culturally appropriate tests

The federal court of appeals has overturned a previous ruling that found one-size-fits-all pyschological tests for Aboriginal inmates were not reliable. (Shutterstock)

The Federal Court of Appeal has overturned a ruling that said Aboriginal inmates had their Charter rights violated by culturally-inappropriate psychological testing.

Jeffrey Ewert, a B.C. Aboriginal inmate, challenged the reliability of psychological tests in prison and a federal court agreed with him last year, ordering the federal Correctional Service to stop using them.

But in Thursday's ruling, Justice Eleanor R. Dawson ruled evidence at the original trial was not enough to establish those tests "generate results that are inaccurate or unreliable in a material way."

"The Federal Court erred in law by failing to require Mr. Ewert to establish his claim on a balance of probabilities," the judgement read, noting doing so is necessary to seek relief under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Civil liberties group says tests help explain overrepresentation

The tests in question were mostly to do with reoffending risks and risks for psychopathy.

But Josh Paterson, a lawyer and the executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, says they are factored into decisions about other things: what security level a prisoner will be held in, whether or not the prisoner can get day passes and whether or not they're eligible for visitation.

"There were a lot of aspects about the tests that were based on personality scores, and those sorts of scores and tests really depend on the culture in which you were brought up," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"If you develop a test based on a sample set of a bunch of white people, it may not be accurate for people who were raised and brought up in completely different ways."

Paterson maintains the tests are part of why Aboriginal inmates are vastly over-represented in the prison population and why they spend more time in prison before getting out.

He says it's the government's responsibility to prove the tests work, not for inmates to prove they don't.

With files form CBC Radio One's On The Coast


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Federal appeals court overturns ruling on culturally biased tests for Aboriginal prisoners