Advocates call for Mi'kmaw-led fatality inquiry into deaths in custody
People marched in Halifax on Tuesday to call for better treatment of Indigenous people in custody
Activists and advocates gathered in downtown Halifax Tuesday afternoon to call for an overhaul of the justice system to improve its treatment of Indigenous people, and to honour the memories of Indigenous people who died in provincial custody.
The crowd marched from the Peace and Friendship Park to the Halifax Central Library holding signs that read "Real Justice Doesn't Kill People" and "Say Their Names."
Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman, a Mi'kmaw elder and grandmother from Annapolis Valley First Nation, said she'd like to see a Mi'kmaw-led fatality inquiry into the deaths of Sarah Rose Denny, 36, and Peter Paul, 27, both of whom died while in provincial custody.
"That's what we're here to speak for, that these families be heard and an inquiry be done," she said in an interview with CBC. "They are important. Their children are important."
She said that ideally, an inquiry would result in an overhaul of the justice system, not just recommendations.
"I want our voices to be heard and justice to be served," she said.
Denny died after being held in the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, N.S., where she contracted pneumonia. The Department of Justice confirmed an inmate died of natural causes in March after being transferred to the local hospital.
Paul's family has said he died by suicide in January while at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility in Sydney, N.S.
The march had a good turnout, Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman said, and she is hopeful it will help raise awareness.
Patricia Mickey, an Indigenous legal advocate with Path Legal at the Elizabeth Fry Society, said she doesn't understand why an inquiry hasn't been done yet.
"I'm here to support all of the mothers and all of our sisters and brothers who have died in custody," she said.
Mickey said Indigenous people are overrepresented and mistreated in Nova Scotia's jails. She invites senators and policymakers to visit the province's correctional facilities to see the state of the living conditions.
"I feel that they warehouse our people," she said. "Look at the living conditions in there and actually look at the health care, look at the support that they get in there. They have nothing."
She said she would like to see Indigenous support and advocacy in jails, especially when it comes to health. Inside correctional facilities, inmates are the responsibility of the government, she said.
"They can't just leave the jail and go to a walk-in clinic or go see their own doctor," she said. "It's disgusting and revolting."
She wants an inquiry to get some answers, "not just for the community, not just for the public, but for these mothers that are hurting," she said.
Mickey said she hopes the march brings peace of mind to the families affected by the deaths.
Campbell McClintock was one of many people at the march showing support.
"I hope for the word to get out there that the genocide of Indigenous people is an active and ongoing phenomenon, it's not something of the past," he said.
"It's important for us to mourn the Indigenous lives we've lost to this violence and for us to come together and demand the world to be different," he said.
The march was important for McClintock.
"We really need to hold space for grief for the lives that are lost, so that we don't just keep moving on and normalizing the death of our fellow people," he said.