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‘There’s nothing left there’: A founder of Canada’s first healing lodge says CSC dismantled vision – National




One of the visionaries behind the very first healing lodge in Canada says Correctional Service Canada completely dismantled what the lodge once was, and Sharon McIvor is now concerned about safety inside.

In 1989, McIvor, then with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, was asked to be an Indigenous voice on the task force that redesigned women’s prisons in Canada. The group published the report “Creating Choices,” which led to five new prisons for women across the country, including Okimaw Ohci, the first healing lodge, which opened in Saskatchewan in 1995.

McIvor remembers one of the first meetings at the now-shuttered Prison for Women in Kingston, Ont., the only facility for federally-incarcerated women in the country at the time.

Exclusive: White and non-Indigenous offenders made up 11 per cent of those in healing lodges last year

Inmates were holding a powwow, and McIvor watched their self-led drumming, dancing and what’s known as a grand entry.

“They start coming in and I started to cry. I realized that these women knew what they needed to try to get themselves out of what they were, but they didn’t know how to do it,” McIvor remembers.

She began working on advocacy and programming and bringing in elders for Indigenous prisoners.

McIvor worked with a small group called a planning circle to launch the country’s first healing lodge in Saskatchewan. It was important it be set up in the prairies, she said, where the majority of offenders were coming from.

WATCH: What a healing lodge is and why child murderer McClintic served time there

Once the location was selected, they moved their meetings to Maple Creek, Sask., the nearest community to Okimaw Ohci, and launched the circle that included elders, members of Correctional Service Canada, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women, people from the Nekaneet reserve and non-Indigenous people from Maple Creek.

The first priority at the new lodge, she says, was safety.

“The biggest thing that I saw was that they’re never ever safe,” McIvor said. “Because of the prison or penitentiary culture, you always had to watch your back. And you have a culture in there where you’ve got someone in charge … how you become the big dog is that you abuse everybody else, so you always have to watch your back.”

By being in charge, McIvor said, she doesn’t just mean a hierarchy among staff, but among inmates.

“That was the first principal in our healing lodge, is that what we needed was a place where they could be safe because until you’re safe and you’re not always surviving, you cannot change.”

‘I don’t understand’: Indigenous advocates question why non-Indigenous offenders in healing lodges

After that, it was about getting in touch with the Indigenous worldview.

“It’s not so much about culture, because culture, you think, ‘Okay, culture is, let’s go have a sweat lodge, or let’s go to the powwow.’ Our worldview is so much bigger than that,” McIvor said.

“So what [we] needed and what we wanted to do was to first expose them to it and secondly encourage them to understand it, and understand how incredibly important they were, and if something happened to them or if they’re not doing what they’re here to do, then everyone is missing out.”

She says the system worked in the early days, with low recidivism rates, but the lodge in its current form is unrecognizable.

McIvor left Okimaw Ohci in 2005, unhappy with major changes made by Correctional Service Canada which took over operations at the lodge. But she still speaks with elders and others currently at the site.

“They discontinued what we put in place, so it’s just a regular penitentiary right now. It’s not a healing lodge.”

Some of McIvor’s biggest concerns were over the addition of male staff and male elders — especially when the vast majority of Indigenous female offenders have a history of sexual assault and trauma.

“I left when we could not prevent a corrections officer who applied…to work at the healing lodge and used his union seniority to become a staff member,” she said.

“I couldn’t stop them. I had no influence anymore. As you know, I do a whole lot of activist work.”

McIvor, a member of the Lower Nicola Indian band and a lawyer, has a long history of activism and advocacy. In a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, she fought the government over discrimination in the Indian Act.

Her work for Indigenous women was recognized with a Governor General’s award. For the last two decades, she has taught and designed courses at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, the only public Indigenous post-secondary institution in British Columbia.

21 child murderers have been sent to Indigenous healing lodges since 2011: data

But as the CSC changed the system in 2005, she remembers her fight against the organization as “futile.”

“They get their weapons training [now],” she said. “We refused to give them weapons training because there was going to be no weapons involved.”

In the early days, the term “guard” was never used, either. Instead, the Cree words for aunty, older sister or mother stood in its place. She also laments the loss of a daycare, a space which is now, she understands, used for offices.

And while there is still no traditional barbed wire fence or cells at healing lodges, she remembers the system of coloured cloths tied in trees to mark the perimeter in the isolated setting in the woods. She remembers one inmate who would walk to the edge and stick her foot out and bring it back repeatedly, but says there were no escape attempts.

One concern that has been echoed by others in the Indigenous community — including the nearby Nekaneet First Nation — is that CSC, not a panel of elders as it had been, now controls who enters the facility.

“Taking the elders out of the equation just really, really undermines everything,” said McIvor.

WATCH: Indigenous advocates question why non-Indigenous offenders are serving in healing lodges

Global News reached out to Correctional Service Canada for a response to McIvor’s concerns that healing lodges are much different places now.

CSC spokesperson Julia Scott responded with a paragraph about how healing lodges operate today, but no direct response to any of McIvor’s concerns was offered, except to say elders “provide input” on transfers.

Documents obtained by Global News show that on average since 2011, 15 per cent of inmates at healing lodges were not Indigenous.

McIvor said whether to admit non-Indigenous women to their small healing lodge with 30 beds was a hot topic of discussion during the planning stages.

“At the end of the day we did not preclude non-First Nations women,” she said. “It’s against our worldview. Our elders said, ‘You can’t do that, we don’t do that.’”

Inmate escapes from healing lodge near Maple Creek, Sask.

But between 1995 and 2005, when she left, she says she remembers maybe one non-Indigenous woman inside.

“It just brings a new, another dynamic in,” McIvor said, saying she has concerns about the 15 per cent.

She says the facility in its current form, with all the CSC changes, is not safe — which was a huge part of the initial impetus for the separate facility.

“We didn’t have the same kind of structure as the other institutions, and so a lot of people would see it as a way of just doing soft time, right? And they don’t come in to take care of some of the issues that they are carrying, they come in to do some soft time. And when that happens, then that [old] culture comes back in, and I know the culture is back.

“In order to be safe, you need to know that you’re not going to get assaulted, you’re not going to be pressured to do things, basically you don’t have to take care of yourself as long. As long as you’re in survival mode, you’re not going to do anything,” McIvor said.

WATCH: Government policy should address access to healing lodges for convicts of serious crimes: Scheer

While they’ve existed for decades, many Canadians only learned about healing lodges since the outrage over child killer Terri-Lynne McClintic’s placement at Okimaw Ohci. She has since been transferred to a traditional prison, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has promised changes to how female inmate transfer decisions are made.

McIvor, though, says she hasn’t thought a lot about McClintic’s case, because she doesn’t know enough about her particular situation.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea, but if you’ve got a place just where you’re housing people and giving them a few cultural lessons and you’ve got your guards back occupying a sacred space we put together for our babies, and you’ve got them acting like guards as opposed to people that are responsible and are really interested in the women…. Who am I to say that this woman shouldn’t go there?”


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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow




Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise




Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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