Member Spotlight- Nicolas Crier

To start, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you think about the criminal justice system in Canada?

I am one man (currently NOT incarcerated) who fits the demographics of the most disproportionately incarcerated population in Canada: Middle aged Indigenous men, with substance use issues and a lifelong history of trauma. So, it’s never been so much about what I think of the criminal justice system, as it is about what it thinks of us. (In British Columbia, Indigenous people make up about 5.4 percent of the general population. But in B.C. prisons in 2016/17, Indigenous people accounted for 30 percent of adult inmates in male prisons.) Obviously, nothing has been done to address this issue and the numbers have steadily increased over the years, due to men being released with no real healing or educational advancement combined with no real connections having been established for them in the receiving community prior to release. Men are cut loose, (at best, to a halfway house with no real understanding of their experience) placed back into the social services system (who also don’t understand) and assigned more rules that show them that since they went to jail (who cares that they’ve “paid their debt”) they are no longer worthy of respect. Ever. That’s what I see: some of our most hurting and vulnerable Canadian citizens cut adrift, because no one cares about them. No wonder we see a revolving door effect. 

Do you think that health and justice are related concepts? If yes, please explain.

I don’t know how anyone could not see them as related, really. In fact they are so Interrelated that to speak of one IS to speak of the other. How we treat people who do wrong is not really society’s main concern, though. But what if it was? What would it do to see that this person will change, or wants to change, or even understand what they did, or why? Has anyone considered that maybe they were acting out of having been hurt by someone themselves? That it was actually the society which has imprisoned them, basically with no such thing as a fair trial, who’ve caused the deep psychological scarring and unnatural behavioural disruptions which are the most common results of multiple generations of abuse and substance use damage? Nope, we just don’t like Indians, so we lock them up. I heard my cousin joke once, right to the judges face, “ah, I’m a Cardinal, you may as well just throw away the key”.

Can you share a specific story about how health and justice have impacted your life?

I have more than a few of those. And I don’t really consider myself a criminal. I used to drink. So, one time I got arrested all drunk and was brought to the city cells and after they’d put me in the drunk tank with a bunch of other intoxicated people I thought I was a big tough guy and decided to spit in the cop’s face. They dragged me out, beat me up and literally chained me naked to a wall. And they charged me with assaulting a cop, worst charge to have on your record. They made me write an apology letter to the officer and it was around this time that I rediscovered my talent for writing. I would have given anything to see the look on the cop’s face when he read this brilliant 1000 word letter I wrote that spoke of my adoption and death of both my adoptive and biological mother and abuse and group homes and my suspicion of underlying undiagnosed issues like FASD and separation disorder. I think he was probably shocked beyond belief and had to check the footage to confirm: wait a second...THIS GUY, the spitter we chained up, wrote this? Of course, I was actually sorry, spitting really isn’t my style. But I didn’t deserve the 8 months and years of probation, I feel anyway.

Why have you decided to be part of the Cluster?

For myself, opportunity is only as good as the person who seizes the moment and follows through on it. So, I was in a play about harm reduction, and was later invited to present a slide show at a Health Conference, where I met one of the participants from the Cluster, and invited her to come to a Megaphone Speakers Bureau event, as I was now working as Coordinator for that program. She came and apparently, was impressed enough to approach me and ask about the Speakers Bureau joining the cluster as partners. Our mission: to begin developing storytelling workshops and events for justice-involved people. I’m super proud to say that we’ve already attended one of the cluster gatherings and are super excited to move forward with this project, hopefully to get inside the prisons and begin working with some of these men and women to help them craft their stories and share their truth, to help destigmatize the thinking often prevalent in correctional facilities and among the general population, as well as to help the prisoners themselves express some of that hurt and trauma that affects them. To get their emotional, psychological and spiritual truth out there, so that they can begin to heal, and help themselves become whole again, instead of just being tossed back on the street with a hole in their hearts, satisfied that we’d dealt with them on a physical plane, so they should be ok now, right?

In your opinion, what is necessary to transform health and justice?

What I believe needs to change is the lack of compassionate understanding, with regards to my people, Indigenous people, that we were very badly treated for over one hundred years in this country, by law. I mean kidnapped and raped and forced to kneel and stolen from and sent to war and ostracized from society and judged and marginalized and basically every bad thing you could do to a person, was done to us, by law.  I don’t really think that this has sunk in for the average Cananadian yet, because we’re only in the beginning stages of the Truth and Reconciliation process, so most of the population are blissfully unaware of the history of abuse and neglect forced upon our families and communities for generations here in Canada. But when they do begin to wake up, and this will be led by the upcoming generation of post-millennials, I believe they will see that the most effective way to address a social determinant like addictions or trauma or social deviance is through the application of compassionately guided connection, instead of the disconnection of punitive incarceration. Or, to put it another way, people who have never been shown love, probably don’t know how to show love. Let’s show them!

What is something you wish everybody knew about the criminal justice system and/or people engaged with it?

I wish people knew that there is, and always has been, a better way forward. That in some instances, yes, actions that cause hurt or damage require punishment and segregation for periods of time, but that what is done with that time is paramount to what becomes of that person after they’ve been set free. I hope that they would keep an open heart and sense of obligation to the unfairly incarcerated, who may have been through more pain and suffering than any amount of prison time could presume to fix and which, if not properly addressed, through allowing and encouraging the person themselves to acknowledge and express their hard truth and work through the acceptance of it, as well as the teaching of the other major Truth (that they as individuals, are in fact capable of healing and love and hope and contribution in good ways), then the same results will continue to discourage them back towards that same revolving door, because that’s what is safe and familiar, both for them and for society. 


First Nations land acknowledegement

We acknowledge that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

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