As a result of systemic discrimination and ongoing inequity, many Indigenous peoples have lost confidence in the justice system. Ontario is committed to addressing issues facing Indigenous people in all aspects of the justice system – as victims, as accused persons and as communities. As part of this commitment, Ontario has established an Indigenous Justice Advisory Group to provide advice on justice issues impacting Indigenous peoples directly to the Attorney General, created a separate division within the Ministry of the Attorney General dedicated to Indigenous justice issues, and established an Elders’ Council to guide the work of the Indigenous Justice Division.
Creating a culturally relevant and responsive justice system
Ontario is investing in services to close gaps for Indigenous persons involved with the criminal justice system through the provision of culturally appropriate services. As part of the government’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report, Ontario committed to an investment of $45 million over three years to create a culturally relevant and responsive justice system. Ontario is also supporting Indigenous communities to revitalize Indigenous legal systems, legal principles, autonomy and cultures.
- The Ministry of the Attorney General engaged with Indigenous communities to identify gaps in the delivery of victim services for Indigenous peoples. Feedback is being used to inform the design and delivery of Indigenous-specific victims’ services, developed and delivered by Indigenous communities and organizations for Indigenous peoples.
- 24 Indigenous communities and organizations have received funding to support their work in revitalizing Indigenous legal systems and principles, with additional projects expected to be funded.
- In 2016, the Ministry of the Attorney General began developing Indigenous bail and remand programs, including the Bail Verification and Supervision Program to address some of the unique issues and barriers faced by Indigenous persons at the bail stage. New Bail Verification and Supervision Programs are being developed in 10 locations and Indigenous Enhancement Support Services have been developed in five locations.
Despite the accomplishments of the last decade, there remains a tremendous amount of work to do to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the justice system. That’s why creating a culturally relevant and responsive justice system is such an important part of Ontario’s commitment to reconciliation.
Juries are one of the cornerstones of the justice system in Canada and it is integral that the jury roll is representative of all members of society, including Indigenous peoples. In 2011, the Honourable Frank Iacobucci was appointed to review the systemic exclusion of First Nations people who reside on reserve from the jury rolls. Mr. Iacobucci looked at the existing process in the selection of jury rolls, held consultations with Indigenous stakeholders, and evaluated best practices from Ontario and other jurisdictions.
In February 2013, Mr. Iacobucci released the First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries report (Iacobucci Report), an independent review that highlighted systemic injustice and the underrepresentation of First Nations people on the Ontario jury roll. Mr. Iacobucci’s report includes 17 recommendations across a range of issues intended to help Ontario increase the representativeness of Indigenous individuals on the jury roll and strengthen the province’s justice system overall.
In response, the Attorney General announced the establishment of the Debwewin Jury Review Implementation Committee and the Indigenous Justice Advisory Group. The Debwewin Committee submitted advice to the Deputy Attorney General at various times throughout its three-year mandate with the last piece of advice being submitted in early 2018. The committee’s final report is expected to be released in spring or summer 2018.
Recommendation five of the Iacobucci Report was to appoint the first-ever Assistant Deputy Attorney General (ADAG) of Indigenous justice. In March 2014, the Debwewin Committee submitted advice to the Deputy Attorney General on this recommendation and, in December 2014, Kimberly R. Murray was appointed as ADAG of the Indigenous Justice Division.
In accordance with Recommendation two of the Iacobucci Report, the Indigenous Justice Advisory Group was established as an advisory body to provide advice to the Attorney General on matters affecting Indigenous people and the justice system. The group has met six times to date, including two meetings with the Attorney General in September 2017 and January 2018, respectively. Among the group’s identified priorities are bail reform, improved services for Indigenous language speakers involved in the justice system, and the establishment of mandatory Indigenous cultural competency training for justice sector workers.