First Nations representation at heart of justice report
Frank Iacobucci’s report has 17 recommendations to make the justice system more equitable for First Nations.
The issue of First Nations representation on juries in Ontario transcends the discrete issue of juries and lies at the heart of the proper administration of justice.
That was the message delivered by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci during his Feb. 26 presentation of the First Nations Representations on Ontario Juries report.
“Very early in this engagement period, I quickly came to appreciate that the central problem was not simply the question of identifying the most appropriate list from which to obtain names of First Nations people living on reserves for the purpose of assembling a jury roll,” Iacobucci said. “The matter is much more complex. To properly address the issue of First Nations people on jury rolls, we cannot overlook the impact that the justice system has had on First Nations throughout history and in contemporary times, which together has created profoundly negative perceptions and experiences and barriers for First Nations participation.”
Iacobucci said it has become “abundantly clear” to him that the justice system as it relates to First Nations is currently in a crisis, particularly in northern Ontario.
“Despite the efforts of many individuals, access to justice, the administration of justice, the availability and quality of legal services, the treatment of First Nations peoples in the justice system, all are wanting in northern Ontario,” Iacobucci said. “In this context, it stands to reason that if the justice system has and continues to fail First Nations people, they will be reticent to participate in the process to assemble the jury roll or to serve on juries. These unfortunate circumstances lie at the heart of the problem of the juries issue.”
Iacobucci said the time for lofty words and speeches is over — it is time for urgent, substantive and meaningful change.
“I feel compelled to be clear on this next point: my report does not purport to be a panacea, a cure all for all the changes necessary to improve the justice system for First Nations people,” Iacobucci said. “Rather, it is my sincere hope that it will serve as a catalyst for such a change. In total, I offer 17 major recommendations I view as a top priority for the Attorney General and the government of Ontario.”
Iacobucci said First Nations are all too familiar with the plethora of studies and reports that sit on shelves and have no real impact on their lives.
“Therefore, prompt implementation will be critical to instill trust that this report will not fall by the wayside,” Iacobucci said. “For this reason, I have recommended that as soon as practicable, the Attorney General create an implementation committee comprised of First Nation representatives, government officials and people who could lend their experience to the process. This committee would oversee the implementation of the recommendations in the report.”
Iacobucci said another top priority is to establish an advisory group to the Attorney General to address matters affecting First Nations and the justice system and to create within the Ministry of the Attorney General an assistant minister position responsible for First Nations justice matters.
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