Justice issues raised during NAN-Wide Justice Summit

Create: 12/01/2015 - 19:22

Eabametoong Chief Elizabeth Atlookan called for communities to empower themselves over justice issues during the Nov. 19-21 NAN-Wide Justice Summit.
“We need to understand that we cannot wait,” Atlookan said. “You heard Frank Iacobucci yesterday and he said in his (First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries) report that the justice system was in a crisis. So how long are we going to wait to do something, to own it, to empower our communities.”
Atlookan said her community had to put together their own answers after declaring a crisis over prescription drug abuse in 2010.
“It was left upon us as a First Nation to grab a hold of our situation,” Atlookan said, noting the community decided to develop their own community-based Suboxone program due to the prescription drug abuse effects on family members. “What was the answer — it was to empower the community. We took it upon ourselves to empower ourselves.”
Atlookan also asked communities who have developed justice systems to share their knowledge with other communities.
“Share with us because we are just embarking on this,” Atlookan said. “I know that there’s going to be all sorts of problems once we begin identifying what it is supposed to look like.”
The NAN-Wide Justice Summit was hosted by Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation in response to a Nishnawbe Aski Nation Chiefs-in-Assembly resolution to bring together First Nations and justice personnel to look at ways to improve the administration of justice in NAN territory.
Deputy Grand Chief Goyce Kakegamic called for more emphasis on traditional justice systems for First Nations people.
“We as First Nations people understand the basic purpose of justice differently than the dominant society,” Kakegamic said. “The dominant society tries to control acts it considers potentially harmful to society, to individuals or to the wrong-doers themselves by outlining enforcement and apprehension in order to prevent or to punish and harm the deviant behavior.”
Kakegamic said the justice system’s emphasis is on the punishment of the lawbreaker as a means of protecting other members of society.
“For us as First Nations people, we believe that the purpose of justice systems in our society is to restore peace and balance within the community and to reconcile the accused with his or her conscience with the individual or family who has been wronged,” Kakegamic said. “This is a primary difference, it is a difference that significantly challenges the appropriateness of the present legal and justice system for Aboriginal people in the resolution of conflict and the reconciliation and maintenance of community harmony and good order.”
Kakegamic said First Nations need to take steps to reestablish their own jurisdiction and justice systems.
“We need to continue to advocate, to promote how can we improve the current justice system and at the same time move forward with our own path to address justice and the jurisdiction realm,” Kakegamic said.
Kakegamic asked why a correctional centre for Aboriginal people has not been built in Ontario, noting that the Sam Daniels Healing Centre is operating in Edmonton and similar centres are also in operation in Saskatchewan and Quebec.
“This Sam Daniels Healing Centre is partially a correction facility and its focus is on healing, not punishment, and it works,” Kakegamic said. “It offers programs for the residents and they don’t call them convicts or inmates, they call them residents and when they go there they address their spirituality, their culture and employment.”
Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said the time for talk on justice is over.
“The need to take action is now,” Fiddler said. “There is a high expectation from our communities that they want to see change in terms of how the justice system is delivered to them or how it is administered, especially in the north.”
Fiddler said the issues raised during the NAN-Wide Justice Summit are “very urgent” and “very important.”
“We need to find a way to move forward to address those issues that you raised,” Fiddler said.
Fiddler also spoke about the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent announcement that it would hear an appeal on the underrepresentation of First Nation People on jury rolls in R. v.
Kokopenace, which NAN is seeking intervener status to raise issues brought up in the First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries report.
“Yes, we will go fight Ontario in the Supreme Court, but at the same time the issues you raised here this week are too urgent for us to put aside,” Fiddler said. “We need to start that work now.”
Sandy Lake Chief Bart Meekis is looking for the justice system to be more fair to First Nations people.
“It’s about time the justice systems of Ontario takes a good look at our conditions because our jails are filling with our Native people,” Meekis said. “The laws of the land are failing us. It’s about time that they look at an alternative that is best for our people.”
Meekis said he is against jails.
“I know some people need to go to jail but there are alternatives for jail,” Meekis said.
The NAN-Wide Justice Summit focused on restorative justice, over-incarceration of Aboriginal peoples, traditional alternative dispute resolution, child welfare, the drug epidemic, victim system services, bail issues, the circle process in school systems, band bylaw enforcement and the impact of Bill C-10.