Ontario plans changes to aboriginal justice system

The Ontario government is creating a special advisory group to look at judiciary issues specifically affecting those in the First Nations population.

The new group, which will be known as the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Group, is the official response by the Ontario government to complaints made about the current judicial system and the treatment of those from First Nations.

This response by the government was brought about after direct recommendations from the Honourable Frank Iacobucci in a report earlier this year. Recommendation has already been taken from the report in the creation of the Implementation Committee, which seeks to get more First Nation representation on juries.

The plan is that the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Group will effectively serve as a forum for the government to collaborate with elders, and others with direct knowledge of justice issues within the First Nation community. Effectively, the hope is that the group will be able to consider what the impacts of the current judicial system are on the Native community, and then relay that information to the Attorney General, John Gerretsen.

According to the press released on Friday, “Warren White, Ogichidaa (Grand Chief) of Grand Council Treaty #3 and Chiefs of Ontario justice portfolio co-holder, and Murray Segal, former deputy attorney general of Ontario and former deputy minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, have been appointed co-chairs. Their first responsibility will be to provide advice to the Attorney General on the group’s membership and the subject matters it will consider.”

“The Aboriginal Justice Advisory Group will be a vital resource for our government in our ongoing efforts to improve Ontario’s system of justice,” said Garretsen. “I look forward to working with our two experienced leaders, Ogichidaa Warren White and Murray Segal, to build a justice system that is more responsive to the needs of Aboriginal Peoples.”

Both White and Segal expressed their honour in being appointed; as did David Zimmer, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

“With the appointment of Ogichidaa Warren White and former deputy attorney general Murray Segal, Ontario has taken another important step to address Aboriginal justice issues. The co-chairs offer a wealth of experience and knowledge and will play an important role in improving Ontario’s justice system for Aboriginal Peoples.”

Jen Mt. Pleasant, a member of the First Nations, and a Wilfrid Laurier University criminology graduate, disagrees with the plan.

“No one understands the plight of Canada’s Indigenous people [than] us, ourselves,” said Mt. Pleasant in an e-mail.

“… the only way any ‘working group’ on ‘Aboriginal’ people concerning their involvement and over-representation in the criminal justice system is going to work is by [the government] stepping aside and letting us build our own version of a ‘justice system’. We have the talent, the academics, the will power to do so. So Canada needs to respect our space and respect our sovereign right to govern and have jurisdiction over ourselves.”

It is expected that all Advisory Group members will be appointed during these following winter months.

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