Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Ontario Must Rebuild First Nations' Trust in Legal System

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Ontario Must Rebuild First Nations' Trust in Legal System

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Ontario must rebuild First Nations' trust in legal system

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Feb. 27:

Reggie Bushie went missing more than five years ago. The 15-year-old's body was found in Thunder Bay's McIntyre River on Nov. 1, 2007. To this day his family in the remote Poplar Hill First Nation still doesn't know the full story of his death. An inquest that was originally to look into it was derailed because of a lack of First Nations people in the jury pool.

Sadly, this case isn't unique. In a searing report entitled First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries, former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci points to a "serious and persistent" problem. Ontario's 300,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit are chronically overrepresented in jails and under-represented on the juries that assess innocence and guilt, or probe deaths. In the Kenora judicial district, for example, more than 30 per cent of residents live on reserves, but make up less than 10 per cent of the jury roll. In Thunder Bay, it's 5 per cent of residents and just over 1 per cent of the roll. And it's symptomatic of bigger problems.

"First Nations people are significantly under-represented, not just on juries, but among all those who work in the administration of justice in this province, whether as court officials, prosecutors, defence counsel, or judges," Iacobucci observes in his report.

The reasons are not hard to find. Many feel alienated. They fail to see their cultural values, laws, or traditional approaches to conflict resolution and restorative justice reflected in the system. Many see it as a foreign imposition that too often works against them.

As a consequence "the justice system generally as applied to First Nations peoples, particularly in the North, is quite frankly in a crisis," Iacobucci warns. It "has often ignored or discriminated against" native peoples, he reports. …

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