Panel announcements to oversee aboriginal justice system reforms

TORONTO—First Nation leaders reacted positively to the September 19 announcement of the appointment by the Ontario government of an 11-person panel charged with implementing the recommendations to increase representation of aboriginal peoples on criminal and inquest juries that were contained in a report by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci commissioned by the province in 2011.

“I’m confident that this group, with input and advice from our First Nation partners, has the right mix of professional expertise and lived experience to help us find the practical solutions we need to enhance the representation of First Nation people on juries,” said Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen in making the announcement. “I look forward to seeing progress from the committee very soon.”

“With today’s appointments the committee begins its important work overseeing the implementation of the recommendations of the First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries report authored by the Honourable Frank Iacobucci,” said Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs David Zimmer. “The committee members bring a range of perspectives to the table and I look forward to seeing the results of the important work of this committee.”

“It is our view that in light of the overarching notion of reconciliation, governments have an obligation to work with us to build respectful and transparent partnerships which produce equitable and tangible results,” said acting Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief Patrick Madahbee, pointing out that it is essential that all participating parties maintain a high level of respect, fairness and transparency in the process and that First Nations support the development of meaningful and continuing remedial measures in an effort to achieve equity and justice for First Nations. “We are not interested in processes that are public relations ploys for the provincial government; we want genuine progress and fairness.”

“This will be necessary in order to bring remedy to all affected First Nations across Ontario, who continue to be largely overrepresented in the Ontario justice system yet underrepresented on Ontario juries,” continued Chief Madahbee, who is also grand council chief of the Anishinabek Nation (Union of Ontario Indians).

“It is our view that in light of the overarching notion of reconciliation, governments have an obligation to work with us to build respectful and transparent partnerships which produce equitable and tangible results,” said Chief Madahbee. “We are not interested in processes that are public relations ploys for the provincial government; we want genuine progress and fairness.”

The committee will have two co-chairs: Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, and Irwin Glasberg, assistant deputy Ontario attorney general. Joining the co-chairs are Marc Bode, regional senior justice, northwest region, Ontario Court of Justice, Thunder Bay district; Sheila Bristo, director, divisional support branch, Ministry of the Attorney General, court services division; Margaret Froh, lawyer and former president, Indigenous Bar Association; Diane Kelly, lawyer and former Grand Council Treaty No. 3 Grand Chief; Alison Pilla, assistant deputy minister, Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs; Jenny Restoule-Mallozzi, counsel, Union of Ontario Indians; Jonathan Solomon, former chief of the Kashechewan First Nation; and Erwin W. Stach, former judge of the Superior Court of Justice, Kenora District.

“For far too long the justice system has failed our people,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, who was named to co-chair the implementation committee. “A tragically disproportionate number of our First Nation and Metis members are being jailed while entire communities have been excluded from participation in the justice system. I am hopeful that with the Iacobucci Report and the formation of the Implementation Committee we can finally create fundamental change that will address this crisis.”

The majority of the members of the panel are aboriginal, including youth representative Megan Logan, a Georgian College student currently in her first year in the school’s Aboriginal Community and Social Development program.

Manitoulin lawyer Susan Hare who, along with her husband M’Chigeeng Chief Joe Hare, has been very active in efforts to move the recommendations of the Iacobucci Report forward was invited to attend the announcement in Toronto, but said that she was unable to attend and had not yet had time to review the announcement, but noted that she was pleased with the makeup of the panel.

“An excellent choice for the provincial implementation committee,” she said. “These individuals will provide credible and forward-thinking ideas to the government. The Union of Ontario Indians Implementation Committee, which was established in August 2013, will guide the regional thrust of implementation (that) Justice Iacobucci through his report has inspired, but it is communities along with government who must make real changes to improve the lives of aboriginal peoples within the criminal justice system.”

Chief Joe Hare was unavailable to comment by press time Monday.

The Iacobucci Report went beyond its initial mandate to study aboriginal underrepresentation in the jury system, making some 17 recommendations dealing with a wide range of concerns regarding Natives and the justice system. The attorney general noted that a panel to be convened in the near future will be charged with looking at the implementation of those additional recommendations.

Michael Erskine