Indigenous leaders object, noting lack of consultation in decision that also surprised municipal leaders
GORE BAY – Manitoulin Island’s legal community is abuzz with concern following the revelation that the Superior Court has decided to not hold any jury trials on Manitoulin Island, but to instead require accused people and their defence staff to attend jury trials to be held at the Laurentian University hub centre.
Apparently, until earlier this month, the Island’s legal community was under the impression that court services were seeking a suitable venue to host the trials. But calls to local municipal and First Nations leaders confirmed that they had not been approached prior to the decision being taken to move the venues.
“I never heard anything from anybody about this until I was approached by a local lawyer,” said Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere, who is also serving as the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM) Tribal Council chair. “There are lots of places in our communities, Little Current and Wiikwemkoong come to mind, even M’Chigeeng has community centres that could host the trials. I don’t know what they are thinking.”
Gore Bay Mayor Dan Osborne, Manitoulin Municipal Association chair (and Burpee and Mills reeve) Ken Noland and Northeast Town mayor Al MacNevin had not heard about the move—although Mayor Osborne said he had heard some rumours in the street.
“There was no consultation or anything,” said Chief Corbiere, who noted that the move of venue would not only place an unreasonable burden on low income residents of Manitoulin Island but would also wreak havoc with the troubled jury selection pool for which the justice system is already under fire due to underrepresentation of Indigenous jurors.
“Our people have historically been tried by non-Anishinaabe juries with no consideration of the importance of our culture or our right to be tried by our peers,” said Chief Corbiere, who pointed out that significant efforts had been made on Manitoulin Island to redress that situation. “Now those juries will be selected from the jury pool in Sudbury and that will probably make things even worse than they were for our people for the last 100 years on Manitoulin.”
The move to Sudbury will have a major impact on the predominantly low income accused, with the onerous burdens of paying for transport and accommodations in that city and the impact on witnesses. Additionally there are questions as to whether those added costs would be covered by Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), which itself is reeling from funding cuts introduced by the current provincial government.
There are also questions as to whether LAO will cover the travel and additional expenses of counsel to attend trials in Sudbury.
“Sudbury is three hours away from Wiikwemkoong,” noted Chief Corbiere, making even a day trip to attend court a six-hour odyssey. “I know people have a right to be tried in a reasonable amount of time, but they are also supposed to have a fair trial. This doesn’t sound fair to me.”
Chief Corbiere noted that the UCCMM Tribal Council is concerned about the move and is looking for answers from the court services that, so far, have not been forthcoming.
An inquiry to the Attorney General of Ontario’s office had not received a response by press time Monday and calls to local attorneys had also not received a response.
“This is pretty urgent,” said Chief Corbiere. “As I understand, lawyers are being asked to set court dates in Sudbury now.”