Aboriginals lack voice in judicial system

The under-representation of First Nations persons on Ontario juries is a serious issue which retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci believes needs to be addressed and rectified.

Frank Iacobucci addressing the students at University of Windsor • photo Jon Liedtke

Frank Iacobucci addressing the students at University of Windsor • photo Jon Liedtke

Frank Iacobucci addressing the students at University of Windsor • photo Jon Liedtke


Jon Liedtke
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

The under-representation of First Nations persons on Ontario juries is a serious issue which retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci believes needs to be addressed and rectified.

Iacobucci said to fix serious issues, which plague the relationship between aboriginal community, governments and society should act.

Speaking to around 300 students at the University of Windsor’s Ron Ianni Law Building March 26, Iacobucci outlined recommendations of his report, which has been three years in the making.

“This is a serious issue, [a] very serious issue. But the real issue is not just serving on juries, it is the way in which our justice system relates to Aboriginal, First Nations people,” explained Iacobucci, who finds systemic discrimination, a lack of access to education and legal services and difficulties in understanding what’s going on “add up to a real black mark and we need to do something about these things.”

Iacobucci explained that in the judicial district of Kenora, roughly 33 per cent of the population lives on reserves. However, only 10 per cent of residents are on the Kenora jury rolls. In Thunder Bay’s judicial district, those living on reserve make up five per cent of the population whereas only 1.3 per cent of them are on juries.

Coupled with the fact that in 1999 aboriginals represented 12 per cent of all federal inmates and 3.8 per cent of the population, the situation is troubling. In 2005, the percentage of aboriginal inmates rose from 12 to 17 per cent.

“[Juries are] supposed to be representative and the constitution demands that,” said Iacobucci. “If you are having a jury trial, it is a trial by your peers and if your peers are not represented, then that’s a failure. That is a defect.”

Iacobucci explained that decades of inaction led to the situation and there is a need to find a new approach to jury selection which doesn’t rely solely on property ownership as many aboriginals do not own property due to traditional practices.

“I have called for structural recommendations to involve the First Nations communities in the implementation of this report. I have called the advisory group to the attorney general for First Nations representation to deal with justice issues in this province that would have ongoing work ahead of it,” said Iacobucci, adding that he also asked for a senior official to be responsible for those groups.

“The relationship between Canadians and the Aboriginal people of Canada affects all of us and this is about improving the relationship,” said Iacobucci.

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