A di­a­logue for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion

Man­i­toba judges meet­ing with In­dige­nous lead­ers to try to im­prove jus­tice sys­tem

Winnipeg Free Press - - TOP NEWS - STEVE LAM­BERT

INNIPEG — Five Man­i­toba judges, in­clud­ing the chief jus­tice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, are to meet with First Na­tions lead­ers on Tues­day to try to find ways to im­prove the jus­tice sys­tem for In­dige­nous peo­ple.

The meet­ing 500 kilo­me­tres north of Win­nipeg is part of a re­cently an­nounced ef­fort to ad­dress is­sues be­hind the high in­car­cer­a­tion rate for In­dige­nous peo­ple in the prov­ince, and to start act­ing on some of the rec­om­men­da­tions from the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion’s fi­nal re­port two years ago.

“The ques­tion of a dis­pro­por­tion­ate pres­ence, in terms of our In­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion in pris­ons, is a bru­tally tragic fact and we have to ad­dress that,” Chief Jus­tice Glenn Joyal told The Cana­dian Press.

Joyal is to be joined by four other judges who are on a com­mit­tee an­nounced in June that is tasked with find­ing im­prove­ments.

They are to meet with com­mu­nity mem­bers in Nor­way House Cree Na­tion and with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 30 First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties in north­ern Man­i­toba.

Joyal said there are a num­ber of ways to ac­com­plish im­prove­ments. Drop-in clin­ics that pro­vide le­gal ad­vice to low-in­come earn­ers could be ex­panded. New guide­lines to speed up court cases so that peo­ple spent less time in cus­tody await­ing trial could be in­tro­duced and courts could make bet­ter use of restora­tive jus­tice and tra­di­tional In­dige­nous prac­tices, so

Wthat more of­fend­ers could be re­ha­bil­i­tated in the com­mu­nity. “There’s the sense that per­haps we’re not fully ap­pre­ci­at­ing or uti­liz­ing some of the le­gal tra­di­tions that we could — with­out in any way com­pro­mis­ing the in­tegrity of the rule of law — bet­ter uti­lize,” Joyal said.

Nor­way House Chief Ron Evans said he wel­comes the ini­tia­tive.

There are a num­ber of ar­eas where im­prove­ment is needed, he said, in­clud­ing a greater fo­cus on pre­vent­ing crime by ad­dress­ing is­sues such as in­ad­e­quate hous­ing and poor sup­port ser­vices for young peo­ple.

Evans said many peo­ple get in trou­ble for breach­ing con­di­tions of their re­lease while fac­ing a long wait for trial.

“Some­times a lot of our young peo­ple, es­pe­cially, will breach their con­di­tions, thereby es­tab­lish­ing a crim­i­nal record and... the dock­ets are too long and it drags on for so long that it pre­vents them from im­prov­ing their cir­cum­stances and ac­cess­ing bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion.”

The 2015 re­port from the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion con­tained 18 rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove jus­tice for In­dige­nous peo­ple.

One called on the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments to “pro­vide re­al­is­tic al­ter­na­tives to im­pris­on­ment for Abo­rig­i­nal of­fend­ers and re­spond to the un­der­ly­ing causes of of­fend­ing.” Evans said Tues­day’s meet­ing is a be­gin­ning. “Hope­fully, it’s a di­a­logue that will con­tinue and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion can hap­pen.”

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