Historically, First Nations have been victims of the Canadian justice system having suffered from the systemic racism compounded in the ‘delivery of justice’. This has been demonstrated through systemic issues such as racial profiling by enforcement agencies, over representation of First Nation men, women and youth in the correctional facilities, and support programs not culturally competent. In addition, Canada’s judicial legislation and policies have fallen short sighted of addressing the root causes of crime and have failed to institute adequate measures that would support prevention methods for First Nation citizens.
The following information indicates the current approach undertaken by First Nations in Ontario to address the issues identified above.
The Justice Department was established in response to the growing need for representation and advocacy on issues relating to justice for First Nations in Ontario. Rooted historically in Resolution 95/25 – Support for Justice Development Worker Proposal that was passed at the 21st All Ontario Chiefs Conference in June, 1995, the resolution provided for the hiring of justice development workers to serve as both ‘a resource and a facilitator for community justice development.’ The product of demands from First Nation citizens for a more culturally relevant and effective justice system, and a growing awareness of pre-existing forms of First Nation legal systems, the Chiefs-in-Assembly resolved themselves to:
- Establish regional justice councils or justice committees that would oversee the development of the community justice agenda;
- Assess the justice needs of individual communities;
- Articulate the community values that any system of First Nation justice developed should uphold;
- Identify the most promising justice programs and models for community application and;
- Develop justice pilot projects.
By 2005 there had emerged within the Chiefs of Ontario a Justice and Correctional Steering Committee that had drafted a Terms of Reference for its operation and identified its role as one that would create and/or facilitate dialogue, policy development, and strategies related to justice. After considering the terms, leadership then adopted Resolution 05/08 – Justice and Correctional Steering Committee – Terms of Reference, approving both the establishment of the Steering Committee, and its mandate. This served to further strengthen then promising efforts to fully integrate a Justice Policy area within the Chiefs of Ontario, and provides the basis for the work that continues on today.