Barrier to restorative justice is mostly mindset, says Indigenous law scholar

Mindset is the biggest thing stopping the concept of restorative justice, so essential to traditional Indigenous law, from being fully embraced in the Canadian justice system, says an Indigenous lawyer and scholar.

John Borrows is at the CMHR Monday to talk about Indigenous traditional law

Lawyer and scholar John Borrows is at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Monday evening. (John Borrows/Supplied)

Mindset is the biggest thing stopping the concept of restorative justice, so essential to traditional Indigenous law, from being fully embraced in the Canadian justice system, says an Indigenous lawyer and scholar.

"There's this sense that we have to always be punishing people. And I'm not saying for a second that shouldn't be a part of our system … but it shouldn't be the only part of our system," said John Borrows.

"And it seems like we fetishize that and focus on that to the exclusion to the other possibilities."

Borrows is in Winnipeg tonight to speak at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights about incorporating traditional Indigenous legal systems and the benefits it might have in our current justice system.

"It isn't just focused on blame and trying to assign who has to pay what price for what's gone on, but of course looking at the ways that this could be prevented from happening in the future.

"Restorative justice is about trying to put together relationships once something has broken down."

Borrows is from Chippewas of Nawash First Nation in Ontario and is currently the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria. His scholarship and work have helped shape the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Restorative justice is about trying to put together relationships once something has broken down.- John Borrows

That only two of the recommendations have been completed so far both worries Borrows, as well as gives him hope.

"I think that that's going to take a long time to be able to get this all together, but I'm feeling there's action on the ground," said Borrows.

While the issue of Indigenous justice due to the recent acquittals of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier is currently top of mind, Canada does have a history of recognizing traditional Indigenous legal systems, said Borrows, going back to when the treaties were first signed.

"We, of course, quickly departed from that," he said, until about 30 years ago when the Supreme Court of Canada created a framework for receiving Indigenous legal traditions.

Since then, there's been the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry in Manitoba in 1991 and the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples, amendments to the Criminal Code, court cases and more, said Borrows.

"So it's long been a part of the political discussion but every once in a while emerges and becomes more public, like at this moment."

The goal isn't to change the laws only for Indigenous people, but for all Canadians, said Borrows. Federal Canadian law allows for different laws in different provinces and municipalities, so this would be an extension of that, said Borrows.

"It's shifting the law for all so that we understand that we have access to resources when we're reasoning through questions that come from many different perspectives. And they can be laws that are about order, about peace, about ensuring security and safety that Indigenous peoples are concerned about as well."

The lecture takes place Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the CMHR and is open to the public. Admission is $20.

About the Author

Elisha Dacey

Journalist

Elisha Dacey is a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast. Reach her at elisha.dacey@cbc.ca.