Alberta provincial court unveils justice strategy to better meet needs of Indigenous people

Unveiled Wednesday after two years of discussions with First Nations and Métis leaders, as well as legal groups, the plan includes 20 concrete measures aimed at better serving Indigenous people.

'We will continue to listen and to respond,' Chief Judge Derek Redman says

The strategy includes 20 concrete measures the court aims to take to better serve Indigenous people in Alberta. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Alberta's provincial court has announced a plan outlining ways it can better serve Indigenous people.

The Indigenous Justice Strategy announced Wednesday by Chief Judge Derek Redman follows two years of discussions with First Nations and Métis leaders, as well as legal groups.

"The one thing that we did not want was another report," Redman said.

"What we wanted was an action document."

It includes 20 measures such as ensuring judges and staff have a comprehensive understanding of Indigenous history, heritage and laws, as well as establishing Indigenous cultural practices in courthouses and courtrooms where appropriate.

The strategy incorporates some steps the court had already been taking, Redman said.

He said the strategy is meant to address the lack of access Indigenous people have to the courts, the lack of confidence they have in the justice system, the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in pre- and post-trial custody and the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care.

It also aims to address several calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, such as ensuring lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training and providing more support for Indigenous programming in halfway houses, parole services and relevant services to inmates.

Meetings are to be held annually between court leadership, leaders of Treaties 6, 7 and 8, and leaders of the Métis Nation of Alberta and Métis settlements to maintain relationships and address community needs.

Redman said this was the strategy's most important measure.

"I think it begins with relationships and learning," he said.

Redman's advisers on the strategy included three Indigenous judges who emphasized the importance of education.

"The court needs to be educated about the needs, the history, the culture of Indigenous persons," he said. "We do a lot of that, but we are challenging ourselves to do it in a more thoughtful, comprehensive way."

The announcement comes two days before the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Redman, who was appointed chief judge in 2020, is from Lethbridge, Alta., and has been practising law since the 1980s.

The Calgary Indigenous Court was established in 2019, encompassing many of the steps included in the Indigenous Justice Strategy.

The provincial court in Edmonton has been operating its Indigenous courtroom since the spring but will hold an official ceremony on Friday morning.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta-Canadian Press News Fellowship, which is not involved in the editorial process.