First Nations leaders, judges meeting to tackle problems with justice system
Judges visiting Norway House Cree Nation on Tuesday to address high number of Indigenous people in system
A Manitoba First Nation chief hopes a meeting with five judges on Tuesday will produce ideas that will lead to improved outcomes for indigenous people involved with the justice system.
The Manitoba judges, including the chief justice of the Court of Queen's Bench, are heading to Norway House Cree Nation to meet with representatives from 30 Manitoba First Nations to discuss ways to improve the system, and to start acting on recommendations of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Norway House Cree Nation Chief Ron Evans says many issues contribute to the overrepresentation of Indigenous people involved in the justice system, including problems with child welfare, education, language, culture and the justice system itself.
Evans says there is a backlog of cases and many people, particularly young people, breach their conditions while waiting for their day in court.
"It actually destroys the future of our young people if their issues or charges are not addressed as quickly as possible," he said.
Many people from northern communities also face a language barrier when dealing with the justice system.
"Not really understanding what the charges are or what the options could be for the offenders. There needs to be a process in place that allows for communication that can be better understood on both sides," Evans said.
Once offenders are released, it can be difficult for them to abide by their conditions due the small size and remoteness of many Indigenous communities, he said. "There's only so many places that one can go."
This forces some offenders to leave their communities altogether. "Now you're taking them out of an environment that's the only one that they've known and now they have to go to a different that's all strange and expect them to survive," Evans said.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report 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 says the meeting on Tuesday will include discussion of restorative justice options, as well as preventative measures that could be implemented.
"That's where we need the court to support us there — or at least be able to put recommendations to government — where government needs to maybe amend some of the legislation that allows us to put in place some of the solutions that we seek as leadership in our communities," Evans said.
Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, one of the five judges heading to Norway House Cree Nation, has suggested drop-in clinics could be expanded to provide low-income earners with legal advice.
Fixing the criminal justice system needs to be a co-operative process, Evans said, and Tuesday's meeting is part of that.
"Reconciliation should be more than just a word. It should be backed up by how do we move forward on things that we both agree on," Evans said.
With files from The Canadian Press and Rignam Wangkhang